October 9, 2016 Sermon: “Dirty Theology”

October 9, 2016

“Dirty Theology”

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


Shane Claiborne is the founder of the Simple Way in Philadelphia, which is a group of Christians trying to live out their faith in the most authentic way they can.

Shane tells the story of getting to the end of his time at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and feeling disillusioned with the church.  He writes that he wanted to meet a Christian, a real Christian.

So, he writes a letter to Mother Teresa and asks if he can come stay with her in Calcutta for the summer.  He waits weeks for a reply but never hears anything.  So with summer approaching, he starts calling convents and asking them if they have the phone number for Mother Teresa (or momma T as he called her).  Finally he gets in touch with a mother superior who he convinces to give him a number for the missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

He wakes up at 2am to place the call from his dorm’s pay phone (remember those?) holding rolls of quarters because the call cost four dollars a minute.  So he calls the number and an old raspy voice says hello.  And Shane quickly says I’m calling for mother Teresa because I want to visit.  And the voice says, this is mother Teresa.  And she says come, come for the summer.  And Shane asks, where will we sleep and eat, and mother Teresa replies that God takes care of sparrows and lilies, God will take care of them.  Just come.

And so he goes, and he finds himself working in a leper colony outside Calcutta.  Leprosy is terrible illness among the poorest of the poor.  It makes you unclean, it makes you untouchable, an outcast.

Shane writes, “One of the lepers explained to me that oftentimes lepers don’t even know the words thank you because they have never needed to say them.  They had rarely experienced occasions when they used language of gratitude.”

It was in living with and loving the poorest of the poor that Shane says he saw “dirty theology” at work.  Dirty theology is all about the “radical dynamic of Jesus’ challenging what was deemed clean and unclean, holy and unholy, sacred and profane.

From being born as a refugee to dying on the cross, Jesus enters into the ‘dirty’ world we live in.

He does things like wash feet and heals people with unlikely things like dirt and spit.

He calls the religious folks a brood of vipers and says the tax collectors are entering the kingdom ahead of you.

All of it [the point of dirty theology] is a challenge to see the world upside down. Everything is redeemable, and God is found in unlikely places.  It has been said that Jesus consistently challenges the chosen and includes the excluded.”

Luke’s whole approach to writing about Jesus’ life is dirty theology – he tells about all those times when Jesus touches the untouchables, when Jesus loves the outsiders, when Jesus eats with unclean people.

Luke has two stories for us that make a Samaritan, a religious and ethnic outsider, the hero of the story.

Samaritans were the despised half-breed neighbors.

During an ancient war most of the Israelites who lived up north in Samaria were taken into exile or killed and only a few remained.  There was a great resettlement of the area and foreigners intermarried with the Jews and brought their own religious customs and their own gods. The God of the Samaritans was worshipped at Mount Gerizim not in Jerusalem.

Israelites would often travel far out of their way to avoid going through Samaria.

Luke tells us the Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem from Galilee which means he was traveling south and could have given Samaria a wide berth.  But Luke tells us that he was in the region between Galilee and Samaria.  And this is a really interesting detail because there isn’t really a region between, like a no-man’s land.

But perhaps this is Luke’s way of saying that Jesus was doing something out of the ordinary for a Jewish traveler, coming nearer than was necessary to this land of hated people, drawing close to what usually avoided.

Jesus on entering the village finds a group of lepers.

Leprosy in Jesus’ day was a terms used to cover a number of disfiguring illnesses – but what it meant that was until the illness went away, you could not be touched by anyone, you could not worship your God in the sacred places, you would be avoided, cast out, live outside the city, and sink deeper and deeper into poverty.

These lepers kept their distance calling out to the new arrivals, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us” which is a traditional way of begging for money.

Luke tells us that in response to this ruckus, Jesus sees them, not hears them.  Jesus sees them.  He tells all of them to go present themselves to the priest, because it is the priest who will declare them healed.  And you will also notice that they are not healed immediately on the spot.  They are healed on the way.

And sometimes that is how it goes for us as well.  We pray for healing, for wholeness, for the capacity to forgive or let go of something, we pray for a release from our worries, and it doesn’t happen instantly.  Sometimes we pray, and then go about our lives and then when we are on the way, we look back and discover that the healing or the release came.

One of the lepers doesn’t go to the priest.  He is a Samaritan, and therefore a double outsider because of his disease and his identity, and there is no reason he would go to the priest, it is not his synagogue.  He notices the change, he sees that he is healed, and he doubles back, crying out thanksgivings all the way back to Jesus.

And again here is where it gets interesting.  All ten lepers are healed, but this one leper, who was an outsider, a foreigner, this is the one to whom Jesus says, “Your faith as made you well.”  So let’s unpack that.  The word for “well” also means saved – your faith has saved you.  And also it can mean whole – your faith has made you whole.  All ten were healed, but only one knew who to thank.  All ten are healed but only one is made whole.

And what was different for this unexpectedly faithful man?  I think the difference was seeing.  He saw that he was healed, he saw that something was different, and he knew that meant something about God.

Here is what I think this means for us.  We so often think that our faith is about becoming good and nice, but we also know many people who don’t sit next to us in church, and those people are good and nice, sometimes far more so than we are.

This is where I find our youth struggling with what their faith means for them.  If it is just about being good and nice, it seems like everyone, whether they believe in God or not, has the capacity to be good and nice.  So faith in the God of Jesus Christ has to be something more than that.

And I think it was something to do with seeing the world in an entirely different way.  As Christians we don’t see “us and them” anymore – we see children of God.  We don’t see holy and unholy, we see that God has got his hand in everything.

That situation in your life, in your family, at work or at school, that has you up at night, or worrying over, that is making you sick or angry or fearful, we see that every single thing in our lives is redeemable by God.

That person in your life who is making you crazy, who hurts your feelings, who screws up all the time, that person is and will always be redeemable.

Because we see the world differently we know that small things matter when they are done with great love – this is one mother Teresa said all the time – we can do no big things, only small things with great love.


We see miracles because we have eyes to see them.  That is what Jesus is doing when he heals.  All these miracles that Jesus does are temporary – Lazarus eventually dies (again), the wine runs out, all those who are healed will get sick again, the five thousand who were fed were hungry the next day.

Miracles aren’t God’s permanent solution.  They were signs pointing to what it looks like when God breaks into the world, they were signs that pointed to what God’s kingdom was about, and the reason why people remembered the miracles was because the miracles were love.

So here is the takeaway.

We watch Jesus walk into this borderland, and go to places that God isn’t supposed to go, and talk to people God isn’t supposed to care about, and love the unlovable.

We might have thought there were parts of our world, people in our world, and even parts of our lives, which were God forsaken.  But it is not so. Everything is redeemable, God is found in unlikely places, Jesus enters into our dirty world, but do we have eyes to see it?  Amen.