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Vicar Christopher Gillespie

Immanuel Lutheran Church of Frankentrost
Saginaw, Michigan
Trinity 14 (September 9th, 2007)

Luke 17:11-19

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you all. Amen.

The text for our meditation is the Gospel just read, especially Jesus’s words to the Samaritan “‘Were not the 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.”

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you graciously looked upon us in our despair and sent your Son Jesus to redeem us from our cursed condition. Grant us faith that we may plead to your mercy and in thankfulness we may sing your praises. We ask this in Your name. Amen.

Jesus has turned his face toward Jerusalem. His ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing will soon be focused on his triumphal entry into the city and his crucifixion. We know that the cross is not the end of his teaching but is the focus… the crux… the center. The cross brings into focus all that came before and all that came after. It is the key to unlocking the meaning and the intent of scriptures.

The words breathed by the Holy Spirit into the ears of the Evangelist St. Luke and recorded here were not mere utterances of history, little nuggets to outline Jesus’s journeys, words about the political climate of first century Israel, or simply to prove Jesus existed. All scripture is written to testify that Jesus lived, He died, and He rose again on Easter morning; all a free gift for our salvation. The guidance of the Spirit working through God’s Word tells us so.

The account of the healing of the ten lepers also speaks of this ministry of redemption of God in Christ Jesus for salvation. The healing of the lepers is not merely a physical one but a spritual one. The words here written first proclaim the truth of the human condition. Lepers suffer incurable disease of the flesh. Their bodies are covered in sores. Pain, misery, and torment describe their existence. Adding further insult to this injury, society then banishes lepers outside the city and away from the people. Their disease might spread and infect others. And so, the lepers lead their life alone and in suffering.

Our sinful lives are little different. Yes, mostly our flesh does not suffer like a leper nor are we completely segregated from our society. Yet our spirit is in torment. The prophet Isaiah tells us, [Our iniquities have made a separation between us and God. Our hands are defiled with blood and our fingers with iniquity; Our lips have spoken falsehood, Our tongue mutters wickedness. We speak lies. We conceive mischief. Our thoughts are thoughts of sin. Our works are works of sin. Our feet run to evil. We hope for light, but we walk in gloom. We are like dead men.] (Isaiah 59:2-10)

Our lives are lives of bondage to a parasite with no earthly cure. No skilled physician among us armed with the latest balm, medicine, or radiation therapy can remove this scourge. The works of the flesh evident in our old Adam keep us from entering heaven. They place us outside the city gates, away from our intended life and away from God. Sin squanders away the inheritance promised to us… the city of God that was ours.

In the midst of this life of isolation, our Lord comes to us. He enters our village of darkness and we see him from afar. Accounts of his deeds and the voice of his teaching has reached our ears. By the good and gracious gifts of font and pulpit he comes to us bringing faith. His Holy Spirit calls us to him, working faith in us, and giving us trust and confidence that He is Lord of Creation, Master of the Universe, the Son of God. We cry out to him, pleading for his mercy because we know that we cannot but fall. Our path remains in darkness. Our leprosy of unrighteousness keeps us from drawing near.

Again from Isaiah, “[Now our LORD sees us from afar, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him, And His righteousness upheld Him. Our Lord put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. He will come like a rushing stream Which the wind of the LORD drives. “A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the LORD.” (condensed from Isaiah 59:15-20)

Previously to the Gospel for today, the Evangelist writes of the healing of the centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter. He also tells of the woman with the hemorrhage of twelve years who touched Jesus’s cloak for healing. Her faith healed her. St Luke records the healing of a man with leprosy in chapter five. So, healing is nothing new for Jesus.

Yet here, Jesus comes to the lepers. He comes to them to bring them good news of new life. In a way, Jesus has gotten ahead of himself, declaring freedom from the consequence of sin before the cross. These lepers suffer under the curse of Adam’s sin, manifested in their fleshy illness. News of his healings has reached them, guiding the lepers to seek Jesus. They desire release from the grip of their cruel disease and believe our Lord has authority to do so.

Jesus comes to the lepers and he calls the lepers to himself. Without His action and His Word, they would remain yet far off, alone. We must not be confused who is active and who is passive. Christ comes to us and Christ’s Spirit calls us to him. Faith comes not from within ourselves but from Christ who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

The lepers confess to Jesus they believe in his authority. They call him Master, a title reserved for use by the disciples for Jesus. Their confession is strong. It is bold. It speaks with all confidence that he can show mercy upon them as a Father shows mercy on his children. They raise their voices to Him, calling upon him in their trouble.

His ministry of the cross has not yet come. Instead he sends them to the old establishment, the priests for cleansing according to the Levitical rite. They trust in his command and go to the priests. As they go, they are cleansed of their disease. As the author of Hebrews wrote: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” With the lepers, faith is the trust in God which confesses without any doubt but also without evidence. Their faith has healed them.

Who do the lepers credit for their healing? Is it Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God who they called to from afar? Is it the one they call “master”, the one they confess has authority of their fallen flesh? No, nine leave, having received the gift of God, not recognizing or thanking God who gave the word of promise. Instead, they credit the outward rite of the priests. They trust in the ministry given to Moses but not the ministry of Christ who comes. They neglect the gift and spurn the giver.

This is dead faith. This is faith that does not give life. True faith compels us to receive God’s gifts freely as the ten lepers. But also, true faith compels us to pray, praise, and give thanks for all that God has done for us. All but one leper fails to give credit where credit is due. The lepers great confession of Jesus as the master of mercy dies on the vine without the nourishment of thanksgiving.

But one leper… an outsider… a foreigner does return. Jesus again is getting ahead of himself. He came first for the Jew, then for the Greek. Jesus is giving us a sneak peek of his whole ministry, spoiling the surprise that He is for the lost sheep of Israel… and they are the Gentiles.

Last week, we heard of the Good Samaritan who helped the man by the road who had been passed by the old guard, the priest and the Levite. We should not be surprised then that the Samaritan here is the one who understands who Jesus is and what he has done. Like the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan leper lives his faith in an active way. He doesn’t keep his faith to himself but lives faith out in prayer, praise, and thanks.

And so, the Samaritan leper does not speak in a mere raised voice now, but he sings aloud the glory of God with a great and mighty voice. The first confession of mercy is now an even greater confession of thankfulness. He adopts the posture of reverence, face down is the posture of a servant before a master, like Joseph’s brothers before him in humility or Abraham before God. For this leper knows he stands before not a mere messenger of mercy but God himself. God had said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Ex. 33:20)

But here Jesus says “Arise!” and look now upon the face of God. I have freed you from your iniquity. You have confessed and are absolved. I have come to declare freedom from oppression and release from slavery. “Arise,” he says. This is no simple standing, merely on feet. This is salvation, redemption… a resurrection.

This lone leper whose faith calls him to the greater confession of thankfulness and praise receives even more than the other nine. His faith is not a simple first article faith of God as creator and master who can heal diseases. His faith is a Apostle’s Creed faith, confessing Father as creator, Son as redeemer, and Spirit as sanctifier. His praise is speaking back to God all that He has done. He receives the Divine Service of life and salvation and in this service returns thanks cheerfully with both voice and posture.

As St. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:12-18)

The gift of faith calls us to embrace the giver, hold steadfast to Him and trust only in Him. Thankfulness is the recognition of the gift. With open hearts and hands, faith receives with thanksgiving. As the Psalmist spoke: “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; and to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)

Our words of worship confess with the Samaritan leper that which we have been given… God’s Word. Thus says the LORD: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth…” (Isaiah 59:21)

We sing with the Samaritan, all the angels in heaven, the apostles, and all the saints of old, glorifying God with a great voice. We confess all that he has done and continue to receive Him as he has promised.

Again from the Psalmist: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” (Psalm 103:1-5) Bless the Lord!

Sadly, there are the nine who were cleansed, who were healed but who are no longer among us. How many have been cured of their leprosy by Christ and have fallen away? How many confessed Him as creator, with power of the flesh, only to give credit to others, false gods, or themselves?

Some claim peace with God but do not thank him for his gift of healing. They remain absent from the Divine Service. They have ceased the confession of praising God with a loud voice in song. They do not bow before him in thanks of reverential worship. They have not received the nourishment of the Holy Spirit where he has promised to be, in Word and Sacrament. Their withered vines of faith have stopped yielding fruits of love, joy, and patience.

Perhaps they place all their confidence merely in their membership, believing it a “ticket to heaven?” They forget that we must live in their baptism, daily crucifying the old Adam. We allow God to nurture, guide, and sustain our faith where he has promised to do so. Membership of a congregation is not faith.

We mourn those who appear lost to the darkness, but we do not give up hope. We turn to the Lord, confessing with a loud voice all that he has done. We are not ashamed to tell all and give Christ Jesus all thankfulness and praise. “Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations… The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” (Psalm 126:2-3)

Our voices are not loveless clanging cymbals but great voice of faith. We sing with a loud voice to God all the glorious things he has done and pray that he would draw the scattered nine back to the care of the church.

We rise for prayer: Lord, may you use our lips to confess and our tongues to sing your praises before the whole world. May we boldly tell of all that you have done. Come to those who have wandered away or who have never heard of you so that they may receive all that you have accomplished for us. Guide these lost sheep away from all things hurtful and back to the way of salvation and true peace. In Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

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