31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
February 21, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
In general, I’m not much of a procrastinator; however when it comes to writing my annual report each January……. I am about the biggest procrastinator there is – and it’s likely because I’m a planner. I want to look forward, not back.
In this morning’s scripture passage from the gospel of Luke, we hear about ten lepers, other people who want to look forward and not back.
Leprosy is a disease mentioned fairly often in the Bible, and sadly, we have come to equate the word with someone who is unwelcome in community. For a long time, people did not know that leprosy, a disease which causes skin lesions and nerve damage, was caused by a bacteria. They just knew that getting close to someone who had leprosy risked becoming infected yourself.
It is true that leprosy is passed in much the same way that other bacterial and viral diseases are shared, via respiratory droplets through close and frequent contact with someone who is ill. We have a new understanding of why people in Jesus’ time would want to stay away from lepers as we have found ourselves staying away from a lot of people this past year.
In addition to suffering with a painful skin and nerve disease, people with leprosy were also cast out of their communities. They were not allowed to live within cities or towns for fear they would spread the disease. It is likely that most people stayed far more than 6 feet away from them. We have a new understanding of how difficult it is to be separated from loved ones and community, to not be hugged, embraced, or even touched. The emotional pain of this separation is just as real and damaging as physical pain.
So when the ten lepers approach Jesus and ask Jesus to have mercy on them, to heal them, and after following Jesus’ instructions to go see the priest, miraculously find they are indeed healed, hopefully you understand why they don’t go back.
For the first time in who knows how long, these ten men and women can move forward with their lives. For the first time in a long time, they can make plans for their futures. They can rejoin society and be a part of the worshipping community. They can seek out their loved ones and embrace them. They are looking forward with hope.
Sometimes, when you are busy making plans for the future, it is hard to remember to pause and enjoy the moment, let alone reflect on the past. I am constantly guilty of that. And I know that once I am able to receive a COVID vaccination, I will want to put this past year in the rearview mirror and begin making plans for my future, for our future.
What events can we plan that will bring our wider community together? How will we celebrate the upcoming 275th anniversary of the First Congregational Church Bristol, CT? How can we expand our prayer ministry, our service ministry? What new ways can we encourage people’s relationships with God and Jesus Christ, grounding them in faith and nurturing health and resilience?
As our infection rate in Connecticut goes down and our vaccination rates go up, I am going to be tempted to be like those nine lepers, heading off to the priests (who were also the medical experts of the time) to get confirmation that I am safe to be in community once again. So I can make plans and move forward! Anyone else in that group with me? Give me a little thumbs up if you are.
So before that is the case, now is a good time to learn from Jesus. Now is a good time to pause, to turn back, to reflect on this past year, and give praise to God, especially since this Sunday begins the season of Lent.
Lent is a season of repentance. The word ‘repent’ simply means to turn back. Lent is a season to turn back, look back, reflect on our year and give thanks and praise to God.
Giving praise to God and practicing gratitude has a long history in the Christian church. The Apostle Paul wrote: “give thanks to God…at all times and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20); “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Paul also practiced gratitude by continuously giving thanks for Jesus in his life and for those who walked this Christian journey with him.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, developed a spiritual practice to help Christians connect with God through reflection and gratitude. At the end of the day, St. Ignatius encourages us to think back upon our day, giving thanks for the small and large ways God has blessed us.
Even health experts are encouraging people to practice reflection and gratitude. In an article I read from the Mayo Clinic, I learned that happiness is not based on your life circumstances. Happiness is based on our thoughts and actions, and some actions that lead to being happier is every day to make a list of three things you are grateful for or to begin a practice of daily naming one thing that makes your life better.
This moment when we know that healing is on the way, when we are looking forward to the future with hope, is the perfect time to remember this year we would rather forget.
As we wrap up this worship series on lessons from Jesus’ life for ours, as we begin the season of reflection that is Lent, now is the perfect moment to go back, to return to Jesus, return to God and give praise and thanks.
What was especially hard about this past year?
Give thanks to God for being with you.
What was something you discovered about yourself this year?
Give thanks to God for creating you.
Where did God bless you, heal you, make your life better?
Give thanks to God for those amazing gifts.
What brings you joy and hope? What are you celebrating this day?
Give thanks to God! Praise God!
Every day, we walk this journey of life; we walk this journey of faith, and every day, we refresh our minds, our hearts, and our souls by turning to Jesus, learning from Jesus, depending on Jesus. And of all the lessons we learn, perhaps the most important is to turn to God again and again, giving thanks to God at all times, in all circumstances, and for everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us.