On Servants' Wings
A gynandromorph butterfly with the transgender pride flag for the front wing and the rainbow pride flag on the rear wing On Servants Wings
Resources and Reflections by Azariah Liron


From the South Hadley, MA Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service, Nov. 25, 2014

Print Version

Text: Psalm 65, Luke 17:11-19, Deuteronomy 8:7-18

"Open my lips, that my mouth may show forth thy praise"

Welcome everyone. A blessed Thanksgiving to you.

In today's world we often prefer to keep Thanksgiving as an idealistic event,

with family, food and football.

This idyllic day is considered the modern analogy to the peaceful harvest festival

that linked the native peoples and the newly arrived pilgrims.

Despite this perfect picture, Thanksgiving is a season of contrasts.

A harvest festival, it is a celebration of the bountiful fruits we have brought in this year.

Yet it also stands at a time when the seasons turn, snow and ice are on the horizon.

Indeed the classic story of the first Thanksgiving,

a unifying feast shared between the indigenous peoples and the pilgrims,

stands as an idealistic vision that is often used to mask

the painful history of violence that would follow.

The effects of which linger today.

Indeed this is a tumultuous time,

as some gather to celebrate joyfully with their families,

and others grieve for those who should be there and are not.

Some will feast on turkey and ham,

while others will go hungry

and still more will face hordes of shoppers for minimum wage

in order to keep a miserable job they hate.

These feelings, these emotions are not divided evenly,

a group of joyful families relaxing on the one side,

and miserable grief-stricken poverty on the other,

for many of us will approach this season unsettled.

Perhaps we are looking forward to going home,

but dreading that one person who will spend the event reminding us

that we aren't living up to their standard.

Or maybe we'll be joining with friends that evening,

delighting in their company

even as we long for the family we can't reach,

or perhaps those who have outright rejected us.

It is in these unsettled places,

the times where happiness, grief, joy and fear mingle,

that our faith becomes all the more critical.

As we turn to Luke we can find another place where an idealistic boundary falls to pieces.

The clear line between sick and well in this story,

was created in Leviticus, where we are told that those with leprosy are to

"wear torn clothes,

let the hair of his head be disheveled

and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out 'unclean, unclean'."

In this way the person was to make it clear that they are sick

and should not be approached by the healthy.

By their very appearance and words

everyone would know exactly how things should be.

In Luke we find ten individuals testing the edges of that boundary.

They did not shout "unclean" as custom demanded,

but "have mercy upon us".

Through their words they gave voice to their frustration at their exile.

And how did Jesus respond?

In our ideal Jesus,

the one we want to talk about,

Jesus would have walked among them, touching, talking, sharing their lives

and becoming one of them.

There are times when this is exactly what Jesus does.

The Gospels are full of stories which reveal Jesus stepping in and touching those

society would call untouchable,

but not this time.

In response to their request Jesus directs them to the system they had been excluded from.

"Go, show yourself to the priests"

That is go; fulfill the formal rights of reentry.

It is an instruction that is unthreatening to those in power.

There is no great upheaval, only a command to present oneself to those in authority.

Despite this mindboggling disparity between the hands-on Christ I follow

and this dissonant command that those with leaprosy present themselves for evaluation

I firmly believe that Jesus never did anything without a reason

That he knew that the challenge to the system would come from a place

that no one would expect.

The people go as they are told,

and as they leave they are made clean.

The leprosy recedes,

their skin is left intact.

Despite this miraculous cleansing,

we are told that only one person in the story is healed.

There is a world of difference between being made clean,

that is made acceptable in the eyes of society,

and being healed,

that is brought to wholeness and restored to ones fullest self.

Who is it that we are told was healed?

The leprous Samaritan,

a double outsider.

They were culturally excluded both for their race and for their disease.

Despite, or perhaps because of this,

when this person looked and saw themselves as clean,

the marks of their leprosy faded to nothing,

It was they who knew that healing was more than just the removal of disease.

Healing for them involved connection,

an acknowledgement of the abundance that had been shared with them.

Jesus acknowledges their action,

drawing attention to it by asking those around him what had happened to the other nine, those who had been made clean,

but had not returned healed.

Through his question Jesus affirmed that it was within this one person,

this former outsider,

that something great had happened.

When Jesus says "Go in Peace, your faith has made you well"

he is affirming the Samaritans discovery that healing arises

when the one who was made clean realizes their self-worth.

Wholeness was found when they knew that their value

was not linked to the priest's assessment,

but was held in love by the one who had cleansed them.

I believe that the healing the Samaritan leaper discovered and rejoiced in

is rooted in an awareness that our world, this beautiful earth,

was created with ample resources for all people.

I imagine their thankfulness involved praising the truth that there is enough for everyone

And in that truth there is space for the lines between us to fall,

erased forever by the fullness of love.

At this time of year there is a heightened awareness of the conflict between scarcity and abundance.

November marks a new wave of radio, TV and internet advertisements

that are flooding us with messages of scarcity.

"Act Now!" they compel us.

"This is a limited time offer".

In the midst of their urgency these ads are filled with constant reminders

that we need all of the newest toys, clothes and jewelry.

Beyond this annual assault of advertisements

last night offered a more disturbing insight into our culture of scarcity.

As I joined the nation in waiting for a decision in Ferguson, MO

I listened as the Missouri Governor listed the importance of protecting

lives, property and free speech,

in that order.

The 1st amendment rights of human beings in this country

to name injustice, to speak truth to power

and challenge bias

were listed as secondary to the protection of property.

A few hours later we watched with horror

as we learned that the presumed theft of a pack of cigarettes

was more considered more important than a young man's life.

Think about that for a second.

We consider cigarettes

so scarce a resource that we have now authorized police to use deadly force

on those assumed to have taken them without a trial.

In contrast to the frantic pace of scarcity,

the messages of violence

and the on-going battle of life and property being lived out in our country today

I take solace in the Christian promise of abundance.

I find the Psalmist describes this abundance perfectly.

You prepare the grain, *

for so you provide for the earth.

You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

You crown the year with your goodness, *

and your paths overflow with plenty."

As I close my eyes and listen to this song

I am lost reflecting in the beauty of the fields covered with crops,

The sound of water rushing through a book

the fresh taste of the air after it rains.

I am also reminded of America the Beautiful.

"O beautiful for spacious skies, For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties. Above the fruited plain!"

These images of abundance would be enough to quell any inclination to worldly views of scarcity

if not for the fact that my housemates and I

come face to face with those lacking basic security, food, shelter, and dignity,

on a daily basis.

As a member of the Lawrence House Service Corps

I live with four other young adults,

all of us recent college graduates,

who have chosen to give thanks for the education we've received

by dedicating a year to prayerfully serving those

who are kept from accessing our nation's abundance.

Through our work we come in contact on a daily basis with people

who are not housed, who cannot find work,

who are hungry and tired.

We share in the stories of those affected by violence,

by medical policies that degrade

and bureaucracies so complex that even our highly educated selves are often confused.

We respond to these stories,

this apparent scarcity through a ministry of presence.

One person at a time,

by being there,

by sharing what we have,

by seeking out new resources, we are building new communities and strengthening the ancient ones.

Through it all,

my daily work and the stories my housemates carry home with them

I can't help but find myself asking:

How is it that we,

living in a divinely created world of plenty,

have so many who spend their days wondering where they will be able to find food, or a place to sleep?

A quote from Amartya Sen,

the Nobel Prize winning Economist,

provides insight in navigating this apparent conflict

between abundance and scarcity.

He said:

"Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat.

It is not the characteristic of there being not enough food to eat."

Another way of looking at this

is to realize famine, starvation and hunger are not natural occurrences.

Rather these horrible conditions stem from attitudes of scarcity

which contribute to an unequal distribution of the world's bounty.

That is to say abundance and scarcity coexist

because we choose to believe in scarcity, not because scarcity is real.

Yet the culture of scarcity is very real,

an ever present reality whenever we turn on our TV or check our e-mail.

It is impossible to avoid the persistent repeat, "there is not enough"

which echoes through our media like a broken record.

Yet in the midst of this barrage of messages detailing the doom of our world due to scarcity,

we are given hope.

Deuteronomy enjoins us to

"Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances and his statues"

What are these commandments?

These statutes that we are to cling to

as we walk the knives edge between scarcity and abundance.

The first is this,

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and all your soul"

and the second is like it, "Love your neighbor as yourself".

For it is these commandments that name the shield that can defend us from the lies of scarcity.

Love is what will protect us from the onslaught of falsehood,

Preserving us from the devilish whisper that we need more.

Love is the ever-present reminder that we live in a world of plenty,

even as we may be struggling to do without.

Love is the gift we've been given.

Love for the creation we are a part of.

A love that inspires us to preserve the land we've been given for all those to come.

Love for our families, friends and communities,

Those people in our lives who remind us that we are enough, just as we are.

Love for our enemies and those we don't yet understand,

For it is they who show us that God is bigger than any idol we could create.

In the midst of fear, confusion and doubt,

let us remember God's promise spoken to Dame Julian of Norwich

over six hundred years ago,

a promise that is also given to us today.

"All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well"

Even as we live in a national culture of scarcity,

a place where property is valued over human lives and dignity

we have been given a promise that all will be made well.

Indeed we, in this very moment can live into that wellness

We are invited to share in this healing

by declaring with our words and actions that there is enough.

As we gather together may we remember this Thanksgiving

and in the season to come

that there is enough

There is enough for everyone.


Copyright © Azariah Liron 2020