09. September 2012
The Sunday of the Ten Lepers
Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24
* Despite the audio quality, I’m including it because of the changes I made as this text was preached. This is typical and I always encourage you to listen and read along or simply listen.*
Every fall, after a summer of leisure and holiday, the call rings out: “it’s time for Sunday school again!” That’s right, today is the so-called Rally Day. And by rally, we mean something like what the Republicans and Democrats just finished. It’s our annual church convention when we again commit ourselves to studying God’s Word and teaching the faith to our children.
It’s kind of strange really. What have we been doing all summer? Did we vacation from Jesus? Did we ignore our fatherly duty and let the catechesis of our children lapse? I pray not. I hope this strange practice is simply born of a want to give the Sunday school teachers a break.
You may have noticed that we never stopped Bible class this summer. Just as our faith compels to hear God’s Word and received His body and blood regularly, ought not this same faith commend us to stick around for an hour and consider this same Word in study, in contemplation, and mutual conversation? It seems to me there is a time and season for everything but there is always time for a Sabbath rest.
Are Sunday school and Bible class optional nice things to do if one so desires? That’s not how Luther understood God’s Word nor is it what you promised with an oath to do. Do you remember the Third Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
And then at your confirmation, you were asked: “Do you confess the doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, drawn from the Scriptures, as you have learned to know it in the Small Catechism, to be faithful and true?” You responded: “I do.” Part of that vow included that you would gladly learn that Word. Thus, we’re back to this silly notion that we can either ignore or the regular study of God’s Word or take a break from it until we’re good and rested.
Luther said in his Large Catechism: “We Christians should make every day a holy day and give ourselves only to holy activities—that is, occupy ourselves daily with God’s Word and carry it in our hearts and on our lips. However, as we have said, since all people do not have this much time and leisure, we must set apart several hours a week for the young, and at least a day for the whole community, when we can concentrate upon such matters and deal especially with the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Thus we may regulate our whole life and being according to God’s Word.”
These few hours that we dedicate to the hearing, receiving, and learning of God’s Word govern our whole life and the rest of our week. Luther also said: “Since so much depends on God’s Word that no holy day is sanctified without it, we must realize that God insists upon a strict observance of this commandment and will punish all who despise his Word and refuse to hear and learn it, especially at the times appointed. Therefore this commandment is violated not only by those who grossly misuse and desecrate the holy day […] but also by that multitude of others who listen to God’s Word as they would to any other entertainment, who only from force of habit go to hear preaching and depart again with as little knowledge of the Word at the end of the year as at the beginning. […] Remember, then, that you must be concerned not only about hearing the Word but also about learning and retaining it. Do not regard it as an optional or unimportant matter. It is the commandment of God, and he will require of you an accounting of how you have heard and learned and honored his Word.”
Maybe then Rally Day is silly after all? If we’re going to meet on Sunday to hear preaching, receive the Sacrament, but neglect to learn this Word and take it heart, what will happen? It’ll be a lot like the last two national conventions. All buzz and excitement and then days later, no one remembers anything that happened but some vague recollection of Clint Eastwood and Bill Clinton. There’s a big hoopla, with special snacks, installation of the teachers, and renewed commitment to the faith as it is confessed in the Catechism, and then what?
Repent. Do not fall back into your old habits. You who desire to be led by the Spirit need to receive the Spirit where He’s promised to be, in Holy Absolution, Baptism, and Supper, in the Word preached and taught. Attend to these and do not neglect one of them.
Perhaps you need an analogy? Consider the Ten Lepers of today’s Holy Gospel. These ten all were sick, ritually unclean and spiritually damaged goods. They knew well enough and believed that Jesus could make them right. [They] lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourself to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Just so, you are too well aware of the sinful baggage you brought with you through those doors. When it comes to sin, each of us pay outrageous fees for all the checked sin luggage. The desires of [your] flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against [your] flesh. These works of the flesh are evident. You know them well. You feel their weight upon your conscience. Sins against the home and marriage: sexual immorality, sensuality, idolatry. Sins against true religion: idolatry, sorcery. Sins that destroy society, first creating hatred: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger; and then disunion: rivalries, dissension, divisions. Your flesh seeks to overthrow the Spirit with evil: envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.
But you are a Christian! You know the works of the flesh. You know there is a real battle and you must be on your guard. You have named these sins publicly and privately saying “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess!” You confess you are a sinner, something only someone who has the Holy Spirit can do. You lifted up your voice just like the ten lepers and said Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
And so He has! He has forgiven you your sins. You are cleansed. As we began the Introit, you enter into worship cleansed and whole again. Go and sin no more. Follow the commands and live. But the war is not over. The Divine Service is the continual battle of the Lord’s Spirit against your flesh. And how does your flesh perceive our worship? Just like that. It’s our worship—what we do for God—and not His service for us from start to finish. You’ve heard the Word of absolution but Jesus is not done with you yet. He gives you more Law and Gospel in the Introit, readings, Gradual, Verse, and Gospel, to kill the old Adam and bring to life the new man according to the Spirit.
The battle continues even now as your flesh struggles with the Spirit. The flesh says: “I’m in a hurry, I’ve got better things to do than sit in a boring Bible class.” But the Spirit of Jesus says within you: “I really should study the Word more, especially from my pastor who God has given me.” Sin was crouching at the door and already polluted your clean heart. So you will sing, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me.” And so, the Lord will once again forgive you and grant you His Spirit to guide you into the kingdom of God. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it passions and desires. Those who belong to Christ have nailed to Christ’s own cross their every opposition and resistance to faithful hearing and study of the Word.
You will recall that of the ten lepers who went away cleansed, only one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. It’s not simply that only one was thankful. While this is true, also only one wanted to worship God in truth in purity. All his fellow sinners went back to their old ways, doing worship according to the Law but not responding according to the Spirit. They fell back onto the Law with its great what-must-I-do-to-be-saved question. Go to the priests, follow the purity rules, be restored.
You might say they received this totally awesome gift in cleansing from God himself but rather than respond with thankfulness, praise, and attention, they saw fit only to jump through the necessary hoops, and go back to their business. That’s how many of us approach God’s Word. He blesses us with a great gift of forgiveness. He speaks into our ears and onto our tongues. We listen, eat, and drink. But what next? Say a prayer, receive a blessing, sing a hymn, and then go back to our humdrum life.
Not so with the one Samaritan leper. Just like last week, it wasn’t the priest or Levite who knew better that helped the man in the ditch. Nope, it was the one who simply acted according to faith. He saw a man in need and helped without compulsion or obligation but compassion. So today, this Samaritan, who had no idea about right worship — all the proper hand motions, rising and sitting, singing and praying, who stumbles through the service each week—this outsider and weirdo acts in great faith.
He’s not thinking about his work. He’s not thinking about the Sunday buffet. He’s not thinking about the Bears game. He’s not even worried about whether he’ll be an embarrassment. Seeing himself clean, he does the thing clean people do: he sits at the feet of the giver who is master and Lord. The priest thing can wait. Right now, its all about Jesus. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.
And so He is commended by Jesus: 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, “Arise and journey; your faith has made you well.” The now-healed Samaritan wanted as much Jesus as he could get. Never satisfied but always desiring to kneel at the master’s feet and hear, listen, receive, and learn. There is nothing more profitable to our salvation that to be with Jesus. To meditate upon His precepts. To fix your eyes on His way. To never wandering from His commandments.
On this Rally Day, there’s nothing wrong with a renewed call to be attentive to God’s Word. Today, as we begin another season of catechesis, I urge you to be like the Samaritan leper, who after being healed, did not simply go back to the old way but turned over a new leaf in Jesus. Crack open your Bibles each day. Struggle to read and understand. Memorize again your catechism. Pray these chief texts of our faith back to Jesus and let His Spirit work new fruit in you. Use the prayer guides. Pray for each other. Come to Bible Study. Pop in for Lutheran Catechesis on Mondays and Old Testament Catechesis on Tuesdays. Let the Spirit return you to the Word and so be commendable to Jesus. Arise and journey on the way; your faith has made you well.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church