Luke: The Gospel For Rebels Week 5

A Gospel for the Alienated

Week of March 6

Story from the Outside:
One of the most impactful things I remember from my childhood was a nun telling me in my very first Sunday CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) class, that Jesus lived in my heart. But everything that came later seemed to contradict that. The Catholic church I grew up in was not very welcoming to outsiders, I can see it all around me - the whispers about the divorcees, the unwed mothers, the adulterous men, and of course the homosexuals. Being that my family was not going to church, I had no desire to attend on my own.

After I graduated from college, I realized that I was gay. I still had a very strong personal relationship with God, but my memories of church and the protests and hate speech I heard from the Christian church kept me far away. Fast forward about 15 years later and I meet my soon-to-be husband - a full-fledged, card-carrying Christian, complete with a cross tattoo and a major love of Christian music. For two people who were alike in every way, in this regard we were polar opposites. On my birthday that first year that we met, he decided to take me to church. What? It’s my birthday, not yours!! Nevertheless, I reluctantly went with him to this megachurch in the middle of nowhere.

Here we are, two years later. For weeks the church has been promoting baptism. I decided to be baptized, partly as a way of showing my husband that what is important to him, is also important to me. I had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire and write an essay (was this baptism or acceptance to college?), and now I’m supposed to meet with the lead pastor. So this morning, I dressed a little nicer, and we got to church early. Well, after waiting for the pastor in the lobby for a very long time, I was told he could not meet with me but some staff and elders of the church would. 

In a prayer circle, they told me that they knew that I was “friends” with my boyfriend and that they knew he was “going through something”. This came as a shock to me. I was confused - why wouldn’t he have told me? But then I realized this was their indirect way of telling me that they did not approve of our lifestyle and that I was NOT WORTHY of baptism. They couldn’t say gay, or homosexual, but they had no problem telling me I was not worthy. I slipped into service right as the last song played, and my boyfriend asked me how it went. I told him we were not welcome and what had happened. He wanted to go right away, but I said no, I will not give them that satisfaction. I knew in my heart that God thought I was worthy. As we drove away I vowed I would never go back. 
-- Mike

Reflection Questions:
1. Mike shared a couple experiences in his life when the "church" made him feel like an outsider.  This is painful because we know Jesus constantly reached out to welcome everyone.  Recall a time when you felt unwelcome at church. What were the circumstances? How did it make you feel?

2. When have you experienced an intentional, perhaps unjust, effort to make someone feel unwelcomed?  How did you react?  What did that experience change in you?  

Opening Prayer: 
God of Love, your grace pursues us even when people and institutions throw up barriers. Forgive us for the times that we, whether intentionally or unintentionally, have made another feel less than, or even unworthy of love. Thank you for accepting us and loving us, especially when others fail us. Guide our conversation as we seek to build our faith upon a strong foundation of your Word. Amen.

Read Aloud:
Luke 17.11-18

On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him, they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”
When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?”

Luke 23.39-43
One of the criminals hanging next to Jesus insulted him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Responding, the other criminal spoke harshly to him, “Don’t you fear God, seeing that you’ve also been sentenced to die? We are rightly condemned, for we are receiving the appropriate sentence for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus replied, “I assure you that today you will be with me in paradise.”

Engaging Scripture:  
Let’s pause before we think about how this passage makes us feel or how it applies to our context. This section can help ground your group in talking about what is written and consider its impact on the original audience. 
  1. In the sermon this week, we learned that the ten men Jesus encounters in Luke 17 are extreme outsiders as both Samaritans AND lepers. They were people who “even the marginalized, marginalized.” What evidence of that do you see in the passage? 
  2. In what ways does one who returned express his gratitude directly to Jesus? How does Jesus respond?
  3. As we skip forward from this moment in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem all the way to his crucifixion, what similarities do you notice between the men Jesus heals in the first story and the men crucified on either side of him in the second? What differences?  
  4. What is different for Jesus in the 2 stories? How have His circumstances changed between the first passage and the second? Does that impact how he responds to the different groups and what he offers them? 
Application Questions:
  1. When reading about the men Jesus heals in the first passage, what people or groups of people are brought to mind for you in our society? Who do even the marginalized, marginalize? How can The Church as a whole follow Jesus’ example from this story? What could (or does) that look like? Now take that a step further, how can our church specifically follow Jesus’ example? Our core group?
  2. It’s easy to get focused on the fact that 9 of the 10 who were healed don’t come back to thank Jesus, but imagine all that would have been happening in the hearts/minds/bodies of this group of people in such an extreme moment of sudden renewal! What might they have been doing? Who might they have been seeking out? 
  3. Now recall a way that you or someone you love has been treated as an outsider and then think of what it would mean for that to change in an instant, whether because of healing for them or healing for our broken world in the way that they are treated. What kinds of reactions and responses can you envision? What kinds of celebrations?

Closing Prayer:  
Holy God, thank you for the reminders over the last few weeks that in your presence we are always seen, always included, always loved, and always forgiven. We live daily in the confidence that we are yours. We are grateful for your healing power and ask that we be cleansed of all that keeps us from accepting ourselves and others as your beloved. May we be a people and a church that reflects your love in word, action, and deed. Amen.

Taking it Further (Challenge for Rebels):
Check these out to take the heart of the sermon and our discussion further this week. 
This painting by James C. Christensen, “Ten Lepers” has the following description on the artist's website.

“The ‘Ten Lepers’ were a group of men cured of their disease through one of Christ's miracles. Their tattered wrappings suggest what was, until this moment, their illness. Of the ten, nine are too preoccupied celebrating their new lease on life to think of anything else, much yet thank him. The tenth, at this moment, grasps truly what has occurred. He is the only one that returns to acknowledge the Master.

This image provides an inspiring reminder to take a moment from our fast-paced world and reflect on what we have to be thankful for. And, just as importantly, to take the time to show this gratitude.”

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