24. September 2011
Luke 17:11-19; Proverbs 4:10-23; Galatians 5:16-24
Last week we learned that the mark of a Christian is love. Anyone without the love of Christ is not rightly called a Christian. The loveless priest and Pharisee passed by the one in need. The Samaritan had compassion on the wounded and dying, giving him everything he needed to be restored to health. The Samaritan gave without thought of return, wrapping the man’s wounds, carrying him on his own beast, giving him lodging in the inn, and providing the innkeeper with resources for the needs ahead.
Christian love is charitable, and charity is generous. Yet, such charity, such generosity, such love is often not even found among us. We struggle to follow the example the Samaritan. The parable is not a simple lesson about what we must do. It is, rather, a parable about what Christ has done for us. He has done everything needed to restore us to life and vitality, caring for our bodies and our souls into eternity.
This love, dwelling in us, is a living thing. It is the Holy Spirit’s workmanship, working new and clean hearts by the forgiveness of sins. It calls us to believe, gathering us into the church, and enlightens and strengthens us in every good gift of the Father and the Son. By Christ first loving us, we are thereby equipped to love others.
Those ten lepers lifted up their voices to call upon the Lord from a distance. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Just as the ten confessed, we know the condition of our bodies. We know that our flesh is full of cancerous leprosy. We know that our flesh is at war with faith. We know that we cannot heal ourselves. We too must rely upon Christ’s perpetual mercy, because without him we will fail. We call out to our Lord, “Have mercy!”
Yet, not the nine but the one is commended in the end. Why? Nine wanted to keep going through the motions. They liked their old ways, relying upon their church. In a way, they trusted in their church more than they trusted in God. Its not that they didn’t believe Jesus but they only heard “priest” and forgot about God. They followed the Lord’s command, to be sure, but only by the letter and not by the Spirit.
Jesus sent those lepers to the priests but even before they even arrived, they were healed by His word. He is clearly showing us that the old priesthood with its rituals are passing away. The priests were the old shadow of the new healing in Christ. Sacrifices and ritual purifications pointed to the greater sacrifice and the washing of rebirth in the waters of Holy Baptism.
But nine out of ten took their eyes off the savior and onto their law-keeping. So it is for many of you. You think that being “religious” can save you. You think your regular attendance, your giving in the plate, your singing, your prayers, or your “walk with God” during the week will save you.
None of these things of themselves heal your spiritual leprosy. None of them remove the flesh far from you of themselves. They are pious practice, even commanded by God, but they do not give you salvation. It is only Christ in and with the sacred treasures of the church, working through Word and Spirit, that we are saved. When the Holy Spirit dwells richly in us by Word, Baptism, and Supper, then our lives begin to look different. God is the author and perfecter of our faith. It begins, continues, and ends with the Holy Trinity.
Your acts of piety won’t get you to heaven. Only the the Father’s gift of His Son to die for you, whom you receive by the power of the Holy Spirit, only that will remove your spiritual leprosy. Only Jesus can make you clean and whole again. Only His Spirit can keep you in this faith now and into eternity.
We are like the one outsider, the Samaritan ex-leper, who “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.” We belong to Christ Jesus who crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. We are not like those nine lepers who left, trusting piously in the letter of the Law but ignoring the still small voice of the Spirit. They received miraculous healing but never rejoicing with the fruit of thankfulness to the Lord.
Such a wonderful gift of salvation is not to be cast aside. It is to be received and cherished (Ephesians 3:14-19). From Jesus—the root of Jesse, the dayspring from on high, the source of every blessing—we receive our life. This life lives in his love. Christ’s sinless blood curses through the veins of the Holy Christian church. Those living in Christ cannot bear wicked fruit. Their work is perfect love for Christ’s sake.
St. Paul encourages us: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” In other words, remain in Christ and you will bear fruit in keeping with your repentance. You might have once been a loveless lover of the law but now you are a lovely Samaritan. You may have been one of the nine in your sin. But in your Baptismal righteousness, you are reborn “not of this world.” You are an outsider and ex-leper, perfectly equipped to love God and neighbor.
That is not to say our life is without difficulties. There is a battle between our flesh and the workings of the Spirit. The enemies within our flesh (that is, our sinful nature) must be constantly overcome and defeated. Or as Luther says, “the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (SC, Baptism; c.f. Romans 6:3-4). This is the daily work of the Holy Spirit to keep us in the true faith. He does this through His Holy Word, dwelling richly in our hearts, upon our lips, and in our ears.
Many say that they are Christian, yet refuse to listen to Christ’s voice. They refuse the voice of Jesus in Proverbs: “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.”
Despite the clear instruction of the Scriptures, many of you—for no good reason—refuse to set aside another hour of your Sunday morning or just a few hours each week for this Word in Bible Study. Hear the Lord, my Word is life. Do not ignore me but rejoice to dwell richly in me in the study of my Word. And don’t worry, He will not make you ashamed. He will teach you in the way that you should go, sometimes with sternness but often with gentle wisdom and sweet Gospel.
Others like their old religious habits but refuse to come with the Word before God in daily prayer. Others forget or refuse to confess Jesus before their neighbor and World. Many, whom we call delinquent and I would call the lost, while calling themselves Christian, refuse to take part in the divine liturgy, to hear the Word preached and taught, to receive the Sacrament for their body and soul, and refuse the mutual admonition and consolation of their brothers and sisters in the faith, thereby transgressing the third, second, and first commandments.
It may seem difficult for you to imagine such a thing happening. Perhaps you say to yourself, “I have been here in attendance faithfully for years. I try to hear the Word of God and keep it. I dutifully receive the Lord’s Supper at the altar in repentance. I give an offering each week.” Christian duty is one thing. Its not hard for habit to turn to neglect. Being a Christian out of obligation is a weakness and easily overcome by the flesh.
It doesn’t take much flesh to make a shipwreck of your faith. Habit and duty are certainly useful but only if they are in service to the Spirit. St. Paul knows how easy it is for faith to whither and the love of the Spirit to die. All it takes is to ignore God’s Word an instead listen to your flesh.
You may be here on Sunday morning but during the week you prefer a dwell in lust, lived vicariously on TV and in the internet. You praise the Lord of the Sabbath but then spurn the Lord as you go about the week in anger, jealously, and envy. You may receive our Lord’s body and blood for the renewing of your body and soul here but then turn around and engorge yourself on junk food and excessive amounts of a stiff drink.
Its not long before the flesh will win this battle. Its not long before the Spirit is shoved aside and love of God is substituted with love of the world and your flesh. Be on guard! “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness… Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flows the springs of life.” Be attentive to your life. Pray that the Spirit would continue to bring it into conformity with the way of God. “Keep hold of instruction, do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.” I pray that you all walk by the same Spirit, rejoicing in the Word, diligently receiving it here at font, pulpit, and altar, receiving it in study here and at home, receiving Jesus in prayer and devotion.
For the Samaritan leper, despite everything we might expect, dwelt richly in the things of God. His faith was far greater than any weakness of his faith. The fruits of the Spirit abounded from his mouth. He was full of love, joy, peace, and patience. He showed forth kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. If he failed in one thing, his love for God lacked restraint.
I pray that it be so among you. God has visited and redeemed you. He has snatched you from the pit of hell. Death has been crucified in his body and now there is new life for all who believe on His name. He has granted you His Holy Spirit, who continually works new life in you by the Word. Even now, Jesus will feed you with His own body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. All your leprosy is healed and you are made pure for His sake.
Let us always turn our faces from sin and unrighteousness and look to the perfect and holy one Jesus. Let us continue our praise of the Holy Trinity with loud voices. Let us continually give him thanks. For Jesus has said to us, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church