Sermon Text: Luke 17:11-19
November 27, 2014
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In the Name X of Jesus. AMEN!
Crossing over in Humility
There’s not much good you can say about the life of a leper. No one clamors to live in isolation from family and friends, God and neighbor. No one covets the life of leisure because one is unable to work. No one longs to sing the leper’s dirge – unclean, unclean everywhere they go. The leper’s life is a life of perpetual loss, loss of love, loss of kinship, loss of flesh and bone, loss of life. There’s not much good one can say about the life of a leper and there’s little that can be done about it. Lepers cannot give, they can only receive. The leper’s life is a life of perpetual reception and so the purest example of the life of gratitude, when nothing can be given, one can always give thanks.
But what would 10 lepers receive that would move them to give thanks? What good would cross their path, come their way, change their life? Jesus! Jesus crosses over on His way to Jerusalem. Jesus changes everything, for them and for us. For what do we have that we have not received? Is not our life similar to theirs? Do we not share the same needs? Our hearts long for love. We yearn for family to be near, to hold and embrace those whom we love and those who love us. We are often anxious about our health and we want to live a long life. Their wants and needs are no different. They cry to Jesus and so should we. He is the one from whom all blessing flows. “Jesus, master, have mercy upon us.” Their Kyrie is our Kyrie. Their Lord is our Lord. Their dirge is transformed. Declaring their uncleanness has been exchanged for the humble prayer. The cry to keep away is put away while the call to draw near is voiced on His ears.
“Seeing them He said to them, Go and show yourselves to the priest.” Going in faith they are all healed, all ten, each and every one of them cured of their leprosy, set free from the bondage of decay, and liberated to be joined to their God and their neighbor. All ten are healed, but only 1 returns to give thanks. And He was a Samaritan! Nine took but did not return thanks. Nine played the part of the arrogant and declined the glory due their Savior. Nine did not return. Nine did not give thanks. And nine did not worship Jesus. The faith they had on the road to the temple quickly faded with the restoration of their flesh. The humility of their condition gave way to the pride of their heart. James teaches that faith without works is dead. Here it is clear that faith without worship is not faith.
The grateful heart returns to the Lord thanksgiving and praise. It is the unthankful heart that stays home, keeps to self, takes rather than receives, demands instead of petitions. It is the unthankful heart that lives in a state of perpetual loss because they fail to behold the bounty they have received. It is the unthankful heart that lacks joy, for they never have enough, and what they do have is caught up in uncertainty. Their heart is caught up in temporal and uncertain possessions, in lists and calculations, in mammon and in themselves, things that pass away, fade and fail. Where there is failure there is despair or determination, to work harder or to give up. But with each of these there is no faith. And where there is no faith, there is no thanksgiving. And where there is no thanksgiving there is no joy. Where there is no joy there is little reason to cry out. “Unclean, Unclean” becomes the heart’s sorrowful song. And there is no drawing near, neither to God nor to neighbor. Loneliness follows the life of unbelief and unthankfullness. Though spared the consequences of leprosy we who fail to return thanks embrace the life of a leper without even knowing it.
Jesus journeys to Jerusalem to change all of this, to change these ten lepers and to change us from the outside in and then inside out. His purpose is not to restore flesh to health, not to supply temporal blessings that moth and rust destroy, not to add to our lists and calculations as though such things were determining signs of God’s love and favor. He has not come to give us more of the things of this life – such a thought and doctrine is of the devil and not the messiah, it appeals to our sinful nature and neglects our sinful condition. No, beloved there is no joy in such things because such things have no life in them.
Jesus has come to give life, His life, and to give His life as a ransom for many, for lepers and tax collectors and adulterers and thieves and murderers and haters and liars, all sinners, all the world, all of us. That’s why Jesus heals all ten lepers. He delights to save, to give, to love and forgive. His healing is for their cleansing. Their cleansing is for their salvation. Jesus was doing a whole lot more for these ten than just restoring their flesh, He was restoring their life, giving them back to their neighbor and back to their God. His was a miracle given as a gift to work their salvation.
This is the work He has come to do. Doing such work for them, He wills to do the same for you. It is in Jesus’ heart to work glory from failure, cleansing from uncleanness, forgiveness for sinners, and life from the dead. It is His delight and it is His will to work such things for you and all people. In saving, loving, cleansing, forgiving and healing Jesus draws near to us first. Drawing near He unites Himself to our frailty so intimately that He takes upon Himself our uncleanness, our depravity, and our mortality. He takes our sins, dies our death, and suffers our isolation on the tree of the cross. There He is judged in our place, damned for everyone of us embracing the curse pronounced on humanity all in order to save humanity, restore humanity, redeem humanity, and give forgiveness to each and every one of you.
Risen from the Dead and ascended to the Father’s right hand His is a kingdom in which the fruits of His labors continue to be poured out upon His people. “The Kingdom of Christ is nothing but pure forgiveness, a kingdom that deals only with sins and always wipes them away, covers them, and cleanses us of them as long as we live here below” (Luther).
Thus our salvation does not occur in isolation but in community. We have been reconciled to God and restored to one another. Therefore we do not go our separate ways. We don’t run off and pursue fleeting joys, temporal blessings, and pleasures of the flesh. No! We repent. We return. We go back to Jesus. Like the Samaritan in our text we humbly and thankfully approach the feet of Jesus to worship Jesus. Faith leads to thankfulness. Thankfulness is expressed in worship. Thankfulness is not the mere recitation of the words “thank you” but the expression of the heart and life of one who enters the Master’s presence, bends low the knee and receives Jesus’ words with faith.
All thankfulness flows from faith and such a thankful life results in joy. There is joy in the heart that gives thanks because there is joy in the Giver of good gifts. The joy of the world rests on things and quickly fades. But the joy of the Christian endures forever because it is founded on Christ and His Word. Even in times of hunger and thirst, suffering and temptation, we may remain certain of God’s providence and favor, not because of what we have or don’t have but simply because of His Word. Truly there are times when God allows us to go hungry and suffer loss, and through these He gives us un-thought of blessings. For through such impoverishment we are humbled before Him and torn from our idols and compelled by circumstance to direct our hearts to His Word and His Word alone!
Receiving in Faith
Beloved in the Lord, there is little to praise regarding the life of a leper. This evening it is the life of the leper which gives rise to compassion and mercy of our God. Through humiliating circumstances our God is proved to be bountiful in mercy and abounding in steadfast love. Just as He done for lepers then, so also He continues to do for us today. He draws near that we receive Him by faith. He draws near to cleanse and forgive and restore us to God and to one another. Giving Himself He gives us life. Receiving Him by faith we are called to return to Him thanksgiving and praise. We called to be like the one leper, like the Samaritan who fell at His feet and worshipped Him. “We cannot perform any greater or better work for God, nor can we render Him a nobler service than thanking Him” (Luther). He has done marvelous things for us, things we cannot see, things we can only know by faith in His Word. Therefore beloved, take up the cup of thanksgiving and rejoice that your God draws near, crosses over, hears your pleas for mercy, and loves you. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!