Scripture: Psalm 100:4; Luke 17:11-19
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
November 22, 2015
This morning I would like to talk about gates. When I say the word “gates there are probably many different images that come to mind: the Pearly Gates of Heaven, security gates, baby gates, the Golden Gate bridge, the St. Louis Arch – that is, the gateway to the west, Bill Gates…
In the Bible, there were many different kinds of gates as well: the sheep gate, the fish gate – where fish were taken to be sold, the dung gate – the gate through which trash was to be taken out. The main gates into a city where strong and visually impressive – used to protect a city from outside intruders. These gates were secured by strong locks and opened with large keys, sometimes the keys were more than two feet in length. In ancient times, it was said that if the gate of a city fell, the city itself was considered to have fallen. The gates of a city played a prominent role in the ancient days. Elders met at the gates to share wisdom. Kings often came to the gates to make important decisions. Criminals were convicted outside of the gates. Priests and prophets sometimes delivered their message at the gates.
Gates represented strength, power, and dominion. As they do today. A gate by definition “prevents or controls the entry or exit of individuals”. This week there has been much discussion about who and how many persons we will allow through the gates of the United States. Currently, there are 4 million Syrian refugees. At this time, the United States has allowed 1,600 Syrian refugees through its gates. This past week Obama advocated to increase that number to 10,000 persons. The United Church of Christ, along with other denominations would like to increase that number to 65,000. There are some people who do not think this is a good idea – in our country and even in our congregation. Some argue that there may be members of Isis disguised as Syrian refugees just waiting to infiltrate the United States; others say, if we can’t take care of our own homeless population – how in the world can we take care of the homeless from another country? Still others say that if we have money to spend, let’s spend it on the Veterans – after all, they have fought and protected our country – not on foreign refugees. Part of me agrees with those statements – yes, we need to spend more money on the homeless than we do. We need to give greater care to our Veterans than we have. We need to be wise and prudent with who we allow through the gates of the United States. There is evil in this world. I am grateful to hear that there are very strict security measures in place to determine who can come through the gates of the United States.
Yes, I agree with some of the arguments I have heard, but there are also some of us (myself included), who feel that our faith calls us to welcome the refugee. Refugees are the most vulnerable people in the world. They have been ripped from their land and taken away from all they have held dear. Exile is geographical, social, moral, cultural. The refugee population is doubly victimized: victims of the violence of war in their own country, and victims of the violence of hatred and bigotry around the world. The Syrian war is the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. Sixty million people have been forced to flee from their homes – that is, 10 million more than at the height of the WWII. Over half of Syrian refugees are children. Yes, some of us feel that our faith commands us to welcome the refugee. Deuteronomy states. “Love the sojourner” (10:19). Leviticus declares “treat the foreigner residing among you…as your native-born” (19:34). And others point to Jesus who was once a refugee. One person from our congregation, John Walsh, put it this way on Facebook: “In my own life, I was saved by a refugee. As a small child, he was taken by his father and mother to Egypt to escape the killing of thousands of innocent children. Although the terrorists finally caught up with him and took his life, he refused to hate. He kept reminding us to love even our enemies. He showed us the way to peace. Do not fear the refugee. He and she are our brothers and sisters. There must be room in our hearts and our communities to welcome them, even as strangers.” Yes, some of us feel that our faith demands that we welcome the refugee.
I imagine that we will probably never be in full agreement over who and how many persons should enter through the gates of the United States. But I do believe that we can agree on the importance of gates. Gates represent power, strength, prestige and dominion just as they did in Biblical times.
The Psalmist has something significant to say about gates. Of course, the Psalmist is referring to the gates of the Temple. The Temple symbolized the presence of God for it was where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The Psalmist not only speaks of the importance of gates, but of how we should enter those gates. “Enter God’s gates with thanksgivings and God’s courts with praise.” Whenever the people came to the Temple and entered the courtyard they knew they had come into the presence of the Beloved, into the presence of intoxicating joy, into the presence of deep peace. They were coming home to the heart of love! Oh, how I believe the Psalmist has a word for us today.
Like in Bible times, our world, too, is torn apart by violence and war – which means our praise is all the more important! Our praise not only changes the energy of the world, but it declares that we ultimately trust in the goodness of God. We will choose love and joy over fear and terror. The Psalmist declares, “Enter God’s gates with Thanksgiving,” Note the Psalmist does not say enter God’s gates with indifference, enter God’s gates with apathy or enter God’s gate with dread, but the Psalmist says enter God’s gates with thanksgiving! We are not going to a dirge, but to a party. We are not dragging ourselves to the dentist’s office, but to a entering into a worship celebration. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s court with praise! How did you enter the doors, modern day gates of the sanctuary this morning?
In the Gospel of Luke, we read about one who entered into the gates with thanksgiving. The story goes like this. There were 10 lepers. Leprosy was a dreaded affliction. The book of Leviticus says this about lepers: The person has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” The leper shall remain outside the city gates. Leprosy symbolized pain, loneliness; and isolation – maybe like our modern day refugee.
But Jesus had compassion on them. When people stepped back from the ten lepers, Jesus stepped forward. They called out: “Jesus, Jesus have mercy on us!” When Jesus saw these ten, he crossed the gates of the “quarantined” area with love and mercy and he said to them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” What does that mean? Well, the lepers know what that meant. They went to receive a diagnosis, a verdict: clean or unclean, inside the gates or outside the gates, member of the community or beggar on the outskirts. And as they went on their way, they were cleansed – the wounds were healed, the color returned, the feeling came back into their limbs that had been numb for years. And nine went on their way, to have the priests in the temple affirm their cures and restore them to society. But one, when he saw that he was healed, cried out, turned back, and went running to the gate of a new “temple” named Jesus, giving thanks and praise to God.
Jesus asks, “Weren’t there ten lepers here a minute ago? Where are the other nine?” I don’t know about you, but there are places in my life where I have not said “Thank you”. There are people who have helped me along the way and I have not said, “Thank you.” There are times when God has blessed me and I have not said “Thank you.” I have shouted the prayer request and mumbled the praise. I have shouted the need and mumbled the thanksgiving. But this one leper was as loud with the praise, “Thank you, Jesus!” as he was with the prayer request. This leper entered the gates with thanksgiving! He entered the courts with praise!
And then something very peculiar happens next in the story. Jesus says to that one leper, “Go forth your faith has made you whole.” If he was cleansed, why does he need to be made whole? I am glad you asked. He was cleansed on the outside, but there was some inside work to do. The real work is on the inside. Thankfulness will give us the inside help we need. God has cleaned us up. God has blessed us. But that is on the outside. The inside work comes when we enter into the gates with thanksgiving and the courts with the praise. We can be cured of our leprosy and still miss out on wholeness.
Some of you may be thinking, “Well, Jill, I understand that the leper now cleansed should come back with an attitude of gratitude. But what if I haven’t been cleansed yet? What if I still struggle with leprosy? For I am in pain. I am lonely. I face the leprosy of broken relationship; I face the leprosy of financial strain; I face the leprosy of poor health. If God would heal me, I would enter into the gates with thanksgiving; I would enter the courts with praise – but I am not healed.”
I invite you to ask yourself this question, what is the real miracle in this story, in your life? When we are declared disease-free, when the check finally arrives, when the lawsuit is settled, when the pain goes away? Or is the real miracle when you give thanks even in the midst of unbearable circumstances, when we shout for joy and sing God’s praises even in the midst of hardship and terrible challenges? The real miracle happens when there is a shift in attitude. The real miracle happens not when there is a change on the outside, but on the inside.
The Bible says “In everything, give thanks”. The Bible does not say, “For everything, give thanks.” But in everything give thanks.
The minute we begin to say “thank you, God” even though our situation has not changed, we change. That is the real miracle. And so we can come into worship leaping and jumping and giving our praise to God. We can proclaim, “This is the day that God has made! We will rejoice and be glad in it!” We can declare, “Great is our God and greatly to be praised!” We can sing, “Hallelujah! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Hallelujah!” Yes, we can enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s court with praise!