Sunday, August 24, 2008

Once again into the breach by preaching

Trinity 14 – August 24th, 2008 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Of all the Gospel texts that we come across, this text this morning should be the most familiar to you. It’s one that we get twice a year, for Jesus cleansing the 10 lepers is also the reading we hear every thanksgiving. That is the tact we normally take towards this text – it is a text about thankfulness – how nine are unthankful, and how only one is thankful. We focus a lot on the lepers – and that isn’t a bad thing. Indeed, there is a time and a place to focus on the importance of thankfulness – and in fact, that is what Jay will do this thanksgiving when I have him preach this very Gospel on that day.

So today, this morning, let’s take a slightly different approach to this Gospel text. Normally we view it in light of, from the perspective of the 10 lepers. We examine them, their reaction, their thankfulness or lack thereof – this is what we apply to ourselves. That will come this November. Today, rather than focusing on the lepers – we will pay special attention to Christ, and in particular, Christ’s mercy.

On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” So, there is Jesus – and He is traveling, He is on His way, about His own business – and suddenly lepers start calling out to Him. Have mercy on us, have mercy on us. A shocking thing. One didn’t deal with lepers – they were sick and contagious, they might make you contagious. They couldn’t go into towns, they were cut off from society, they were lower than beggars – at least beggars could be in public. Lepers were banished. If they came into the presence of people, they were to shout out that they were lepers, that they were unclean. It was simply a matter of safety, of the public health. The lepers might infect everyone.

And yet, these lepers call out to Christ. We are low, we are despised, our lives are ruined – have mercy upon us. It is an instructive thing for us – they call out to Christ for mercy. Christ, have mercy, Christ have pity upon us. Christ, save us! And it is astonishing – Christ speaks to them, Christ has mercy. When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” You see, when one had leprosy, when one was unclean, it was only the priest who could declare that the person was healed, was clean, was safe to return to society and the community. But there’s only one thing. Jesus hadn’t healed them yet. He simply speaks His Word, tells them to go – even while they still see their sores, still see their lesions. But at Christ’s Word, these lepers start off to town, trusting in Christ’s mercy.

That trust proves true. And as they went they were cleansed. This is one of the most profound and humbling things that I see in Scripture. The lepers walk into town, walk towards shame and ridicule and hatred and anger – for if one who is still leprous walks into town, that’s what they will get. They walk, facing all these things, because Christ said so – and they trusted in Christ’s Word. Astonishing faith – and Christ cleanses them. On the way, as they walk – they are healed. The Word of Christ proved true.

And now the part that we remember – Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan. One turns around to give thanks, the other nine in joy merrily run into town, eager to show the priests. One pauses to give thanks, the others are off and about in their excitement. And the one who comes back was even one of those lowly Samaritans. And Christ notes this – Then Jesus answered, “Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” 10 are cleansed, 10 receive the mercy from God that they asked for. Only one returns, only one gives thanks, only one gets the little, closing lesson from Christ. Your faith, your trust in Me is true – and you are now well, you are now saved – it’s the same word in Greek. Saved by faith. The guy returns to give thanks and receives, hears the Word of the Lord. And that’s how the text goes.

So, let’s examine this text in light of Christ and His mercy. The very first point, the basis of all the things that happen is this. Christ is merciful. When the 10 lepers call out to Christ for mercy, they are calling out to the right place. Christ is merciful, and He desires to show mercy – even to the poor, even to the despised, even to people who are as rank and lowly as lepers. This shows us the depths of Christ’s mercy, how free it is, how far it extends. And this is something that I don’t know if we realize or think about as much as we should when we hear this text. We don’t have lepers hanging around the outskirts of town – we aren’t used to seeing beggars running around – and the few times we do see folks begging in dirty clothes – what’s our first instinct? To be wary? To look down upon them? Christ is merciful. When Christ hears the cry of these lepers, when He sees them – He has mercy. He seeks to show love. He has compassion. This is the essence of what Christ does and how he operates. Over a decade ago those WWJD, what would Jesus do bracelets came out – and people were ooOOooing and ahhing over them. I wasn’t overly impressed – because it wasn’t a hard question. Christ would do what He always does – show mercy and love. It’s as simple as that – show mercy and love over and above what people would expect, mercy and love over what anyone would have the right to demand. If you demand it, it isn’t mercy, if you can demand it – it isn’t love. But Christ continually shows mercy and love even to the poor and miserable – even to poor, miserable sinners like us. Christ is merciful.

Another thing that we see from this text, what we learn, is that as Christians we are called to trust in Christ’s mercy, even when it is not obvious at first, even when it doesn’t have Technicolor signs attached to it. Jesus simply tells the lepers to go show themselves to the priests – and on the way, while they are going, they are healed. They hear the word and they believe – even though when they first start out – nothing looks different, nothing looks changed. This is the same situation that you and I are in. We simply trust in Christ’s Word of mercy. We aren’t to demand signs and wonders, we aren’t to seek proof. That’s sadly what too many people want – they want some type of worldly proof. How do you know that God loves you? Some people will point to wealth – ah, the hallmark of the TV preacher. If God loves you, you will have lots and lots of stuff – um. . . no, not necessarily. Peter walks away from a wealthy business, Paul is beaten and broken on account of Christ. Wealth isn’t the sign that God loves you. Some people will point to feelings – when you have that burning in your bosom, when you get that spiritual high feeling, that’s when you know! Um – these lepers didn’t have a spiritual high. St. Paul will write, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . . Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Doesn’t sound like a spiritual high to me. And there are other things that people will try to point to. Pentecostals will try to speak in tongues to prove that God loves them, Holiness churches will shake and babble, some out here will hold off on medical treatment and demand miracles. None of this is where we should look.

What is the sign that Jesus loves you – what is the sign that He indeed has mercy upon you? It’s not hard. Jesus loves me, this I KNOW. Why? For the bible tells me so. Simple idea, isn’t it? But, in reality, it’s one that can be quite difficult. We are to trust in God’s Word, trust His promises given in Baptism, even when we don’t have obvious signs that God loves us. If crops fail, if our businesses close, if we lose our jobs – has God’s Word of love and forgiveness for us changed? Not in the slightest. If we become ill, if our bodies fail, if our loved ones die – has God’s Word of love and forgiveness for us changed? No, not at all. If friends despise and forsake you, if relationships crumble, if they take our life, goods, fame child or wife – has God’s Word of love and forgiveness for us changed? No, they yet have nothing won – the Kingdom ours remaineth – for God has said so. The hard part is this – we can see so many other things when we should be focused upon the Word, upon what Christ says, what Christ has done for us upon the Cross. This is the difficulty – we walk by faith, not by sight. When Christ tells the lepers go – you will be healed, they go, even though they don’t see it right away. Likewise – when Christ says that you are forgiven, you believe, even if you don’t feel very forgiven. When Christ says that the treasures of heaven are yours – you believe, even though you feel aches and pains and sufferings now. When Christ says, “This is My Body, This is My Blood” – you believe, even though your eyes only see bread, only taste wine. Because we are called to trust and believe what Christ says.

And finally, one other thing to note. Only one leper comes back to give thanks – yet what does Christ say? Were not 10 cleansed? All ten are cleansed. Christ has mercy on all of them. This is an important thing to remember. We show thanks because God has mercy on us, we praise God because of what He has done – not the other way around. God does not have mercy on us because of what we do, because of our thanks and praise. There are times when that is lacking. There are times when we sin, when we fail, when we grumble. But that doesn’t change Christ – He is still the merciful One, and He shows us mercy not because we are good – but He shows us mercy because HE is good. All of this, even our praise and thanks that we raise this morning isn’t about us and how wonderful we are – it’s about Christ and how good He is to us. That is our focus – that we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, that our focus is to remain on the mercy that Christ shows to us sinners by dying upon the cross and rising again for our sake. That is who Christ is, that is the mercy He shows – and we are right to call upon Him for mercy, we are right to thank and praise Him – because of who He is.

Dear friends – remember today this simple truth. Christ is merciful – and He shows mercy to you not because you are strong, not because you are wonderful, not because you have impressed Him with either your strength or your praise. He shows mercy because He is the God who is merciful, the God who is abounding and rich in mercy, the God who will show His love to you even if it means facing the Cross and the grave. We who so often fail and struggle and flail about – we are saved by Christ and the power of His Word which gives us life and forgiveness. May God grant that we remember this, may God keep us in this faith in Christ Jesus that has made us well all the days of our life. Amen.