Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 9, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

(Jeremiah 29:1-47)+Psalm 66:1-11+Timothy 2:8-15+Luke 17:11-19

We’re going to take a little detour today, leaving behind David and Absalom and all the mess and sorrow, and we’re going to join Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. It often happens that the assigned readings for this time of year focus on money and gratitude. After all, this is when most congregations are asking for pledges of their members for the coming year, to support the ministries and work they are called to do. And I suppose this story of the ten lepers fits that bill pretty well, with the nine going off to show themselves to the priests, just as Jesus told them to, and the one – that Samaritan – who came back to say “thanks.”

Luke tells us that Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee (Luke 17:11). He was not in either place, but in-between, in a borderland. Some might call it no-man’s land. The Samaritans were Jews who did not worship in Jerusalem but instead on Mt. Gerizim. The historic enmities between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of Samaria ran deep. Into this no-man’s-land enter the ten lepers, outsiders who could not live among others, whose contagion isolated them and provoked judgment and fear from others. They asked Jesus for mercy, and that is exactly what Jesus showed them.

On Tuesday morning, St. Francis Church at 3rd & Jefferson was the site of the funeral mass for 28-year-old Christopher Garcia. Garcia was shot last Sunday morning on Marshall Street when he tried to break up a fight. He was a dreamer, an entrepreneur, someone who gave back to his neighbors, beloved of his family and friends, and his death has rocked the entire community.

I wonder how many of you heard about this, or knew his name, or knew only that he was shot on the west side of town in the middle of the night, or knew anything other than that the photos of him show arms covered with tattoos? Or maybe you heard but, like with most news that comes our way, it quickly faded.

But part of our Hoboken community is in deep grief. There have been three deaths in three months among families connected with the Housing Authority. Hoboken may be a Mile Square City, but it contains borderlands where no one crosses. I remember when I first moved here, I was told that our neighbors on the west side of town don’t come any further east than Willow Avenue, at the farthest. The reverse is not true so much because gentrification draws those of us on this side further and further from the water. But make no mistake, there is a borderland.

Jesus did not abide by the rules of boundaries and territories and borderlands. Where people were in need of healing, of blessing, of care, that’s where he went. And it’s where we are supposed to go, too. Borders are meant to keep people apart. Jesus is about bringing people together.

Our annual giving season has just begun, and through your pledges we will be able to support our ministries here – the choir, the Sunday School, making plans for this physical space that is in need of care. We also look outward into the community at our ministry partners – the Hoboken Shelter, In Jesus’ Name Charities, the Lighthouse, Community Lifestyle which is being supported by the board of the Jubilee Center. It is good and right that we commit dollars to these ministries. We do not exist just for ourselves but for our neighbors, as well.

But it isn’t enough to write checks and feel like we have done our part. When our neighbors are in need, we stand with them. But first, we have to know them. And by that, I don’t mean doing things for them. I mean doing things with them. Dinners, service projects, fellowship events. It is time to break through the borderlands in Hoboken and share God’s love with those who hunger, who thirst, who mourn.

This year, when I think of annual giving and pledging, that is where my heart goes. Let’s get busy breaking down walls and building longer tables.

ASEPSermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 9, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas