Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 23)
October 13, 2013
Text: Luke 17:11-19

            Our Holy Gospel this morning is the traditional Gospel text for Thanksgiving Day, and it is usually preached this way: God pours out His abundant blessings upon us, and we ought to be like the Samaritan and make sure we say “Thank you.”  All of which is true enough.  God does pour out abundant blessings upon us, and we should give thanks to Him.  And the fact is, we’re more often than not like the other nine who did not turn back and give thanks to God.  We should be more like the Samaritan.  But that’s not really the point of this text.  Even unbelieving mothers teach their children to say thank you.  Such a moralism can never be the point of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
            No, the point is the cleansing that comes from Jesus Christ alone, and the faith that returns to Him for more.  The cleansing in our text is for all ten lepers.  All ten are desperate for help.  All ten cry out for mercy.  They’ve undoubtedly heard about this Galilean miracle worker named Jesus.  So why not take a chance.  Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13; ESV).  They pray the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy,” a simple, yet profound prayer which has been used, and abused, ever since.  It is the cry of faith on the part of the Christian, a last desperate shot in the dark for the atheist in the foxhole or the agnostic, just a formality that keeps the Prayer of the Church moving along for many in between.  Yet Jesus responds.  The Lord hears and answers.  That’s why it’s such a valuable prayer.  It asks for what we need most.  Mercy.  Mercy from Jesus.  Mercy includes anything and everything we could possibly need: Forgiveness of sins, help in the day of trouble, hope in the midst of despair, our cleansing and healing.  The lepers pray Jesus for mercy, and He delivers.  Go and show yourselves to the priests,” He commands (v. 14), and as they are walking, an amazing thing happens.  They are cleansed.  Their skin, eaten away by this deadly disease, is miraculously restored, smooth as a newborn baby’s!  I imagine they were all shrieking with joy.  I imagine they were all very grateful, whether or not they remembered to say thank you.  Nine of them skipped off to Jerusalem to show themselves to the priests, because the priests could declare them clean, acceptable to be around people again, to go back to their families and friends, to get back to living life again.  But one of them, a Samaritan, turns back.  He is praising God with a loud voice.  He returns to the village, falls at Jesus’ feet, and gives thanks.  The difference between this Samaritan and the other nine isn’t that he’s thankful and the others aren’t.  They’re all cleansed.  They’re all grateful.  But the difference is this.  The Samaritan knows the true source of his cleansing.  The Samaritan knows the true High Priest who not only pronounces people clean, but makes them clean.  The Samaritan praises God with a loud voice and falls at the feet of Jesus to worship.  This Jesus is not just some Galilean miracle worker, after all.  Jesus is God.  The Samaritan has faith.  He believes in Jesus, who has cleansed him.  And, as is always the case with faith, he comes back to Jesus for more.
            Jesus has mercy on all of them, the nine good Jews, and even this detested Samaritan.  And here we have a picture of how Jesus’ mercy works.  He has mercy on all.  Everybody.  Without exception.  All ten lepers are cleansed.  The whole world is absolved of sin in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, because there He takes away that sin, pays for it in His death.  That’s what John the Baptist says.  Remember what he says of Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of…  Of whom?  Of the good Christians?  Of those who remember to say thank you for it?  No.  Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  The world!  Jesus has mercy on the whole world.  He dies for the world.  That means everybody.  That means you.  That means that there’s not a person you’ll ever meet to whom you can’t say: “Jesus died for you!”  He died for Jews and Christians who don’t say thanks.  He died for atheists in foxholes and agnostics who blasphemously pray the Kyrie.  He died for presidents and members of Congress.  He died for those no good, dirty, rotten Samaritans.  And here’s the real scandal: He even died for you.
            Jesus died for you.  Jesus has mercy on you.  Here’s the thing, though.  All ten lepers were cleansed, but only one believed in Him.  All ten lepers were healed and restored physically, but only one came back for more, for the real thing.  Jesus has mercy on the whole world.  He dies for the whole world.  As a result, God pours out manifold blessings on the whole world.  Even unbelievers enjoy great gifts from God in this earthly life, even healing from diseases, some of which we consider to be miraculous healings.  The problem isn’t that we’re unthankful (even unbelievers celebrate Thanksgiving!).  The problem is that, like the lepers, our fallen human flesh gets so wrapped up in the blessings of this world that, by nature, it never comes back to Jesus for more.  And so it flounders in unbelief.  But something happens to those who, by the cleansing Word of Jesus, are called to faith, as was the Samaritan, who by God’s grace, recognize the source of it all, who believe in Jesus and come back to Him for more.  Jesus says to you, as He says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go your way; your faith has,” not simply “made you well,” as your ESV translation has it, but “saved you.”  Faith receives and personally takes hold of the salvation, the mercy, that Jesus has for the whole world in His death on the cross.  Faith is how you receive, personally, what Jesus freely offers to all.  Jesus pays for everybody’s sins, but only those who believe it receive the benefit of it.  So unbelievers aren’t saved, which is tragic, because Jesus’ death is as much for them as it is for you.  But they have rejected Him in favor of other gods.  The other nine lepers were cleansed of their leprosy, but they didn’t come back for more, they didn’t recognize the source of the cleansing, and so they didn’t come back to receive the real cleansing, the cleansing that only comes from Jesus, the cleansing that only benefits those who believe in Him.  And the cleansing we’re talking about is the forgiveness of sins.
            That, finally, is the cleansing that every one of us needs.  And that is the reason the Son of God came in the flesh.  To take away the leprosy of sin.  The leprosy of sin is eating us to death.  Jesus came to cleanse us from that, to take it into Himself, to nail it to the cross in His flesh, to die for it in our place.  And then to be raised without it, that we might be healed and made clean and live forever in His perfect wholeness.  This wonderful gift, this healing and eternal life, He gives to us in the cleansing waters of Baptism, the preaching of His death and resurrection, the medicine of His Body and Blood in the Supper.  Freely.  Apart from works.  Independent of thanksgiving.  Faith comes back for more.  Faith delights in the gifts.  Then, faith praises God with a loud voice and falls at the feet of Jesus, giving Him thanks.  Jesus doesn’t say to the Samaritan, “Your thanksgiving has saved you,” but “Your faith has saved you.” 
            And here we see the proper place of thanksgiving in the Christian life.  Faith gives thanks to God.  Thanksgiving does not earn salvation.  Thanksgiving is the result of salvation.  And notice here what thanksgiving is: It is simply coming back to Jesus for more.  That’s all.  Jesus isn’t sitting around, drumming His fingers on the table, waiting for your thank you note, wondering if you appreciate His gifts.  He doesn’t need your appreciation.  But He wants you to be thankful for your sake, in such a way that you delight in His gifts, revel in them, rest in them, trust in them, and ever come to Him again and again, plate raised to Him in faith, asking for more.  Forgive my sins, dear Jesus.  Grant me Your Spirit, dear Jesus.  Strengthen me and help me, dear Jesus.  Jesus, Master, Lord, have mercy upon us.  And His answer is yes.  I will.  I have.  I do.  I am.  And He fills you with Himself.  “Go your way.  Live your life in me. Your faith, your empty plate now filled by the only One who can fill it, has saved you.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           


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