Sunday, September 1, 2013

Trinity 14

Trinity 14 – September 1st, 2013 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          So there you are.  You are a leper.  You have a horrible skin disease that is painful and disgusting – and if that weren’t bad enough, because of your disease you have been banished from town.  Kicked out.  And so, just in order to survive, you band together with others who share your affliction.  A nice little leper colony of ten, living on the outskirts of this border town, people from all walks of life, but with one thing in common.  Leprosy.  Pain.  Embarrassment.  Separation.  Pointlessness.  You are left to stand at a distance and beg from the people passing by.  Sometimes they will pause, and they will leave a few scraps of food, and after they have left, you will go and scrounge their leftovers.  One of the other lepers is from a wealthy family – sometimes they will leave a good amount of supplies – but it’s bittersweet for him.  Even as on those days you have a full belly, he only gets to see his wife from a distance, only shout a hello… never gets to touch, to hold her.  And you are all out there together, alone and isolated.

          And then one day, Jesus of Nazareth walks by.  Even you have heard of Him.  The miracle worker.  The healer.  And so, you all stand and at a distance you start shouting, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us – Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  And then, He begins to speak.  He calls out to you, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as He says this, you look down at yourself, and you still see the hideous boils and scars and abrasions.  You are still a leper, you are still outcast and unclean.  But He has told you to go, to stride right on into town where you hadn’t been for so long and show yourself to the priest, to say, “Look, see priest, I am clean, allow me back into this community, allow me back to see my family.”  And so, you go.  You start to walk back into town, still dirty, still filthy, still unclean.  You are still sick, but at His Word you go.  And then, something utterly astounding.  As you walk, your skin is healed.  The boils disappear, the scaly junk falls off, and underneath is pure, clean skin.  You are clean!  And so you and the other lepers run, run to find the priest.  And you show yourself to him and say, “See, we are clean!  Jesus has healed us, we are clean!”  And he is dumbfounded, and the priest examines you, and he announces that you are clean, and with joy and excitement you run to see your family, you leave behind your band of formerly leprous brothers and run home and run into your family’s arms and weep and rejoice… and you never really notice that only nine of you made it to the priest’s house.  It isn’t until later, after the joy and the celebration that you even remember that you didn’t see that Samaritan fellow with you.  But oh well, what of that?  He’s just a Samaritan.  You have been blessed by God.  Jesus has healed you, and you are home.

          Of course, we here who have heard the Gospel lesson know where the Samaritan is.  When the 10 are healed, 9 continue on into town to show themselves to the priest.  They are healed, they are clean, they are rejoicing.  But there is one, the Samaritan – again, the one who would have been most looked down upon and despised by good Jewish people, he doesn’t run into town right away.  No.  He stops.  “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.”  And of course we know Jesus’ famous response.  “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  And this is almost where we end the story in our heads.  We cut it off here – and then we go into the giant finger wagging sermon of how you need to be thankful!  Of course we do – this is the text we hear on thanksgiving!  So now Pastor Brown will lambaste us for our lack of thankfulness!  I would, but I just don’t think that’s the point of the text… because did you note what Jesus says?  Jesus does not say, “Was no one found to return and *give thanks*” – He says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God.”  This text, dear friends, isn’t primarily or solely about being thankful… this is about praise and worship, this is a third commandment text – remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy – what does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preach or His Word but gladly hear and learn it.

          And this stands out if we read to the end of the text.  The Samaritan leper returns to Jesus, and he praises God, he gives thanks.  And then, Jesus speaks to Him – “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.”  Now, dear friends, can you think of a place where we gather together, praising God, and then we hear God’s own Word of love and mercy, telling us that we have been made well, that we are forgiven, and then we are told to go on our way?  If I need to spell it out a little more – the Greek Word for “giving thanks” is Eucharist – which is the old fashioned title for the Lord’s Supper – think about how the Words of Institution begin – “and when He had given thanks”.

          We often do a disservice to the other nine lepers.  We assume that they were not thankful – that they were ingrates.  There’s no reason to think that.  I mean, they had received a good gift and blessing from God.  They had heard Christ and listened to Him – they even start walking to town before they are healed – this is the thing that I love about this text.  None of the lepers are healed when they start heading to town – how about that for trust in God’s Word.  Indeed, that is very much the situation we all are in spiritually – Christ says, “You are forgiven, and on the last day you will rise Holy and Perfect to new life, acceptable to the Father.”  Man, I don’t see that right now, I see my own sin and vileness, but at Christ’s Word I believe.  But here’s the twist.  The nine aren’t ungrateful so much as they were… too busy, too excited, too otherwise occupied for worship.

          The point of this text isn’t that Jesus is sitting up in heaven waiting for you to send Him a thank you card other wise He is going to cut off the blessings.  The point is this: as Christians part and parcel of our lives, in the midst of both sorrow and joy, in both good times or bad, better or worse, is to pause and come to the Divine Service, to hear Christ speak once again His love for us.  Because there is a great danger – that when things are going well, when things are good… we can slough off worship.  This is just what happens.  When things are lousy, we know to head to Church.  The 10 sick lepers know to cry out to God.  The best Church attendance Sunday of my lifetime was the Sunday after 9/11.  The best decade of Church attendance in US History was right after World War 2 – things like that put the proverbial fear of God into people.  But what of times of plenty.  When things aren’t so bad.  Not when you are sick or in the hospital, not when you are overcome with problems… but when things are going okay?  Even in those times, you still need God.  You still need to hear His Word of forgiveness and life.  You still need His Body and Blood to strengthen your faith and increase your love towards your neighbor.

          But what happens is this.  We can begin to think of Church like a spiritual minor emergency clinic – that it’s that place we only go when there is a problem.  Or maybe even we think of it like the grocery store – we make our run, get what we need, but if we are too busy, eh, there’s stuff in the freezer, there’s cans of soup in the pantry, I’m tired I can just go later.  There is the temptation to rest on our spiritual laurels and forsake hearing the Word of God.  But that’s not what this service is – it is meant to be the routine.  It is not shopping for food – it’s the daily meals where we are fed.  It’s not trip to the doctors – it’s the daily vitamins to keep us healthy.  God draws us to Church and focuses us upon His Word so that we are centered in Him whatever comes this week – whether it is bad or whether it is good.  Whether we live or die, we live or die to the Lord.  This is where we hear the Words of Wisdom from Proverbs – this is where those fruits of the Spirit are built up in us – and that’s something we need every week, whether things have been good or bad.

          Satan, the world, and even your flesh will use your life against you.  These foes will try to make you too busy, too bored, too happy, too full, too whatever – all in an attempt to distract you from joining together with your brothers and sisters in Christ in the praise of God, in the hearing of the Word, in the Great giving of thanks that we call the Lord’s Supper.  But Christ Jesus is faithful, and He is always present for you, ready to have His Word proclaimed to you, His Body and Blood given to you, for you are His own, you are His people, His brothers and Sisters, claimed as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, and whenever you gather for worship and praise, He will once again bless you and keep you, He will see that His very Body and Blood be given graciously to you, and He will again look with favor upon you and give you His peace, saying, “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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