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Sermon for October 10, 2010

Luke 17:11-19 (20th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

October 10, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Gospel lesson today, from Luke 17:

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 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. Now he was a Samaritan. 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 he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

How often does God do something good in our lives and we miss it?  It happens more often then we might think.  The Lord is continually giving us everything that you and I need to support this body and life.  He is always blessing us with things so common that we don’t always recognize the gift or the Giver.  We are so often tempted to believe, “I worked and earned this money.  It’s my money.  These are my clothes that I bought.  This is my food that I bought.  This is my house and my car and I am the one working to earn the money to pay for it.”  But that’s not Biblical reality.  When we confess with the Holy Scriptures, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” we admit that the Triune God has made us and all that exists, that it is He alone who gives us body and soul, eyes, ears, fingers, and toes, our reason, and our five senses.  We admit that the Triune God gives us clothing, shoes, food, drink, house, car, wife, children, and everything we have.

It is this one true God who gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people.  This daily bread—everything that has to do with the support and needs of our bodies, things like food, clothes, money, and toys—this daily bread is what God gives freely, by grace, out of his Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, even to the wicked!  But as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray that God would lead us to realize that He alone is the Giver so that we might receive His gifts with true thanks.  This is the message of our Gospel lesson today—that we more faithfully recognize the goodness of God in our lives and respond to it.

The story of the ten lepers is probably not unfamiliar to you.  Ten men with the most serious of all skin diseases, leprosy, met up with Jesus as He was traveling.  They followed God’s rule as He outlined in the Book of Leviticus.  “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’  He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease.  He is unclean.  He shall live alone.  His dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:45-46)  As Jesus and His disciples would have approached this group of lepers, they would have called out from a safe distance, “Unclean!  Unclean!” letting the Lord and His disciples know that they were leprous and not to come near.  From that same safe distance, the ten lepers asked Jesus for mercy.  They were expecting something from the Lord.  “Mercy.”  This was a cry for salvation, asking that Jesus might save them from their leprous condition.  They believed that Jesus could help them.  So from the same safe distance, Jesus calls back to the ten, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

This is certainly putting the cart before the horse.  The Book of Leviticus describes in detail what is to happen when a skin disease like leprosy is cleansed.  The person is to go to the priest who would verify the cleansing.  Then the person would offer sacrifices and perform purification rituals that God outlined for them to do.  God’s intervention, through priestly actions, would bring the individual back into God’s covenant community of worship.  But here, no cleansing has yet taken place.  Jesus instructs them to go on to the next step when the first step of healing has not yet happened!  I like the way one of the commentaries suggests the reaction of the ten lepers.  “Imagine their situation.  They must have stood and looked at each other and then started to debate this command.  They had surely expected something else.  If they had news of other lepers whom Jesus had healed they knew that Jesus had never merely ordered lepers to go to Jerusalem as if they were healed when they were not.  Should they go? They decided to do so, for they told each other, and, indeed, rightly that this command involved a promise, the promise that they were to be healed.” (Lenski)

And so off the ten lepers go to show the priest their cleansing, which had not yet happened.  Sounds kind of ridiculous, doesn’t it?  Not when you recognize the goodness of God!  God in Christ was going to heal these men of their leprosy.  Their faith in the Son of God was going to be the receiving mechanism for that healing.  Faith said to these men, “I will trust what Jesus said, and I will go and show myself to the priest, as if I was cleansed, because Jesus assumes the cleansing has already happened.  Why else would he send me?  So I will believe His Word.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.

Jesus was indeed faithful to His promise, the very promise which He already knew was complete.  So He sent the lepers off to verify what would happen, even though their eyes of faith had not yet seen visible, touchable proof.  Faith recognizes the goodness of God when the rest of our senses do not.  Faith recognizes that the money I earned as wages from a job is God’s gift to enable me to live in a world that uses money.  Faith sees that the food I bought with the money God gave me through my employment is also a gift from God, who provided the sun and the rain to grow the crops in the farmer’s field.  Faith recognizes the true Giver of all things even before the reality of the gift can be touched, tasted, or seen.

So it was a little more than 2000 years ago when the very Son of God, Jesus Christ, was nailed to a cross.  It was there that He bled and died from the sins of the whole world.  It was on the cross that our Lord suffered hell, being forsaken by the heavenly Father, being damned for all our sins, condemned to die our death.  And so Christ did.  He shed His life’s blood and gave up His spirit into death for us.  He died for people who don’t always recognize the goodness of God and the good gifts that He gives us daily.  He died for people who don’t care about God and would never think of the things they have as gifts from a loving Lord.  Christ Jesus died for all people of every time and place.  He died for you and me.  He died for the people across the street, across town, across the state, across the country, around the world.

We weren’t there to see it.  Does that mean it isn’t true?  We weren’t there to touch the blood that poured forth from His nail and spear pierced body.  Does that make His blood any less cleansing?  So how do we receive the fruits of Jesus’ cross—forgiveness of our sins, eternal life, rescue from death and the power of the devil?  We receive and recognize the blessings and benefits of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us in the very same way we recognize and receive God’s other gifts and physical blessings—by faith.

Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  The lepers hoped for cleansing, but before they went to show themselves to the priests, it was yet not seen.  We have the hope and conviction that Jesus died “for me,” that Jesus Christ rose “for me.”  Yet it is not seen with the eyes, but with the gift of saving faith that receives the Word of Christ, the promises of God, and bestows exactly what the Lord says it will—forgiveness, eternal life, food, clothes, homes, toys, everything we need for our body and our soul.  Faith receives the blessing of God.  The healing of the ten lepers, too, was by God’s grace through faith.  Jesus said at the end of our text, “Your faith has made you well.”  Faith received Christ’s promise of healing and so, Jesus brought His promise to fulfillment in all ten.  Yet only one responds in faith, recognizing the goodness of God.

It is our prayer and desire that in our lives of faith and trust in the Lord, we would recognize the goodness of God in all areas of our lives: that by faith we would see God as the Giver of everything that we have; that by faith we would believe in Jesus as our only Savior from sin and death and receive the fruits of His cross and resurrection.  It is our prayer and desire that in our lives and faith and trust in the Lord, we would respond in faith with thanks and praise to the Lord who gives so generously the things we need for the body in the here and now and the forgiveness and life He gives us for eternity with Him.  In our text, ten were cleansed by faith.  Only one responded in faith with thanks and praise.  For all that the Lord gives to us, for everything that we receive from His gracious hand by faith in His promises, it is our joyful duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

By faith we receive the gifts of God.  By faith, we recognize that all of what we have are good gifts from the Lord.  By faith, we respond with truly thankful heart for all the blessings of body and soul which we receive from Him who is our God and Savior.  And so we say in faith, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!” (Ps. 107:1)  Amen.

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