Oct 9, 2016 – Healed!
Today’s gospel lesson is a bit different than the several previous ones. We’ve had Jesus preach and teach on a lot of things this last month of Sundays: lost coins and sheep, the wasteful manager, the rich man and Lazarus and last week His teaching about repentance and absolute and total forgiveness. (Remember the whiteboard?) And this week is something different, now Jesus is healing.
And today He’s not just healing one person, He healed 10. 10 lepers – all at once. We tend to think in terms of the one because only one came back to give thanks, but Jesus’ healing was for all ten of these lepers. And all at the same time!
Amazing! Back when I was in the book business in Seattle I got to help a man over the phone on a few occasions. He was retired and his name was Dr. Paul Brand. He’d written several books having to do with healing and pain. You see as a missionary doctor he had worked with lepers in Hawaii and South Africa for many many years.
I’ll never forget that in one of his books, when he is describing the ‘gift of pain’ he tells the story of arriving at the leper colony in Africa. When he’s needing to get into an old building he finds that he can’t open the door because the lock is old and rusty and he simply can’t turn the key, it just won’t budge.
Along comes this 10 or 12-year-old boy with leprosy and tells the doctor he can open it, and he steps up, grabs the key and with a swift twist opens the lock. The boy smiles up at Dr Brand and, as the Dr is thanking him he notices that boy has gashed his hand all the way down to the bone with the key.
You see leprosy; known today as Hansen’s disease, kills off nerve endings. So this little boy had no experience of pain to prevent him from cutting himself on the key. The boy knew that and was able to cut himself without feeling pain. The obviously bad thing about that is, that the boy can deliberately choose to injure himself for something as petty as unlocking a door and smile about it. The infection and disease that can result from deliberate injury could kill the boy, but because he did not have the gift of pain, due to leprosy, he didn’t know to stop himself from injury.
Leprosy is a disease that can harm and kill the person who has and it can infect an entire community because it is communicable. Now today it can be treated, to some degree, thanks in part to the work of Dr Brand. But leprosy is still a disease that has both individual and social consequences, as sin also does.
Sin is individual and social. You know what sin is in your life and how it infects you personally. Things like wicked thoughts and bad desires, self-indulgence and toying with temptation are just some of the personal aspects of our own sinfulness. These can lead to distrust of, and anger toward, God as well as bringing on personally self-destructive behavior, not unlike the leprous boy and the rusty key.
Lies, deception and gossip too are our sins. And so sin can isolate us from others. Short tempers, impatience, and rash reactions can lead to gossip, jealousy, and unkind words that ruin relationships. Selfishness, silence and adultery ruin marriages. Disrespect, distrust and indifference cause rifts between children and parents. So sin is social too in that it infects our relationships with others.
And again, like the little boy, sometimes we choose sin thinking that we’re not really hurting anyone because we don’t perceive the pain of our sin. We continue to choose sin because we don’t think there is pain with it since, after all Jesus died for it – not us. Such choices are ways the disease of sin separates us from God. And that is true pain.
Sin isolates us from God. We are the lepers standing far from Jesus. Our sin does separate us from our Lord. And, left untreated, just like leprosy can kill, so sin can damn us forever and eternally separate us from God. So, we, like the 10 lepers, cry out to Jesus.
The lepers didn’t presume to rush up to Jesus or grab him and demand healing. They didn’t ‘study’ Jesus and ‘meditate’ on His teachings and make a conclusion to trust Him. No, they were desperate but humble, recognizing their leprosy; the thing separating them from Him and from others. They call out from a distance, they cry out, and beg. Luther said as much of us in his final recorded words – “we are beggars, it is true.” We, as sinners, do the same thing as the 10 men.
We also come before our Lord, acknowledging our sin; like we talked about last week, when we spoke about repentance and total forgiveness. We don’t come to Jesus and presume anything or demand anything. Nor do we come to Jesus and try to earn His mercy or show Him by our good works that we deserve His mercy. We know better. We are sinners. All we can do is beg and cry out for mercy. In our worship we demonstrate this for ourselves.
What comes early in the liturgy – in our worship – Distance! We acknowledge we’re far away from our Lord when we confess our sin. We come asking God for forgiveness. And when we use the Kyrie, we use the same words spoken by the lepers: “Lord, have mercy.”
And how, then, does Jesus react to our cry? Does He keep His distance? Does He avoid defiling himself, as would a pious Pharisee?
No! Remember from the epistle lesson what Paul says – The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.
Neither leprosy nor sin pushes Jesus away from us. Jesus will not deny what He has done for us in His dying on the cross and rising again to new life, a new life that He gives to us just as He gave healing to the 10 lepers. To them He speaks words of healing and forgiveness: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
Meaning they will have been made clean and healed. “I will make you clean” is His promise. To us, Jesus says the same thing through the words of absolution: “I declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins.”
Sin doesn’t push Jesus away; instead, rather He comes to us, and He takes away our sin. As Dr. Brand went to the lepers to help them, in a greater way Jesus comes to us. He came to earth to take our sin away: to bear for us the pain of sin even when, like a leper, we don’t feel our sin. And, no matter how disgusting our sin is, no matter how it has disfigured us or Him, Jesus takes it to the cross. And there, bearing our disfiguring sin, He dies for it: All of it.
Even sin done after we’ve been healed and forgiven through baptism, confession and absolution or after Holy Communion. Even sin we choose, like boy choosing to injure himself with the rusty key. Still we repent and still He forgives. Like we spoke of last week, how often to you return to the doctor’s office (?) as often as needed. Sin does not keep Jesus away from us.
Jerome was one of the great fathers of the early Christian Church who translated the Bible into the language of the people. One night Jerome had a dream that Jesus came to visit his home. In the dream he collected all of his money and gave it to Jesus as a gift of love. The Lord said, “I don’t want your money.” So Jerome rounded up all of his possessions and tried to give them to Jesus. Again the Lord said, “I don’t want your possessions.” In his dream Jerome turned to Christ and asked, “Lord, what can I give you? What do You want?” Jesus replied, “First, give me your sin – that’s what I came for. I came to take away all your sins. Give me your sin!”
Sin does not push Jesus away, even our sin of choice like the boy; Jesus truly wants us to cry out to Him in confession and give Him all our sin so that He may forgive us with His absolution. Again, that happens as we gather each week in worship together. Just as sin is both individual and corporate, so also forgiveness can be received corporately and individually. These ten lepers were all healed, and yet they each received the healing personally.
But now we have the issue of the one who alone returns to give thanks. There is only one. And he is the only one to hear Jesus words. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Only this man, a foreigner, not a Jew, comes back to Jesus after showing himself to the priest and discovering that he was cleansed; only this man returns to give thanks to Jesus.
When we don’t return the gratitude we should by forgetting to worship, or by mumbling through our prayers, or by not gratefully returning to Him our tithes, offerings and talents, even these things don’t keep Jesus from us. But what they do is keep us from hearing what Jesus would say to us.
When we forget to return thankfulness to God for the grace of Jesus Christ, we’re the one’s who lose out. Just as the 9 lepers never heard Jesus’ personal words to them, so when we skip worship, withhold our prayers or get stingy with our time talents and treasures, we lose out on a closer relationship with Jesus that He has set us free for.
So then, in Jesus healing of us we have an opportunity, an invitation, if you will, to get closer to Jesus. Failing to give thanks is missing out on that invitation to be closer to Him. Because giving thanks is really about being close to Jesus. He has done the work that has brought us to Him by His healing and forgiving us through His death and resurrection.
Now we’re free to spend our daily lives being close to the One who has given us reason to praise Him and too long to know Him better. It’s like standing on the seashore. Where sea and land meet is a place that reminds me of being close to God.
I’ve spent my life on land, but there are a few times when I’ve been to sea on great ships. It’s a different life at sea than it is on land. But when you stand on the shore, with your feet being lapped at by the sea, you experience something of both places. You have a longing for both the safety of land, and yet you are drawn to the vastness of the sea and its foreign richness. The distance between the two is bridged there at the shore. You are part of both worlds there. And the cross of Christ does that for us between here and heaven. It brings us to the shore of heaven and we experience both longing and peace and we have, at the cross, the opportunity for praise.
The distance between God and us is indeed removed by that cross of Christ and His words of forgiveness. We are like Ruth in the Old Testament lesson, who clung to her mother-in-law Naomi and said, May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.
Having been made clean we can now return to Him, freely, in praise and thanksgiving and worship, with no fear of death, no boundaries or disease separating us from Him. Day-by-day, moment-by-moment we can draw close to Jesus in joyful gratitude and live our lives that way. We can be absolutely confident and joyful that He is always (x2) with us; that nothing can separate us from His love. The story of the ten lepers is our story. The one leper who returns is, by the grace of God, who we’re called to be. This worship that we take part in each week, is a worship of thanksgiving and praise for our Lord’s healing works and His words spoken to us that totally remove the leprosy of our sin.
As beggars of the Lord we’re made clean, forgiven, holy, and free! We’re free to come to Him and praise Him, thank Him and to celebrate that He has made us one with He and the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through His work we are cleansed of our leprous sin, both now and always. Thanks be to God! Amen!
Sermon #848 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Old Testament Reading Ruth 1:1-19a
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.
Epistle Reading 2 Timothy 2:1-13
2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; 13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.
Holy Gospel Luke 17:11-19
11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”