Sermon, Trinity 14, 2017,
Gospel, St. Luke 17: 11-17
Jesus stills heals us with His Word in the Church.
Last week our Gospel reading was the parable of the Good Samaritan. In it we saw the man that Jesus chose to hold up as the good neighbor was from a nation that were considered half breeds, outside of God’s people, historic enemies. But he, the despised Samaritan was the only one that came to help the beaten, half-dead, Jew, his enemy and neighbor, left by thieves in the ditch. This week, we hear about another Samaritan, not a character in a parable, but a real person. He is the only one of ten lepers healed by Jesus who comes back to Jesus and thanks Him for His kindness. He, too, is the only one to do the right thing. This week’s reading is about thankfulness to God, but it is also about God’s grace to you and me in His Son, and in His Gospel, the message of healing and reconciliation, offered freely to all people. We hear in the story that Jesus does not restrict His gifts and promises to a certain bloodline, nationality, race, or sex. He comes to offer them to all will receive His Word in faith. Receiving His Word in faith, we receive spiritual healing and reconciliation with God and with our neighbors that He brings. And remaining in the faith in Jesus and His Word through our whole lives, we will receive the promised final complete physical, mental, and spiritual healing when He comes on the last day to raise all the dead, and give all who have trusted in Him in this life, eternal life in the world to come, with gloriously healed, restored, and resurrected bodies. And all who are alive when Jesus returns will receive healing, too. Their flesh will be purged of all sin and made clean, so that they, too, can join with the community of saints in the new heavens and new earth, healed and restored by the Lord, forever, giving loud thanks and praise to God in word and song.
This is what all the healing stories in the Bible point to–the Kingdom of God, here now, but not yet fully realized. The stories are there to point to the power of God in Christ Jesus–the power to heal and restore fallen mankind, whose power will be fully manifest when the Son of God comes the second time to restore everything. Jesus gives us a foretaste of this restoration in His healing miracles.
We get a foretaste of the final healing in our story today. Ten lepers, the number representing completeness in Holy Scripture, represents all suffering humanity, suffering under the effects of the fall into sin. The lepers have been living separately from the rest of society, cut off from their families and friends, and also from the worship with their brothers and sisters in the Temple and synagogue. They somehow have heard that Jesus is healing the sick. Maybe they have heard that He has already healed another leper. They hope that He can heal them, too. The look for Him and find Him as He is making His last visit to Jerusalem. Though they do not know it, He is even now on a mission for their healing. He is going to Jerusalem to suffer for them, to take their sins and the sins of the whole sin-sick world upon Himself, and to receive the just wages for it there–death– even death on the cross at Calvary.
He has not been taking the shortest route from Galilee to Jerusalem, directly south, but a route along the border of Galilee and Samaria, east to the Jordan River, so that Jews, Gentiles and Samaritans would all have access to Him.
As Jesus enters a village the ten lepers see Him and call to Him from a distance. It must have been difficult for them to be heard, as leprosy weakens the voice. They call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus hears them and answers them, but with a somewhat unexpected response. He doesn’t ask them to come near. He doesn’t lay His hands on them, as He has done with other sick people, even with a leper. He says, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, there is no point in them going to the priest to be seen unless it is to be declared clean. Lepers and anyone suffering from skin diseases, whether a rash or boil, had to first be personally inspected by a priest and declared clean before they were allowed to go back to their families and worship in the Temple.
The lepers evidently have faith that Jesus can heal them, for they do as He commands and leave Him to go find a priest, maybe one in the same village. And as they go a miracle happens– they are healed. The whiteness leaves their skin. Their twisted joints become straight. The pain is gone. They feel and look like themselves again, twenty years younger. They run in joy to the priest to be declared clean, so that they can go back to their families, their livelihoods, and lives, as they were before. And that is what they all do, except for one man. He realizes that He owes everything to the man Jesus, who has done for him what no other man has, what only God can do. Before He goes home, to his parents, to his wife and children, if he has any, He goes first to Jesus, to thank Him for His grace, His healing, His love for the diseased and repulsive neighbor, beaten and half-dead with leprosy. He finds Jesus, falls at His feet and praises the God who is standing in front of Him, God in the flesh.
This is the proper response to the blessings he had received from the Lord. And it is our proper response for the blessings of forgiveness of sins, salvation, and eternal life. Before everything else in our lives, we should give thanks to God in Jesus Christ that we have been healed of the disease of slavery to sin in our Baptisms, joined to God’s family and invited to eat at His own table. The first thing we should when we get up in the morning is thank God, and last thing before going to sleep. The first thing we should do in the week, the morning of the first day of each week, we should come before our Lord and give Him the thanks and praise due Him for all the great things He has done for us and continues to do for us. As pastor prays in the preface to communion, speaking for the whole congregation, “It is meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times, and in all places give thanks to you Holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
It is meet, right, and salutary, that is, healthy, to give thanks to God at all times, but especially in the company of our brothers and sisters in the faith who have also been made well. It is salutary, healthy, that we thank Jesus on this day, the first day of the week, which has been set apart from the earliest days of the Church for giving thanks and receiving the blessings of God–Sunday–the day Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings, the dayspring from on high rose bodily from the tomb, who, on this day, took up His life again, His body healed and raised by the power of the Holy Spirit and the glory of His Father, with a perfect, glorious, resurrection body.
In the same way, on the last day, all you who have remained steadfast in the faith to the end will be healed and raised, presented before a priest, the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, to be declared clean forever, and invited to enter into the inheritance of the blessed: the new heavens and earth, the new Jerusalem, there to live with Him forever.
To prepare you for that great day, you gather here together on Sundays in the Church to give thanks to God for all the healing that you have received, continue to receive, and will fully receive on the last day. Jesus comes here to you every Sunday as you hear His healing words spoken to you, “I forgive you your sins.” He hears you when you cry out with the lepers, “Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!” Here you receive healing as He gives you His body and pours out His precious blood in Holy Communion, for you, to heal, strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. You receive healing when the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God preached and spoken to heal the wounds of whatever doubt you may have and strengthen the muscles of your faith.
The proper response of those who have received the gift of healing is to give thanks to the giver. You would certainly thank a doctor who had saved your life by his expert skills. How much more should you thank Jesus who has saved you in body and soul. An earthly doctor can prolong your life, but only for so long. The Lord has promised to sustain your life forever. So your thanks should be forever, too.
Brothers and sisters, Let us not be like the nine lepers who, after they were healed, forgot the One who had given them their health. Their faith was short-lived, and it extended only to the physical healing. Let us not be like those who forget the Lord in their prosperity and good health, but come to Him only when these have gone.
Of the healed, only the Samaritan hears Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” They have been healed of a disease, but he has been saved, in body and soul through faith. The thanks and praise of the Samaritan is witness to his faith in the One who saved Him. He is doing what is meet, right, and salutary– healthful–and expected, nothing special. Notice that Jesus doesn’t praise him. But He does speak words of grace and healing. “Go, your faith has made you well.” The man has received the gift of faith and salvation from Jesus. He has received the Holy Spirit, through hearing Jesus’ word. Now he can go in peace, like Simeon could upon seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises in the baby Jesus in the Temple. This Samaritan has also seen the Light to the Gentiles, the Glory of the people of Israel. He has been healed.
As have you. In the waters of Baptism you are washed clean of a disease much worse that leprosy. You are washed clean of slavery to sin, the inherited disease of unbelief, pride, self-centeredness, autonomy, wanting to be a law unto yourselves, wanting to be your own God, your own healer. That old self was drowned there, and a new person was born, looking the same outwardly, but a new creation in God’s eyes and in the eyes of faith. The old corruption, the old leprosy of sin still clings to your flesh until you are raised in glory, therefore the need to return regularly to the source of healing, to be strengthened by Word and Sacrament, therefore the need to give thanks for all you have received from the Lord, to thank God in your prayers and praise, in your tithes and offerings and your service..
Jesus is healing you again this morning, every one of you. He is healing you in ways you can feel and in ways that are imperceptible to you now, but will be fully revealed at His appearing. You can’t see all the ways Jesus is healing you, but one way you can see that you know where your healing comes from is by your regular coming to Him to praise Him and thank Him with the leper–if you come to Him in your daily devotions, prayers, and in your regular weekly worship in Church. This is a sign to you of the health of your faith, a sign of whether it is living and active, or dead.
God doesn’t ask you to gather in worship for His sake. God doesn’t need your praise or thanks, or mine. He needs nothing from you. As He says in Psalm 50, “the cattle of a thousand hills are mine.” He wants you to praise Him for your sakes, as the very fruit of your faith, so that you would acknowledge the source of all your blessing and healing, and receive it from that source with thanksgiving. By giving thanks the Holy Spirit works in you to keep the connection strong to the source of your healing. For it is only through a living faith that you are saved. That is why Jesus gave you His Church. So that your faith may be kept alive and well.
God gives you a place to come to Him and fall at His feet in thanks and praise, a place to come to Him and call out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” and to receive the declaration of His mercy and healing to us. Jesus gave His life for His church, and for this very church here in Wellington. He does not want you to be like the ungrateful lepers who never returned to give thanks to God once healed. Jesus asked the healed leper, “Where are the other nine?” Let us pray that He never asks that question about us. Amen.