Rev. George Miller
“10, 9, 1, Go!”
October 10, 2010
This week, Nobel winner Desmond Tutu turned 79, and at the request of his wife, retired. Bishop Tutu told Time magazine that “The texture of our universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail.”
Goodness, laughter and justice: a trinity of triumphant words.
So with the Bishop’s lead, let’s spend today, which is the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year talking about how Jesus touches the life of 10 people. I will do so by talking about my niece Rylee, who just turned 10.
But first a joke, sent courtesy of Larry Andrews: an unjust lawyer and a sleepy senior citizen are on a long distance flight. The unjust lawyer, with his degree, laptop and cell phone, thinks he’s so smart and that all seniors are slow witted.
So he asks the sleepy senior to play a game: “I’ll ask you a question, if you don’t know the answer you give me $10. Then you ask me a question and if I don’t know the answer I’ll give you $100.”
The sleepy senior just wants to nap, but the idea of making a fast buck keeps him awake. The unjust lawyer goes first: “What’s the distance between the Earth and moon?” The sleepy senior says nothing and reaches into his wallet for $10.
Now it’s his turn. “What goes up a hill with 3 legs and comes down with 4?” The unjust lawyer checks his e-mail, texts his friends; nothing. He gives the sleepy senior $100, which he pockets and goes to sleep.
He goes nuts trying to find the answer. He wakes the man and asks “Well, what does go up a hill with 3 legs and comes down with 4?” The sleepy senior reaches into his pocket, hands him $5 and goes back to sleep…
Goodness, laughter and justice are important traits for any person, any organization, and any church to share.
One way for goodness, laughter and justice to prevail is the ability to see: to see what the current political and social environment is; to see just who the lost, lonely and wounded are.
To actually see them, not as a disease or a sin or an easily silenced group, but to see them as people, as individuals with their own hopes, fears and gifts.
I’m biased, but when I think of someone who is a true individual, I think of my wonderful, smart and funny niece, Rylee Ann, who turned 10 on August 23.
I remember the day she was born: my brother called from MO announcing her birth; we could hear her cries on the phone.
It was because of her that I chose to attend seminary in St. Louis. I was there when she turned 1 and was at Target, learning how to walk by pushing the shopping cart.
I watched as this amazing young girl learned how to open and close doors and turn the TV on and off by using the remote control.
At my place, I kept loose change in a potato chip can and when Rylee came over she’d dump it out onto the floor and then proceed to put each dime, nickel, penny back in, enraptured for as long as it took.
She had a sense of humor and warm laugh; she was also quite an actress, playing the role of wounded waif when she didn’t get her way.
One of my favorite memories was in the spring of ’08. I was back in MO taking a continued ed. class and spent the afternoon with Rylee and my brother Timmy. We went by the river, climbed up a hill and took photos.
On the way home Rylee became silly, singing this song: “Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell down and bumped is head; mommie called the doctor and the doctor said ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed.’”
Rylee had a lisp, singing what she learned in school and enjoyed hamming it up for her father and uncle. “Nine little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell down and bumped is head; mommie called the doctor and the doctor said ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed.’”
She laughed and she sang, she sang and she laughed, getting into the character of being both the narrator and doctor. “One little monkey jumping on the bed, one fell down and bumped is head; mommie called the doctor and the doctor said ‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed.’”
That is how I will always see Rylee Ann. No matter what wrong she may do, no matter what mistakes she makes, hurts she causes or endures, I hope too always see her as that lisping, laughing girl so I can forgive and offer her the recognition of God’s mercy in her life.
As long as I can do that, I can respond to her with actions that acknowledge her humanity and her rights to justice and grace.
That is part of what I understand about Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus, filled with an awareness of God and God’s Kingdom, was someone who lived a life “deeply and fully alive”, who was totally present to other people because he was a “remarkably free man,” free “to forgive” and “free to be.”[i]
That freedom allowed Jesus to reach out to others and to see them as unique individuals.
Luke found a way to show this to us through his references to sight and the way he introduced people into the Jesus narrative.
For example, in Luke 13:10-14 Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Luke tells us a woman comes in with a spirit that has crippled her. Jesus sees her, calls her over, speaks to her and frees her from her ailment.
It would have been easier to call her a cripple; but that would have robbed her of her humanity and her right to goodness and justice.
Instead, Luke refers to her the way Jesus saw her: a person first in which having a crippling spirit was just part of her story. This was a dignifying recognition of personhood.”[ii] Because Jesus saw her as a person, he was able to set her free.
The humanizing ability of Jesus appeared in his story of a son who returns home after squandering his father’s money.
Jesus tells us that even though the son is still “far off”, the father “saw him” and was so moved with compassion that he runs to his son with hugs and kisses.
A woman with a crippling spirit, a son who was financially irresponsible: all worthy of being seen and treated with freedom and love.
That is part of what I see in today’s reading. Jesus is journeying towards the cross. From a distance ten men who are living with leprosy call out to Jesus and we are told that Jesus “saw” them.
Not just a quick look that said “Oh, these men have skin issues” but he “saw” them the same way he saw the woman with the crippling spirit, the way the father saw his son, the way I hope to always see my niece:
As three-dimensional human beings with their own hopes and dreams, who just so happen to live with the imperfectness of life.
Jesus saw the ten men and his act of seeing restores them back into community. I feel a silly song coming on: “Ten men with leprosy see Jesus up ahead/they called out and this is what he said/ ‘I can see your personhood, your hope and dreams/ Go and see the priest for I have made you clean.’”
Jesus sees. Jesus sees all of us. Not just the just things we do or the boundaries that divide.
Jesus sees all of us. Not just the good and the well, but the sins and ills that can separate us.
Jesus sees who we are now, who we have been, what we have endured, the joys we have embraced, as well as the accidents of chance that can put one person at the head of the class and put another into the back.
When Jesus sees us, he sees all that we have done and knows of all that we can become.
He doesn’t just allow the present to define us, but he also recalls the lisping child singing about monkeys in the back of a car.
And all those negative things that happen, that can be used to keep us divided or make us unwell? They may play a role in shaping us, but in Christ they do not define us.
We are more then any illness or ailment we may have, we are more then our bodies will or won’t allow, we are more then any sin we can commit or any hurt we can cause.
Because Jesus sees us, he knows us, he knows that no matter what we all still have that child inside of us, full of goodness and laughter, who knows what is just and what is fair, who is waiting for someone else to see so that we can be saved and set free.
Jesus sees each of us little monkeys jumping on the bed and in return extends mercy and the recognition that we are children of God.
In return, we are called to follow that example by showing that recognition and mercy to all the other monkeys we meet, jumping on the bed, bumping their head.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if we are 100, 90 or 10. Jesus sees all of us. We are made well so we can go and do the same.
It doesn’t matter if we are 10, 9 or 1. Jesus sees all of us. We are made well so we can go and do the same.
From our borning cry to our final breathe, may we accept the fact that in Christ we are loved, we are well and we are known.
Because in Christ we are all seen.
Amen and amen
[i] John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, 1998, pp. 114, 126, 127.
[ii] R. Alan Culpepper, Luke Commentary, New Interpreter’s Bible, pg. 326.