I spent some time at a conference in Denver last week called “Evolving Faith.” Many of the attendees of the conference might classify themselves as “exvangelicals.” They came from various faith denominations. Many, however, have been hurt by the church and her people. Something happened in their lives and the church that they loved was no longer a safe place. I heard a story of a woman who was heavily involved with her church and then her brother came out as gay and she and her family were no longer welcome in church. Another story of a cancer diagnosis and no one from the church bothered to call. At the end of the conference, we misfits, all 2,000 plus attendees gathered around the table to have a humble meal of bread and wine. For some, it had been years since they had communion. For others, like me, it had just been a few weeks. But for so many in attendance, it was the first time in a very long time that they felt seen. They didn’t need to put on airs, pretend to be okay or well, have it altogether, or even be confident in what they believed. We were welcomed at the table, just as we were, and so we went. There is power in being seen.
The lepers in our story today were seen. I think this is a story about healing. I think this is a story about what it means to be grateful. I also think this is a story about what it means to give praise to God. I also think this could be a story about what it means to give thanks. But, it all starts with being seen, and there is power in that. The lepers were probably used to not being seen. After all, they weren’t the most aesthetically pleasing crowd. Jesus met them on their turf, so to speak. Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. This was dangerous territory. It probably wasn’t a well traveled road. It wasn’t safe for the average Judean. But, it was safe for the lepers. In this region, they could just be. They could be in community with other lepers without the stares, without the gossip, without the looks of pity, without people crossing over to the other side of the street. They could live without having to justify even the breath in their own lungs. And then Jesus came along. And I think it’s important for us to once again hear and see what happens before healing and rejoicing happens. Listen again.
Verses 12 starts “as he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,” because remember, that’s what they were used to, society had trained them to do that, “they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them,” and I want to stop right there. Jesus saw them. He saw the lepers. He saw their full humanity. He saw them and then healed them. And his immediate command was “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” What Jesus said basically was “go and make yourself seen by someone else as well!” The priest was the person that could bring the lepers back into community fully. The priest was one of the people that would insure that the lepers would be seen fully. There is power in being seen.
I believe that the lepers praised God because they were healed, yes, (I can’t blame them) but because of what the healing means. See, during this time, there was much expected of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If someone had an illness that could be visually observed (such as boils or leprosy), or if someone had been seized by a evil spirit then they were outcast by all of society. Their family, their town and community, even their church didn’t want anything to do with them. After all, what if it is contagious. Thank goodness we don’t operate like that anymore. (eyeroll) For the lepers, healing meant that they can now be seen as members of the community again, as members of their families again, as participants in worshiping communities again. There is power in being seen. When you feel seen, how can you not but praise God? After all, it is often only God that truly sees you.
When was the last time you felt seen? And I mean truly seen? I had to ask myself this question and I don’t know that I have a good answer. I am seen a lot as my roles, which isn’t a bad thing. I am seen as Ellen’s mom, or Chris’ wife, or Pastor, or sister, or whatever. But, when was the last time I felt seen as Jealaine, child of God? Because, as I’ve said over the last few weeks, if that is our core identity, which it is, then when was the last time you felt really seen in your core identity? And I also had to wonder what what prevents me from being seen. The answer really stung, my beloved. I prevent me from being seen. There is power in being seen and there is healing in being seen and I am getting in my own way, maybe you can relate.
Maybe I don’t want to be seen because then if I am seen, I will be fully seen. This means I will be seen with all my flaws. I will be seen with all my shortcomings. I will be seen with all my sins. I don’t want people to see that. I don’t want to be shunned from the community. I don’t want to be a leper. But did you notice something about the lepers that Jesus healed? There was more than one. Even within the leper community, there was more than one. This was a group of people that managed to look at one another’s brokenness and said, “hey, me too! Let’s travel together.” Maybe church should be more like that. I am broken. You are too. And together we aren’t whole. But we are a whole lot. That is because God sees us. All of us. Just as we are.
Soon, we misfits in this place will gather around this table to be seen once again. Sure, I will hand you bread and wine, but it is God that is meeting you in this meal and is seeing you. The body of Christ given for you who is working long hours for little pay. The blood of Christ shed for you who feels guilty for letting those dishes sit in the sink another day. The body of Christ given for you whose marriage is falling apart. The blood of Christ shed for you who just needs a break, is that too much to ask? The body of Christ given for you whose own body is starting to fail you. The blood of Christ given to you who doesn’t quite know what to think about this God and Jesus stuff. The body of Christ given to you who fight demons every day. The blood of Christ given to you who have a child that breaks your heart daily. You are seen. You are called. You are claimed. And you are seen. You are loved right where you are, no matter where you are. And you are seen. All thanks and praise be to God, you are seen.