Text: Jeremiah 29: 7; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; Luke 17: 15-16
Poppy Steinhilber was my Mother’s father and a grandfather I never got to know because he died when I was young and before that was seldom around. I learned about him through stories the family told about him – a stubborn German – with a hint being the name “Steinhilber” perhaps meaning “stone mason,” who spent time in our State’s coal region where he picked up what the family called, “Sayings from the ‘coal crackers.’”
When he heard people ordering others around with empty advise and nothing more, Poppy Steinhilber would make his “coal cracker” announcement, “Talk’s cheap, it’s doin’ that counts!” It’s a quip that pre-dates the jargon attributed to the Anthracite coal region between Reading and Scranton and echoes through the Scripture we have just heard.
The first is the “coal cracker-like” words of Jeremiah addressed to the Hebrew people carried off into exile in Babylon.
As they moaned the woeful, dirge-like song (Psalm 137) about hanging up their harps because they couldn’t song the Lord’s song in a strange land, Jeremiah came back with the charge: But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
The word “welfare” is the same as the Hebrew word “shalom” meaning “peace” and “prosperity,” which the prophet ordered them to make their prayer-request to God for their enemies who had dragged them into exile, and accompany their prayers with work!
They were to “seek the welfare of the city” by settling in, by building homes and raising families…in the midst of their captures!
There is a subtlety in that order which we need to lift up: the homes they would build and the families they would raise were Hebrew homes where the Ten Commandments were were taught and practiced, where relations were cherished and each person was loved, and life was lived as a thank you to God,
the creator of the heavens and the earth;
a model and a quiet witness to the barbaric, idol-worshiping Babylonians.
A pastor tells of being asked to meet with a valued executive of the company who was having what was described as “an inappropriate relationship” that could lead to his being fired.
A meeting was arranged with the executive and his wife in
their mansion-like house where he soon realized they wanted
him to say the man had a psychological problem that could be
named as an excuse and with therapy treated.
Instead the pastor identified the problem as listening to and acting on the values of today’s culture in which meaning in life is found in wealth, sex, and power. Then he asked if they were willing to explore going deeper
than that. “Is there,” he questioned, “some window we could use to open to you a view of life that is more profound and more nuanced than the one our culture has provided you?"
The husband said, “Well I grew up in a church and we still go.” “Great, “ said the pastor, "Those people know … that we all fall short of the glory of God. They know about forgiveness and helping people start over. They have some concepts and some practices that can help you." (Adapted from Rev. Dr. Steve A. Martin, Day1,Aug. 20, 2006)
In the words of Jeremiah, “Be a people who live a God-centered life in the midst of a meaningless and corrupting culture," updated for Christians in the Apostle Paul’s words, (Phil. 3: 20-21) to be a colony of heaven on earth.
Add to that Paul’s words to young Timothy that has us hearing a second “coal cracker-like” charge:
Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. …present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.
Wow! Don’t you wish every political candidate had to submit to that requirement? No “wrangling over words,” and “rightly explaining the word of truth.”
But, of course, we Christians must submit ourselves to the same discipline which means defining “truth” as it is seen and lived out in the Hebrew Law of the Ten Commandments brought to life in Jesus, and then work hard at living out that truth expressed in an old poem:
‘We are the only Bible the world will ever read;
we are the sinner’s gospel, the scoffer’s creed;
we are the Lord’s last message, in deed and word;
What if the type is crooked, the print blurred?...
What if our tongues are speaking things His lips would spurn?
How can we hope to help them unless from Him we learn? (Annie Johnson Flint, Adapted)
Yes, Poppy Steinhilber, “Talk’s cheap, it’s doin’ that counts!”
A third echo of that “coal cracker-like” charge is picked up in today’s Gospel with its last line:
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.
The nine knew what mattered was to get certified healed of a disease that exiled them from family, village, and temple, and to live shouting “Unclean!” as a warning to everyone to stay clear.
The Samaritan, though healed, knew he was still “unclean” in the eyes of the other nine, he was still
forbidden in the Hebrew’s temple; he was forever unacceptable in their company.
He only mattered to Jesus and he knew that was all that mattered. He found true life and a true welcome in Him…and His company of followers who are to be today’s church with no labels or divisions.
His acceptance and his joy sent him, the one despised by others because he was a Samaritan, to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank Him, again what today’s Christians are supposed to do.
About this time of year in a downpour a man stop by to ask for money which we didn’t have to give. When he said he was Roman Catholic I showed him the way to St. Eleanor where they could help him and apologized that all I could offer was an umbrella. The next year he stopped by to say, “Thank you.” and I heard a faint echo of today’s Gospel, and Poppy Steinhilber’s quip became a blessing:
“Talk’s cheap, it’s doin’ that counts!” Amen!