Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-19 † Galatians 5:16-24
Ten lepers run to the temple. They are the ones following directions, or so it seems. Jesus tells them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” So they run to the priests. All but one keeps running. One turns around and runs back to Jesus, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet.
There is a little bit of the nine lepers in each of us. We look at church as a place where we follow the rules and do as we are told. A cooperate and graduate type of system. We look at the church as a center of goods and services. I go to church to get something out of it. Once I get what I need out of it I don’t think about it again until I need something else.
How many times have we seen individuals fail to come to church except to get something out of the church? It’s not worth talking about because the folks who need to hear what is said from this pulpit aren’t here. All of us are guilty at one time or another of using the church like a store. When a baby is born, we take the child to church for baptism. When a child turns a certain age, we drop the child off at church for catechism instruction and pick them up an hour and fifteen minutes later, making an appearance in church for their confirmation. When it’s time to get married, we call up the pastor and ask for the wedding of our dreams. When someone dies, we call pastor and ask for a funeral.
That’s the way of the nine lepers. We get what we ask for, we do as we are told, and we live our lives as if we expected Jesus to reward us in the end. Instead of singing “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer” we consider the privilege of praying a right or a responsibility. We break the First Commandment by making God into our own image. We break the Second Commandment by not calling upon God in prayer, praise and thanksgiving. We break the Third Commandment by despising preaching and God’s Holy Word, we do not hold it sacred, gladly hearing it and learning it.
Repent. Turn back with the one leper who returned to the Lord. Fall on your face and worship Jesus, give Him alone all glory, laud and honor. Raise your voice to the Lord. Sing praises to the God who does wonders without counting the cost. Rejoice in the Savior of the nations, who, by His bloody death and resurrection from the grave, saves you from sin, eternal death, and condemnation.
Consider Saint Paul’s words in the Epistle today: “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Perhaps it’s that last sentence that keeps so many people away from the Christian faith. A Christian crucifies his flesh with its passions and desires every day. That means we kill it. We get rid of it. That’s the toughest thing to do as a Christian. As Christians, we get rid of the sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. That is exactly what we do in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Every day the Old Adam in us, by sorrow for our sins and repentance, should be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires that a new man would emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. When we wake up, we desire not to sin as much as we did yesterday and we live that way, trying to do better. Nevertheless, we fall right back into those old traps. The devil knows exactly what he is doing. But how do you not fall into those old traps of sin? Saying you’re not going to do that and actually not doing that are two different things. How do you mark and avoid that which causes you to sin?
In Proverbs, Solomon has the answer: “My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; keep them in the midst of your heart; for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. Give attention to the Word of the Lord. Give attention to His Word here as well as at home. Allow Jesus to come to you and speak to you. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God. Memorize it. Make it part of who you are. The Divine Service which means “God’s Service” to us; that is, our worship here today, is part of our returning to Jesus, it is Jesus coming to us. Reading the Word at home, praying for all needs and conditions of man, meditating on the sermon, this is what it means to hold it sacred and gladly hear it and learn it.
You who are loved by Christ, how do you find yourself responding to the miracle of preaching and the Sacraments that happens in this place? Is this an hour to squeeze out what you need to keep up appearances with God and neighbor? Or is this an hour that is the center of everything you say and do during the week? The center point of our life together as Christians happens here in the Divine service. The Holy Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is in this place. Here the angels are ascending and descending, on the stairway to heaven. Here is where sins are forgiven and grace is bestowed upon us. This is the house of God, and the gate of heaven. Here Jesus’ undeserved love comes to us in all its fullness. Here Jesus’ speaks. Here Jesus washes us clean. Here Jesus feeds us. Here Jesus comes as the Great Physician of body and soul to heal us, removing our leprosy from us. Here we have forgiveness and life. Here we look forward to the resurrection of the body. Here all the benefits of the cross are given to us. Why would we want to avoid this place? Why would we treat these holy things of God as unimportant? Why do we consider God, our Creator and Redeemer and Sanctifier as unimportant?
Today we will rise and go our way, once again healed from sin and death and given forgiveness and life. While we go our way, we take firm hold of Jesus and we do not let go. We take hold of Jesus’ words and do not let go. We cling to Jesus and His Word of grace, mercy and peace. His Word and Sacraments among us are gifts we do not deserve, they strengthen us to fight the good fight of faith. There is no life in us apart from them. We can’t help but fall down at Jesus’ feet and show our gratitude for all His goodness toward us. We show that gratitude in the fruits of the Spirit that flow out from us in our daily lives. A Christian cannot help but live a gracious life in Christ toward our neighbors. We can’t help but life a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against these there is no law, it is who we are, it is how we live as baptized children of God.
Truly God the Father loves each and every one of us. He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for us, rise from the dead for us, ascend into heaven for us and is coming again to take us to be where He is at the right hand of the Father. He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger toward us. Let us return to the Lord our God, and with a loud voice give Him thanks and praise! Amen.