Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trinity 14 Sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-19 – September 25th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
If you will today, let me pull back the curtain a bit, explain some things that often pastors don’t talk about, because this text, although we generally think of it as being the great text on thankfulness – which is what we will focus on when we hear it again come Thanksgiving time – this text also describes a sad reality that we don’t like to face – and that is indifference, indifference to God, indifference in the Church. The simple fact is that so often people just seem not to care. Let’s look at our text and see what we mean.

“On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” Now note – and this is important. All ten of these lepers know who Jesus is, know that He can, if He desires, heal them. They call alike cry out for mercy. And then what do we hear? “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” And again, this is one of the most humbling passages in the Scriptures. Jesus doesn’t just heal them right then and there – He doesn’t rub dirt on their skin and wash it off and then bam, they are healed. They don’t dip in the Jordan River and come up clean – no, Jesus tells them to go to the priest and it is only after they start walking, while they are going there, that they are cleansed. They start walking before they are healed – they hear Christ speak, and at His Word they believe, they go. They trust His Word and off they go. We can’t look at the 9 lepers as bad people who didn’t know any better – they had faith, they trusted Christ – faith and trust that puts us to shame.

Yet what happens? “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 thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan.” 1 comes back. Just one. 10%. And even Jesus notes this as odd – “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” It doesn’t add up right. Here you had 10 people, 10 people who knew who Christ was, who trusted His Word, who received His blessings… and then, only 1 returns. Where are the 9? They are simply off and about now going on with their lives.

Here is the frustration that is often seen in the Church. People seem so often not to care. How many people aren’t here today – people who know who Christ Jesus is, people who know that Jesus has died for them, people who know that the Word of God gives forgiveness and life… and... they just aren’t here. Or bible study – 4 days in a row there is opportunity for study – and we have room still. Or what about when it comes to organizing something, trying to get something done – and meh, people just don’t. We get surprised half the time if a decent crowd shows up. I’m not exonerating myself from this – this isn’t Pastor Brown’s gripe session time – I even see and feel the times when I have opportunities for thanks and praise and service and care and I go “meh.” And then you add on top of that District and Synod wanting numbers and stats for stuff, and it’s frustrating. Half the time I think Church officials today would have lectured Jesus and told Him He was doing a lousy job because a 10% thankfulnessiosity stat just isn’t good enough. When we look at the state of the world, the state of the Church, we can all get frustrated and depressed and even upset because half the time it seems no one seems to care - I’m sure we all here understand that.

But here’s the thing. So often when we look at this text we want to assume that we are the thankful one that comes back, that we are the proper one and that we are okay, when often we are more like the nine. So often God’s blessings are met by us with indifference, and that’s simply because we are so, so blessed. In the Small Catechism, we note that God has given us our bodies, our minds, our house and home, food and clothing, protection and safety – and the thing is, unless something is threatened, we almost forget what a blessing all this is. It’s as though our blessings blind us to the One who has given them to us – that we are so blessed, we have so much, we have so many opportunities for fun and enjoyment and the use of our blessings that we sort of push God into a corner. While I was in college, Pastor Nehrenz down in Norman would often say that Church on Sunday Morning should be a two hour commitment, one for Church and one Sunday School – think about this for a second. In Acts 2 we hear “and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” Daily in the temple – and we think it’s wonderful if we spend two hours a week instead of one, or one hour instead of none – and heaven help the pastor who doesn’t keep the service to 1 hour. We have so much that we think we need to do, that we think we should be doing instead, that we so rarely take time for worship and praise, we rarely take time to be still and know that God is the Lord, to meditate and receive His gifts to us. So often we are indifferent.

And the other side of this coin is that so often we in the Church will try to come up with our own man-made ways of breaking through this indifference. Sometimes people will try laws and rules – if you don’t jump through hoops X and Y, well then you are a bad Christian and we will mock you. The Law doesn’t give life – it kills, it shows guilt and wrong… but it doesn’t *do* - it doesn’t create. Or we try other things to whip up enthusiasm. There are entire denominations whose entire basis for existence is the idea that if people just “felt” God being active, felt the Spirit moving, then they wouldn’t be indifferent – so let’s try to speak in tongues, let’s have this or that. You know what – I look at this text and Christ Jesus Himself healed 10, they felt God heal them, and even He was left to say, “where are the nine.” No, getting into some sort of making a better experience one-upsmanship doesn’t work. You’ll get some, but then they’ll bound off to the other Church down the line when it comes up with the new latest and greatest experience. We’ll get programs and this and that all designed to get people to do and do and do more and more, to make them be involved, to wrest their time away from other things, to make the church be a more entertaining option than whatever else is going on. But that just ends up being a never ending cycle of attempts to reinvent the wheel, attempts to undo our almost limitless capacity for boredom – it encourages people to treat Jesus and His Church like some sort of cheap magician where we stand and say, “Well, go on, give us another one, do another new and amazing trick.”

So what is our solution? Let us watch Christ Jesus. In our text, Jesus notes that the 9 aren’t there, but then his attention shifts to this the Samaritan, the one who was least likely to give thanks. And then He says to this Samaritan – “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus talks to this one man who has returned, and do you see what Jesus does? He explains what has happened. Your faith was in the right place, your faith was in Me, and thus you have been blessed and healed. Go your way. Go on with your life – but as you go, remember what I have given you and am indeed still giving you. So often, when we think of indifference, we start thinking about how we can get other people to do more – but Jesus doesn’t tell this man, “Go whip those 9 back into shape”. Rather, Jesus has the man focus and understand his own relationship to Christ, the benefits and blessings he himself has received from God – and then go live your life.

What it really boils down to is this - too often we in the Church can end up focusing on how we can fix our neighbor, how we can force or manipulate them to behave in a certain way – how we can force them to at least go through the motions. That’s not what Jesus does here. He deals with the one who has come back – here – see, know what is going on so that you yourself do not become indifferent. See, know, remember what I have done for you, that way when you are out there going about your life you will remain in the faith and be ready to give a defense of that faith, a reason for the hope and joy that is within you. We ourselves need to stop assuming that we are good, and rather we need to be focused on how we ourselves need to grow, need to be ever more focused upon Christ Jesus – and this growth happens when we are in His Word and receive His Supper.

Therefore, today I ask you to pause, to ponder the wonder of what Christ Jesus gives you. There are earthly blessings beyond compare that all of us in this room have – and we know that these earthly blessings pale in comparison to the gifts of life and salvation we have in Christ Jesus. Even as moth and rust destroy things in this world, we are given the forgiveness of sins in Christ’s death and resurrection, we are promised that we will stride out of our own graves in perfected and resurrected bodies. This Church isn’t just a place where we give thanks, it is a place of gift and healing. Here Christ says, “You are forgiven, you have life and salvation.” Christ Jesus does true wonders in your life. When our focus is on this, when we remember this truth, when we receive these gifts often, we will be prepared by God to resist the temptations of indifference that hound us – we will be prepared in simple love and kindness to give right thanks to Christ Jesus rather than simply making idols out of His blessings whenever we come across them. We will learn to see ever more Christ Jesus in all things – we won’t simply put Him in a box for a few hours on Sunday morning and tend to forget Him the rest of the time. By the power of His life giving Word and most Blessed Sacraments, given to us in His Church, Christ Jesus makes us to see and understand the depth of His love for us, shapes us, makes us to be aware and able to handle and rightly use His blessings. God grant that He make us to see this more and more, so that we may grow in wisdom and trust and love both to Him and to our neighbor. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Ghost +

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