Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trinity 14 sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-17 – September 9th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          Ah yes, the “thankfulness” text.  The healing of the ten lepers.  The text we hear twice a year, both today and on Thanksgiving Day where we get the lecture, the waging of the finger – you little boys and girls need to be thankful, so you better go turn around right now and tell God Thank You!  And if the preacher is a bit unscrupulous… or maybe if the budget seems tight, you might even hear “and by thank you I mean put more money in the plate you ungrateful slobs.”  Too often this text is treated as an occasion to just hammer people for ungratefulness – to say “God wants you to be thankful… or he’ll be mad at you” – as though God is petty and only gives blessings simply to hear His praises.  No, God blesses us purely out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worth in us – and He doesn’t need our thanks.  So this becomes the question, the question our text will answer today – why, if God doesn’t need our thanks, why does He want us to give thanks?  Let’s dive into the text.

          “On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.”  The very first thing to note is this – Luke tells us that Jesus was headed to Galilee.  In Luke’s Gospel, that’s not just a note, a factual snippet.  The second half of Luke’s Gospel over and over repeats that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem – and why?  Because it is in Jerusalem where Jesus wins salvation for us by His death and resurrection.  Luke 18:31-33 explains this focus – Jesus says: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”  Over and over in Luke, we are reminded of Jesus being on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross to win salvation.  So – that is the background of this text, what we need to have in our heads – this text will be teaching us about Christ’s struggle against sin and death, it will be teaching us about His death and resurrection – He is on His way to Jerusalem.

          “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.’”  And then He is approached by 10 lepers who cry out “Lord, have Mercy”.  The same thing we have already cried out today here in Worship today several times.  They are approaching Christ seeking mercy – and mercy He will show.  “When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went they were cleansed.”  Under the law of Moses, if you had leprosy, had a skin disease, you were exiled.  Had to be for the good of the community.  But, if you were healed, then you could go and show yourself to the priest, who would examine you and let you be restored to the community.  And Jesus says, “show yourselves to the priest” – but did you note?  They weren’t clean yet – it was only as they went that they were healed.  That, my friends, is faith.  Jesus says, “Go” – and even as they look at themselves they see their sores and wounds – yet they go, because Christ has said so.  And again, we too are often in this same position.  Christ has said to you, “Go, you are forgiven, your sins are no more.”  And yet, when we look at ourselves, so often we see more and more sin, more and more flaws.  Christ has said that we were washed clean in Baptism, that we are a new creation, that we will have the life everlasting – yet often, it doesn’t look this way.  I wrote the rough draft for this sermon on Monday morning, and even as I wrote it I knew that there would be countless way between Monday and Sunday where I would do stupid, foolish, hurtful, sinful things – wretch that I am.  Yet, over and above what I see, what we see in our lives, our regrets, our shame, our guilt – Christ Jesus has said that we are clean, that we are forgiven – that he has presented us as His own Bride without spot or blemish – and thus in faith we believe what Christ has said, we trust His forgiveness.

          And now we get to the turning point of our Gospel lesson.  “Then one of the 10, 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.”  Literally, the turning point.  One of the lepers, seeing that he is healed, turns around, praises God and gives thanks.  And Jesus looks at this a bit wryly – “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’”  Now, here is the danger for us in reading this – we can read this and suddenly want to go and condemn the other 9, say “ah, those evil, wicked nine – bad bad bad!”  This isn’t our Lord angry – we don’t hear “And then Jesus cursed those other nine with leprosy nine times worse.”  No – they are still healed, they are forgiven, they are showing themselves to the priest just as Jesus had commanded.  But because they did not return to praise God and give Him thanks, they miss the most wonderful thing.  “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.’”  Jesus explains everything to this leper, and only he understands fully because he returned for praise and thanksgiving.

Now, there are two very, very important things we need to notice to understand this.  Let’s work backwards – Your faith has made you well.  We don’t hear this rightly as Americans. We hear the phrase “your faith” and we think it’s talking about how strongly we believe, or how dedicated we are.  That’s not the point.  Jesus isn’t saying to this man “You are well because you really really really believed.”  This is the type of claptrap we hear today – oh, if only you really believed then X will happen, you’d get the new car you want, your kids would behave better, your life would be great… if only you believed more.  That’s not what Jesus is saying – Jesus is talking about the “object” of this man’s faith, talking about who this man believed in.  This man believed in Christ, and because of Christ he has been healed.  Consider – what if this leper had really really really believed that the Greek god Apollo would heal him?  He’d still be a leper.  No, it was faith *in Christ* that brought about this healing.
And what does the one who has faith in Christ hear?  “Rise and go”.  Now, we miss it because we don’t speak Greek – “rise” is a resurrection word.  Jesus isn’t just saying “stand up and get out of here” – He literally says “you are rising and going” – you are being raised, you are being given life.  Jesus isn’t simply saying, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me” – He’s giving the man life and salvation, so that the man sees and understands what it is that He has.  You, leper, you are receiving now what I am going to Jerusalem to win for you – you are receiving now the fruits of My death and resurrection as you are being raised and given new life now even as you will be totally raised and totally given everlasting life on the Last Day.  This is forgiveness of sins and life and salvation.

And that fact, dear friends, let’s us know what this text is about.  It’s not an admonition to be grateful – it’s not the wagging of the finger.  It’s a call to worship.  This text is telling us, teaching that we benefit from worship together.  Consider – what does the leper do, seeing God’s goodness to him?  He praises and gives thanks?  Now, where do we generally turn from our normal everyday lives, enjoying the blessings God has given us, and pause and praise and give thanks to God?  Worship – here, Sunday mornings.  We call upon the Name of the Lord, pray, praise, and give thanks.  And again, if we knew Greek, it would stand out more so.  Where do we generally gather for communion?  Here in Church – and what is one of the common names for the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist.  And the word Eucharist means “He gave thanks” – it’s from the words of institution – and on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when “He had given thanks”.  Again – in the Scripture “thanks” isn’t just personal thing, a feeling of gratitude – it was always tied to worship.  Thanks meant going to the temple, it meant prayer and praise, worshiping God and receiving His gifts.

And this is the point of this text – we are called here to this place for worship – to receive from Christ His good gifts of salvation.  And this isn’t because we have to prove anything to God by our diligence.  It isn’t as though if we miss too many Sundays suddenly we are off the salvation gravy train.  Rather this – Christ Jesus your Lord loves you, and He would have you constantly know and receive His love, His mercy – have it preached to you, have it fed to you in His Supper.  He knows what life in the sinful world is like.  He knows that you sin daily and often, so over and against that He would have you hear forgiveness proclaimed often, He would have you taste His forgiveness as often as you eat and drink the Supper.  He knows that life in the world beats us down, that if we listen to the world we forget the wonders of His blessings for us and instead become shaped by greed and lust and earthly power – so He calls us out of life in the rat race so that we can see and know what is going on.  Yes, you are still and sinner in a sinful world, but over and above that another more wondrous truth stands out.  Christ Jesus has died for you, He has risen for you, and He is raising you.  He raises you now so that you may face the trials of this life standing upon Him, resurrected by Him.  He shall raise you forever more on the last day.  Whatever you see this week, whatever happens, whatever the world looks like this week – Christ Jesus is still your Lord, He still has had mercy upon you, and He will still call you to this place so that you may hear, may receive His mercy and forgiveness and love over and over that you may stand fast and enjoy all of His blessings to you, come what may in this world.  And receiving, we praise, we thank, and we receive again, more and more, for Christ has so much to give us.  Christ Jesus has gone to Jerusalem, He has defeated sin and Satan and death, He has overcome the world – and we are raised and have life in Him.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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