I find myself thinking of the ‘faith of the outsider’ this week as we pause in the familiar story of Jesus’ healing of the ten lepers now. For while are surely called to focus on the powerful gift of Jesus’ healing as demonstrated in this story, what stands out is the grateful response of the one. The Samaritan. Here is how my perspective is developing:
I was privileged to assist in leading a Dwelling in the World workshop this last Saturday. “Dwelling in the World” is one of the six missional practices which are taught through Church Innovations Institute. (If you are interested, you can find more information here.)
Simply put, the experience equips us to be ‘detectives of divinity’ in the world. Rooted in the sending imagery of Luke 10:1-12, it gives us some tools for encountering the stranger — and in doing so receiving the gift of witnessing what God is already up to in their lives and in the world. It is, in fact, a way of being people of peace and looking for people of peace in the world. (Again, see Luke 10.)
- It is not necessarily meant to be a way of gaining new members — although it may lead to that.
- It is not necessarily even meant to be a means of offering an overt verbal witness to one’s faith, although it may lead to that as well.
- It is not even supposed to be a way of actually meeting the needs of another — although similar conversations repeated and shared may well result in a congregational effort to address a particular need experienced by many in a community.
- It is simply a practice which has us intentionally speaking to strangers, expressing genuine interest in their lives. It can look like a brief exchange with the teller at the bank. It may mean hearing the life hurts and hopes of the cashier at the grocery store. One has no way of knowing, of course, what these brief encounters may result in. But what fun to be there and to wonder at what may come of it. And no matter what happens next, the world is already a better, safer place because of the effort to engage the stranger.
And so it was that late on Saturday morning the thirty gathered were sent out into the community to seek out a stranger and to try to engage them. They came back in time for lunch laden with stories — some poignant and some marked by hilarity.
- There was, for instance, the one who found himself disappointed by the terse exchange with his bank teller, but who encountered two young men in the parking lot who were new to the community. And who returned with a lively story to tell about what he learned.
- There was another who carefully observed the young man in charge of hospitality at McDonald’s and when he came near, commented at how hard his job was. He paused to say, ‘Yes, it is hard to stay positive when so many refuse to acknowledge his efforts at kindness.’
- And there was one who engaged the owner of a small downtown store — and who heard her whole life story. Apparently at some point she offered that she had been sent to do this from our workshop. She left and another of our folks wandered in and sought to engage her. And the woman said, “Oh, are you from that Lutheran Church?” We laughed to hear this and then wondered what it might mean if Lutherans actually got a reputation for engaging the world in our community!
- Still another had forgotten to take off her name-tag and was called by name by the owner of the gas station in her neighborhood, completely throwing her off in her effort to reach out to him!
- And the stories went on and on
- Without a doubt, God was already at work in the life of the Samaritan so that unlike the rest, he offered a grateful response to the unexpected gift of life restored that he received at the hands of Jesus. And I wonder how God might already be at work in the lives of strangers we encounter every day. Indeed, I do wonder how we might become more aware of that wondrous work. Even as thirty Lutherans did last Saturday morning.
- And this: I wonder about how God already be at work in the life of someone we least expect who we might just encounter. Who would be a Samaritan — an outsider — in your community, neighborhood, congregation? And how might you engage them enough to hear how God may be at work?
- And also this: Jesus offered a gift of profound healing to the ten who approached him that day. I wonder how you and I might be agents of such healing in our world today. Indeed, in a world too often marked by fear and division, might healing just be ours to offer (and in turn, receive) if we simply reached out with a word of kindness, curiosity, or affirmation even to someone we have never seen before who we may never see again? Or to one who we have passed by a thousand times (as those ten lepers must have been passed by a thousand, thousand times) without even noticing before?
- And finally this: More than just receiving physical healing, the ten lepers were actually restored to community by the healing they received. How might we be called to restore others to community by simply engaging them? Even in casual conversation. Even now.