Thank you –  a Kairos moment

Preacher: The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Readings: Jeremiah 29: 1, 4 – 7, Psalm 66: 1 – 11, 2 Timothy 2: 8 – 15, Luke 17: 11 – 19

Those who have travelled to Greece or know Greek-speaking people will know the word Ephcharistos. It’s a word that hasn’t changed in 2000 years and is used today as it was in Jesus’s day – or at least in the language that St Luke used to record today’s cameo incident of healing. Ten lepers – the outcast shunned people of society – meet Jesus. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” All ten were healed – only one turned back to Jesus and, in Luke’s original words, ephchariston autou – gave thanks to Jesus. And he was a Samaritan. Leprosy was a disease that set people apart, isolated them from the rest of society, said – you are different, not one of us, keep away.

Luke, traditionally thought of as a doctor and one particularly interested in the underdog – the widows, the children, the foreigners, the ill – makes the point that the one man who returned to say thank you to Jesus was a Samaritan. We should hear that short sentence with all the scorn and derision and surprise that a voice can carry – “And he was a Samaritan!” No one would expect ‘a Samaritan’ to give thanks to a Jew. Samaritans were barely human. But it was he who uttered that single Greek word Ephcharistos. It’s a word, incidentally, we still use today – though slightly more anglicised than you’ll hear it in Greece. It’s one of the names of this service – Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, the Mass, the Eucharist – Ephcharistos. Yes – our principal service, Sunday by Sunday, indeed day by day, in this Cathedral and in Christian churches across the world is one that says thank you.

As we reach the climax of this morning’s service you will be invited to give thanks to the Lord our God. In our contemporary language services (more so than the Book of Common Prayer) the reasons for thanking God are listed – for this world of wonder and delight; that when we had turned away from God, God sent Jesus to live and work as one of us; that on the cross Jesus took away our sins, all that keeps us from each other and from God (cf APBA Thanksgiving 5). And of course, as the priest takes the bread and the wine she recites the story of that Last Supper when Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and took the cup and gave thanks. Ephcharistos. Eucharist.

But back to the Samaritan leper.  His simple act of saying thank you was one of those defining moments in his life and the life of those clustered around Jesus. They never forgot the moment. There is a theological term for this moment in time when things are redefined. It is known as a Kairos moment. That moment when everything changes. When what happened before is completely replaced by what happened at that point. We have all had those moments in one way or another. They are called light-bulb moments, Aha moments. They take us by surprise and change our lives. In some ways the surprise is often that it is something so simple, so obvious, so blindingly in your face, we wonder how we did not notice it before.

I think there is something of this going on in today’s Gospel passage. It is such an obvious thing to say thank you to someone who has given your life back to you – but the one person who bothered, was a Samaritan – an outcast who had better manners than the Jews! By returning and giving thanks, he demanded that he be seen – recognised as a real person.

There are lots of Kairos moments recorded in the Bible – some are hinted at in the other readings today. Writing to Timothy, St Paul makes oblique reference to his own Kairos moment – that moment on the road to Damascus when he was blinded (literally) with the truth of Jesus Christ.

The letter of Jeremiah to the Exiles in Babylon is an extraordinary turn-around. For decades he had been castigating the people of Jerusalem, warning of the dire consequences of their arrogant belief and trust in themselves alone, coupled with their rejection of God. And then, the Kairos moment when Jerusalem fell to the mighty Babylonians and hundreds of people went into Exile. Now, says Jeremiah, the exiled Jews must get on with life in their new place; this is to be home, they should build houses, plant gardens, eat the produce, take wives, bear children and, most significantly, seek the welfare of the city of Babylon, pray to the Lord on its behalf for “in its welfare you will find your welfare!” (Jeremiah 29: 4 – 7)

The lovely Old Testament story of Ruth contains a Kairos moment when Ruth says to her mother-in-law that she will return with her to Naomi’s homeland – “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1: 16b) Apart from St Paul’s conversion the best known Kairos moment of the New Testament is surely found in Mary’s response to the extraordinary message of the angel Gabriel that she is to be the mother of Jesus. “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38)

Next year we will celebrate a Kairos moment that changed the course of history five hundred years ago, at least in the Western world. In 1517, so I learned at school, a German monk nailed a list of 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg. Martin Luther’s act of defiance, his “Here I stand” attitude, led to the Reformation and the breakup of the Catholic Church as it then was. In 1985 a group of church leaders in South Africa, from across the ecumenical and political spectrum, drew up a document that condemned Apartheid as a heresy and called for decisive, but non-violent, action. For many Christians it was a wake-up call to stop pussy-footing around words such as justice, reconciliation, and ‘empty’ synod resolutions which did nothing to change the lives of the oppressed. For many white people in the mainly English-speaking churches such as the Anglicans and Methodists, it was a profound shock to realise that their black brethren had lost patience and would no longer be patronised because of their skin colour. Like the returning leper, they demanded to be recognised.

Last Thursday morning a number of people from this Cathedral joined 1200 others at the Adelaide Prayer Breakfast. There we heard businessman Graham Power talk about his Kairos moment twenty-three years ago when he gave his life to Jesus and began to clean up his business practices. He spoke openly, and contritely, about the corrupt practices he and other MDs of large construction companies followed to win contracts and force contract prices higher. His challenge to all, especially those in business and public life, is to be ‘unashamedly ethical’.

St Paul, Ruth, Mary, Martin Luther, Graham Power – and that unnamed leper – all reached a point when everything changed. It meant being noticed. It meant speaking out. And yes, it took courage.

Just yesterday I became aware of a document circulating in America. It is written by leaders of evangelical churches – those that president contender Donald Trump claims he represents and who are his supporters. It makes extra-ordinary reading including this statement:

No matter what other issues we also care about, we have to make it publicly clear that Mr. Trump’s racial and religious bigotry and treatment of women is morally unacceptable to us as evangelical Christians, as we attempt to model Jesus’ command to “love your neighbors as yourself.”

And again

We see this election as a significant teachable moment for our churches and our nation to bring about long-needed repentance from our racial sin. Out of this belief we have written this declaration, inviting you to be part of what we have learned from one another and long to see in the churches and the world—a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human lives.

While they don’t use the word Kairos these evangelical preachers and academics have reached a Kairos moment in their lives and their nation.

And what about us? What are the blindingly obvious Kairos changes we are called to – as a nation, a state, a Cathedral… as individuals.  ‘Leprosy’ is alive and well in our communities. Do we hear those crying from the margins of our comfortable life? With so much for which to say Thank You! Ephcharistos! are we ready to stand up, stand out – be different?