Morning worship: In the borderlands, ‘us’ and ‘them’ can be one through faith

“Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem and all it entails,” said the Rev. Anna Carter Florence at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. “They are passing through a region where they are guests, strangers, foreigners. The lines may be imaginary, but they are real lines.”

Her sermon title was “This Foreigner,” and the text was Luke 17:11-19.

They meet 10 lepers — not 10 bridesmaids — who are in need of healing, which Jesus does.

“This is a very familiar story, and in church and Sunday school we have learned to how important it is to say thank you to God,” she said. “But even the most familiar texts can do backflips on you, and that has happened to me.”

She asked the congregation to listen to Jesus’ words: “Weren’t 10 made clean, and the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise except ‘this foreigner?’ ”

Jesus was not talking to the man, but to the disciples, she said.

“Who does that in a region filled with foreigners, which Jesus was,” she said.

When her children were young, she and her husband would drive them from Georgia to a summer camp in the Adirondacks in northern New York, Florence said. They knew they were getting closer because there were road signs in both English and French, which meant they were near Canadian province Québec’s border.

“It is a sign of respect to try to speak French in Québec; it is what good neighbors do,” she said. “I would never ask for help in a store in Québec and then turn to my husband and say, ‘Hey, honey, did you hear what this foreigner just told me?’ That is a way to get into trouble. What was Jesus thinking [in calling the man ‘this foreigner’]? Was it a slip or was it a deliberate move?”

The region Jesus was passing through was not the most direct way to Jerusalem from Galilee.

“It is like coming to Chautauqua from Boston by way of Tennessee,” Florence said. “The Gospel writers do take artistic liberties and Luke is drawing a picture — before Jesus gets to the cross, he has to pass through the borderlands.”

Jesus was raised never to go to the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria. They are the borderlands that mark “us versus them.” But if Jesus wanted to get to Jerusalem on his way to the cross, he had to go through them.

It was a complicated place, and Florence said she did not know how the two groups mixed, but there must have been a lot of mistrust.

“This is why the Good Samaritan story was such a shocker,” she said. “That story is found in Luke 10, and you know that the disciples never get it right the first time. ‘This foreigner’ was a Samaritan, the one who saw he was healed and praised God with a loud voice. It is a strange detail, as if they would never expect a Samaritan to say thank you, or that a Samaritan cannot follow basic instructions, or, which is worse, to be a leper or a Samaritan?”

“This foreigner” is only used in this story in the New Testament, she said, but it is used frequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially with Ruth, Hagar, Jethro and Rahab, who were “foreigners” who show what faith and God’s  people should look like.

“Jesus makes the words we use day to day stand out,” Florence said. “We who yearn to follow Jesus could use a trip to the borderlands, the place where we were brought up and the place we are never to go.”

Jesus did not say to the Samaritan, “my faith made you well”; he said “your faith made you well.” Jesus might have told the Samaritan despite what path he might have been on, he met God, Florence said. Instead of going to priests and declaring himself clean — the way the other nine did — he was truly healed and knew God should be praised.

“That is the gift of the borderlands,” Florence said. “We find such faith everywhere but especially there.”

The Rev. Bruce Archibald presided. Carl Badger, a retired teacher who began singing with the Chautauqua Choir in 1955 and the Motet Choir in 1978, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, conducted the women of the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Fairest Lord Jesus,” with a setting by Carl Forsberg. The Dr. William N. Jackson Religious Initiative Fund and the John William Tyrell Endowment for Religion support this week’s services.