Pentecost 21 Traditional Sermon
St. Peter’s is raising money for world hunger. As a part of the campaign your leaders hold a 40 pound jug of water through the announcements. It’s a visual sign of the water that a woman or child has to carry each day to get clean water and walk it back to their home. Usually their walk with water is 3 miles long, much longer than your huffing and puffing pastor can carry a jug of water.
You know water is essential to life. It nourishes us, it brings life to crops and animals, it cleans us, it restores. Anyone who’s had their water shut off for a day can testify to how water is essential. And this world hunger campaign can bring wells to villages that have no clean source of water.
Now before the St. Peter’s world hunger campaign, I knew a thing or two about water needs, but I’m learning what the ELCA world hunger ministry entails and how they get to the root causes of hunger. In your bulletin you have an insert with pictures of people whose lives have been changed because of the ELCA world hunger initiative. Be sure to take a look at it…even if it’s during the sermon…I won’t take offense…not if it means that one of God’s children will know life because of your action.
The World Hunger ministry is not just about food. It’s about transformation. There’s a lot I didn’t know about World Hunger ministries, but I have encountered folks who are hungry and are in need of change.
I recall a time when I was on the longest train ride of my life. It was a 30 hour train ride from New York to New Orleans. Have you ever been on a train? It doesn’t have assigned seats. Right before you get on the train you get in line without looking like you’re getting in line and you try to jockey yourself to be first. If you’re first on the train, you can find a good seat in a good car. You can aim for a seat with no one around and then hope that no one annoying sits next to you.
Avoid old people.
The train is not a very Christian-oriented place. Or at least I wasn’t being very Christian on the train.
I was taking this obscenely long train ride because I had to go to a conference on education. I was there to shed some light on how we could fix education through testing and research. I was a student in educational testing, and we were going to ensure that no child was left behind. I was going to save the educational system.
I jockeyed my way onto the train…maybe elbowed a few slow pokes. I took up as much space as I physically could, so that no one would sit next to me.
And that’s when they arrived. Three of the loudest people I’ve encountered.
They laughed loudly.
They spoke loudly.
They even rolled their eyes loudly.
I remember thinking “please God, don’t let them sit next to me. Please please please!”
Guess where they sat? Right behind me.
Loud and boisterous.
Smelling of heavy perfume and hair products.
One of them sat down and proceeded to hack up a lung.
Great a sicko.
They probably would snore too.
It took me very little time to find out their whole story because the volume of their voices was louder than the engine of the train.
They were heading to New Orleans.
Just like me.
They were heading to the educational conference.
Just like me.
They were from some inner city school in a city you’ve heard about on the news. A city where distrust between police and protesters are high. A city where racial conflict is on the news at least once a week. They were from one of those cities.
They were teachers.
And they were outraged by the tests their kids had to suffer through.
The tests that I helped create.
I tried to lay low. I put headphones on. I pretended to sleep…but really who could sleep with all their cackling and talking. I tried to seem uninterested. I tried to be invisible.
Then one of them reached over and patted me on the shoulder and asked,
“So what’s your story?”
Should I lie?
We were completely opposite from each other.
She a teacher. Me a tester.
She from an inner city. Me from the Connecticut suburbs.
She an African American. Me a white girl.
Both of us stuck on a train.
How could two people from such different backgrounds be in the same place?
It’s sort of like our Gospel lesson today.
Rather than a teacher and a tester stuck on the same train,
it’s ten men stuck with the same life-threatening illness. Leprosy.
The disease that was highly contagious and dangerous. The disease that got you kicked out of your home and your village. It left you wanting for family, for work, for food and dignity.
How could these ten men from such different backgrounds be in the same place?
One of them was a Samaritan and the nine others were Jewish. In any other case they would have never been in the same place at the same time. They wouldn’t have shared resources…they surely wouldn’t have sought out the help of the same person.
So what brought these men together? Their need.
They needed to be led. They needed to be healed.. They needed to be saved.
And they encounter Jesus. Master. Healer. Savior.
And as the Gospel story tells us, Jesus heals them and tells them to go see the priest at the temple. Seeing the priest to give you an ok, is like us getting a doctor’s note to go back to school. Their need…their hunger was fixed. They could go back to their families, go back to their community, go back to their jobs. And that’s what they did. They went back to their lives…except one. The Samaritan.
Something stops him. He pauses enough to give thanks and give witness to the healing he received. Ten men were certainly healed that day, but one man was transformed. Changed not only skin deep…but in his heart and mind, as well. Transformed and made whole by his thanks.
Which brings us back to that 30 hour train ride.
I made a decision to tell the overbearing, loud, lady from the inner city my story. I told her I was going down to New Orleans, too. Not as a teacher like she, but as a test maker.
I was the pain in her educational system.
And to my surprise she asked me to tell her more about what I did. What went into making tests? What drew me into this field? How did I hope tests could heal the hurt in her school system?
After a while she and her friends decided to get dinner in the dining car and invited me to come along.
And I decided to tell her the truth again.
“I can’t.” I said. “I can’t afford it.”
At the time I was a student, who wasn’t very good at balancing her budget. I spent my money on my train ticket…the 30 hour long train ride. And I had no more money for food.
Without pause the overbearing, loud lady reached over, grabbed my hand and said,
“You’re coming. We want you to join us. My treat.”
And in the dining car we dined. Strangers on a train.
Nothing in common…except our hunger.
Hunger for a teacher to speak about her students she loved. Hunger for a tester to eat. A need for both of us to be heard and accepted.
Strange things bring us together. For some it’s illness. For others it’s our kids. And some it’s hunger. And sometimes we’re brought together by a train ride.
When I boarded that train I thought I would be playing the part of Jesus.
I was going to be part of saving the educational system.
What I didn’t realize was that I was the one in need.
And I never could have imagined that Jesus would meet me
…in the face of someone who was the polar opposite of me.
When I asked for her address to send payment for my meal. She refused. She said that I could pay her back by keeping an open mind and to not forget her kids.
That’s how I could give thanks.
And the one meal she shared with me,
That meal stays with me. All these years later.
I feel that a part of me was transformed that day.
But doesn’t that happen when Jesus meets us?
How do we give thanks for healing?
How do we give thanks that God has seen us through a rough patch?
How do we give thanks when our fears are calmed?
How do we give thanks when you look back on the last week, the last year, the last decade and see the hand of the Lord at work?
We give thanks for our blessings by being a blessing.
We give thanks by sharing a meal with someone.
We give thanks by opening our eyes and seeing past prejudices and stereotypes.
We give thanks by ensuring that children around the world are fed and have the resources that our children so easily enjoy.
We get up and go on our way, assured that our faith has made us whole. So go on your way friends, be whole, be well, be thankful, be a blessing to another who truly needs it today.