Sunday, September 26, 2010

St. Michael and All Angels (observed)

(Audi0)recording cut short about 1:00 minute due to technical difficulties

Matthew 18:1-11; Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12: 1-3

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

At first hearing, today’s readings may seem like a mish-mash of spiritual themes: War in heaven; angels and demons; guardian angels; temptation; greatness in heaven; the humility and innocence of children; and, the atoning blood of the Lamb. Nevertheless, there is a method in this Divine madness. The problem for us, however, is the scope of time involved, for, the themes in our texts range from before the foundation of the universe and the six days of creation to the prophecy of Daniel in the 6th century BC, to the days of the ministry of Jesus in the 1st century AD, to our present day, to the Last Day which only God the Father knows. In short, the scope of time encompasses, predates, and goes beyond the entire existence of humankind, even the universe itself!

But, what for us is an impossible scope of time, for our eternal God is but a moment. God exists outside of time, for He is the Creator of time, and He sees all things at all times at one time. This is a Divine mystery, to be sure, which is comprehended only in faith, but it is also a humbling and comforting reminder of who God is and of who we are: God is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End and, well, everything in between; and, perhaps what is more amazing than all that is that this God loves you so that He sent His own Son into your flesh to die for you and to be raised again that you might live with Him forever. This awesome God loves you and promises that He will keep you and preserve you in His Son and raise you up to eternal life on the Last Day. Even though you are so very small, He is so very big and good that you have nothing to fear, not even war, devils and demons, temptations, or death.

Now, does that make you feel weak and helpless? Does that make you feel like a little child? Good! That’s the point, for it is weak, helpless, and humble little ones that are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Those who try to enter the kingdom by their own efforts, by their own strength, wisdom, greatness, or works, will never enter, but only those who humble themselves like a little child will enter the kingdom of heaven.

And, God has assigned His angels to guard over His little ones, to protect them from harm and danger, from all evil, demons, and devils. But, age has nothing to do with it; God protects those who recognize their need for protection, those who humble themselves will be guarded and protected. It was such an angel of protection who visited Daniel in the 6th century BC. The angel touched Daniel and told him not to fear, for God loved him deeply from the day he first humbled himself and set his heart to understand. The angel was sent to guard and protect Daniel in his days, and the angel promised that God would send the Archangel Michael, called a Prince, in days to come to throw down Satan and his evil angels. And, that day has come. On a Friday afternoon nearly 2000 years ago, there was a war in heaven, but that war is over and your Enemy has been defeated; what you experience now as sufferings and woes are but the last skirmishes of a trounced enemy heading for hell.

For, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” The war is over, it is a done deal! The devil and his host of hell have been defeated – but, still they seek to convince millions that this is not so! Through lies and deceptions, which are their only weapons, they deceive millions into believing that the war is not over, that, in fact, God has been defeated, or doesn’t even exist. The devil has come down to the earth in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short.

But, you, children of God, need not fear, for, even now you are conquerors by the blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ! And, so, there is rejoicing in the heavens and there is woe on the earth, but the victory ours remaineth!

Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? You, who, in childlike humility, love not your lives unto death, are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Concerning you, God has commanded His angels to guard you in all your ways. Your angels, who behold the face of God the Father in heaven, watch over you and fight the host of hell on your behalf. Yet, still, temptations to sin will come, temptations to sin must come, but God will always provide you a way out. This is why Jesus says to you, “If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life [crippled or lame, or] with one eye than with [two hands or two feet, or] two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” The way out may mean loss in this world, in this life, but all loss is gain in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Your angels fight for you against temptations to sin, therefore do not create temptations for others of God’s little ones. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” warns Jesus, “but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” To tempt another to sin, or to contribute in the temptation in some way, is nothing less than complicity with the devil and his evil works. It is nothing less than to wage war against God’s angels and God Himself! Jesus warns, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

But, you who are victorious in the blood of the Lamb, need tempt no one, for all is yours in Christ Jesus and it cannot be taken from you! Do not clamor, then, to possess material things and worldly wealth, for, these have no value in and of themselves and they do not last. Your heavenly Father provides you with all that you need, so you need not worry about what you have, what you need, or what you want, and you need not begrudge your brothers and sisters what they have, need, or want. This is what it means to love not your life even unto death. This is what it means to be humble and childlike, simply to trust in the Lord your God for your life and all that your life requires; this is to die to the world and to live to God.

How it should humble you to know that God places the noblest of His creatures in your service, that the angelic hosts, who are truly holy, standing in the presence of holy God, should minister to you. How it should humble you to know that the angels are not ashamed to serve you, nor do they begrudge their service to you, for they know the love of God the Father for you, perfectly displayed in the sacrifice of His Son, the blood of the Lamb shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To quote Johann Gerhardt: Why, then, does man elevate himself unduly? How can he comfort himself with the protection of the angels and desire their service if he will not serve others in love and humility? Pride is the devil’s seed. Let all who wish the angels to live with them beware of pride, and let it not take root in their hearts. May God help us through Christ.

And, now, let us join with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven around the throne of God and the Lamb in the victory feast of Jesus’ most holy body and His most precious blood, that He may dwell in us and us in Him in Holy Communion for the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our faith, and unity in the bond of Christian love.

In the + Name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Homily for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)


Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Along with the Incarnation, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the fundamental mystery of the Christian faith. For, these three are intimately connected – the Son of God was conceived and born into human flesh so that He could die in human flesh, so that He could be raised in human flesh, so that all human flesh could be raised in Him. This was, and is, and ever will be the eternal will of God the Father. Before the foundation of the universe, before the creation of Adam and Eve, yes before their fall into sin, God the Father had a plan, an eternal plan, for the redemption of His people, for your redemption, in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of His Son. Thus, Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection are before, after, and underlying everything in between; Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection are the underlying realities of your present existence.

So, when Jesus says that He is the resurrection and the life, He is not using metaphor, simile, or analogy, but, rather, He is speaking an ontological truth and reality. Jesus literally is the resurrection of all flesh and the life of all flesh that will believe in Him. To paraphrase Robert Capon, that is why Jesus never met a corpse that did not sit up right on the spot at His word, presence, or touch – He has that effect on the dead. They rise because He is the Resurrection even before He Himself rises – because, in other words, He is the grand sacrament, the real presence, of the mystery of a kingdom in which everybody rises.

This truth is illustrated in iconography of the Resurrection of Jesus, where typically depicted are a man and a woman being raised from their graves or coffins. The man and woman, in such depictions, are none other than Adam and Eve, our First Parents. For, Jesus’ resurrection is their resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection is the resurrection of all humankind. Jesus resurrection is your resurrection too, and not just at some time far off in the future, but Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection now.

So, you’re not dying a little each day, because, you’re dead. You died with Christ long ago in Holy Baptism and you have been raised with Christ, not at some time in the future – notice the past tense “have been raised” – but you have been raised with Christ in the past, and you remain raised with Christ now. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Resurrection is something that happens now, not only in the future – it is a present reality rather than just a coming one. “You died,” says Paul to the Church in Colossae, “and your life is hidden with Christ”now.

The Holy Scriptures record Jesus raising three different persons from the dead: His friend Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the son of the widow at Nain in today’s Gospel. However, Jesus may have raised many others than these three, for, as John writes at the end of his Gospel, “there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” But, in each of the resurrection accounts, the raising of the dead is directly attributed to Jesus’ word and touch, and, in the case of the raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ word alone.

For, Jesus is the Word of God made flesh; He is the Word of creation spoken by the Father that brought all creation into existence ex nihilo, out of nothing. So, too, Jesus, the very same Word of God, incarnated in human flesh, brings life out of the nothingness of death by the power of His word, both spoken and incarnated, enfleshed, in His touch, His body and His blood. As He brought forth everything out of nothing, so does He bring forth life out of death. In fact, it is only the dead that can be brought to life.

Jesus teaches that to save your life you must lose it. This is nothing other than to say that you cannot save yourself, but you must be saved. You must confess, admit, that you are dead in sin, dead to God, and unable to right this situation of your own will and power, but trust in Jesus to right it for you, trust in Jesus that, by His incarnation, death, and resurrection, He has righted it for you. And, this is not only to your benefit at some time in the future, but this is the reality of your life now in the present.

Again, Paul says “You have died,” and “You have been raised – in Christ”. You have been called out of sin and death into the life of Christ by the Word and touch of Christ in Holy Baptism. All that belongs to Him is given to you now, today, tomorrow, and on the last day and forever. This is what is real and true, and this is what your enemy, the devil, would have you not believe. He will lie to you and deceive you so that you do not believe that you have died to sin and death and have been raised to life in Christ and that this is real and true and will not, cannot, be taken away from you. But the devil wants you to reject this for yourself, to believe that you don’t need that free gift of life because you’re not all that bad, because you’re better than most, or to believe that you don’t deserve that gift of life because you’re too bad, because you’re beyond saving. These are lies, the both of them! For, the reality and the truth, again, is that you have already died to sin and death and you live, now, in Christ, a life that will never die.

The question, then, is this: Because of the present reality of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection, “How, then, should you live?” Now, there are lot of churches, ministries, cults, philosophies, self-help and motivational speakers, psychologists, talk-show hosts, authors, and countless others who would love to answer that question for you, who, in fact, make a lot of money and achieve great notoriety from answering that question for you. Do not read, hear, mark, or digest any of it, but learn only from your Lord Jesus and His inspired apostles and evangelists who repeatedly exhort you to live resurrected lives, lives free from the fear of death, lives free from worry about tomorrow, lives free to live, love, forgive, give and share. In sum, for you to live is Christ; for you to die is gain.

The Son of God became man to die and to be raised for you. Receive His free gift of forgiveness and life. Receive sustenance in His life-giving Word. Receive nourishment in His body, which is real food, and His blood, which is real drink, acknowledging, believing, and receiving His real presence now, and when you leave this sanctuary, remembering that He goes with you, in you, and that He works through you for the sake of others to the glory of His Father.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Resurrection Driven Life

The following is a newsletter article I wrote some time ago following Easter. I post it now in relation to this Sunday’s Gospel lesson from the Historic One-Year Lectionary, Luke 7:11-17 – The Raising of the Widow’s Son. +JME

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. –Colossians 3:1-3Dear Redeemed in the Blood of the Lamb,

“He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!” – Then why do so many of us live our lives like “death warmed over”? We drearily trudge through our lives, week after week, grumbling, moaning, and complaining, caught up in the endless pursuit of riches and the possessions that we think will make us truly happy, but, in reality, only further bind us in debt and the fear of “losing it all”. Daily, we give ourselves over to the desires of the flesh – food and drink, comfort, sex – leaving our bodies, temporarily satisfied, but, lastingly, bloated and abused. We begrudge our spouses and our children for selfishly wasting or stealing our precious time, as they no doubt do, even as we ourselves will barely lift a finger to help out, to show interest in our children’s activities, never mind actually setting aside our own self-interest to be concerned about the needs of our family.

What was it that we celebrated just a few days ago? What happened nearly 2,000 years ago that was so special? What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for me? These are good questions, and they deserve solid answers. Most Christians believe correctly that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the sign and promise assuring their own bodily resurrection when Christ comes again in judgment. That’s good! But many Christians fail to understand and to believe, and, therefore, to confess, that Jesus’ resurrection has impact and meaning in their every day lives. We celebrate with joy, one day a year, that Jesus will raise our bodies when He reappears in His glorified body at the Judgment, but we do not live resurrected lives the other 364 days a year, if even on Easter Sunday!

So many of us live our lives in the manner of what I like to call a “hamster run” (imagine a hamster in a cage running, endlessly – heart beating furiously – in his wheel, never getting anywhere at all). Is it any wonder at all that one of the bestselling books of the past couple years is titled The Purpose Driven Life? Many well-meaning Christians, and non-Christians, have found a foot-hold for their lives though the practical wisdom and counsel presented in this book. But it is a shaky and unstable foothold at best, shifting sand, for the “purpose” which is given to our lives in this book is not Christ-centered – that is, forgiveness-centered; resurrection-centered – but is, ultimately, man-centered, and thus, self-centered. The “purpose” offered may give some psychological and emotional fortitude for the “short-haul” (imagine our hamster friend hooked up to an intravenous food and water supply, but still running in his wheel, trapped in his cage, going nowhere), but it does not provide an eternal perspective – a transcendent, or heavenly, perspective – which gives purpose and relevance to our lives (outside the cage). What we need is a resurrection in our daily lives!

What we need is a “Resurrection Driven Life.” If what “drives” you does not come from the Words & Wounds of our resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then you are being “driven” (in a manner of speaking) down the highway to hell. The author of The Purpose Driven Life begins by stating “It’s not about you,” but then goes on throughout the rest of the book to explain how “It’s all about you” – how God values you and has some “purpose” for you which you must discover. But … it’s not about you; it’s about Christ. Christ, alone, is our purpose – St. Paul wrote: You have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” But “you have been raised with Christ,” writes Paul, therefore, “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

In the passage from Colossians printed above, St. Paul follows these statements about our resurrection with Christ with a long list of things about “you” that you are to “put to death”: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry,…anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth, …etc.” It’s not about you; it’s about Christ.

In Holy Baptism you died and were buried with Christ, and a new (spiritual) man arose (resurrected from the dead) to live in Christ (Rom 6:3-4). Therefore Paul also writes, “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” In baptism your old self was drowned, your original sin was forgiven, and a new man arose from that watery grave by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God and the water. Each and every day, then, is an Easter Day of Resurrection as you “put off [again and again] the old self with its practices,” through repentance and forgiveness, being returned to baptismal purity, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, “being renewed in knowledge after the image of [your] creator”The Resurrection Driven Life!

Not just a resurrection from the dead when Christ comes again, but a resurrected life now is the fruit and promise of Christ’s resurrection. You have been raised up out of the mundane, earthly (the very word mundane comes from the Latin word mundi, meaning, earth) routine of purposeless existence to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” At times, for everyone, the ‘worldliness’ of our lives gets us down. Do not despair – “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” “He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!” – AND SO ARE YOU!

“You have been raised with Christ,” “your life is in Him”; do not put yourself back in the grave. Discover your purpose in this resurrected life, in the Words and the Wounds of your resurrected Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator,” feed it, on “things that are above” – heavenly Word, Water, Body and Blood. “He is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!” – AND SO ARE YOU!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)


Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Do you notice how our Lord links together the sins of idolatry and anxiety? Listen to Him once again: No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

I ask you then, is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about what you will wear, about what you will eat or drink, about your health and your life? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about whether or not your children will be successful in school, will they make good friends, will they be safe? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about making your next mortgage payment, being laid off, having enough savings for retirement? Is your master anxiety, worry, and fear about getting cancer, terrorist attacks, or falling out of love? For, if anything or anyone other than God is your master, then you are an idolater and you sin. For, an idol is anything that gets between you and your God; an idol is anything you put your fear, love, and trust in above, beyond, and before your God who commands “You shall have no other gods before me.”

But, the Son of Man did not come into the world to condemn the world, but to save it. Jesus came to set you free from your tyrannical masters. Jesus came to set you free from your anxiety, worry, fear, and death, that you may live in Him and in His kingdom to the glory of His Father. Therefore He calls anxiety, worry, and fear what they are, idolatry, which is nothing other than slavery to a false god. And, He shows you the truth that these false gods keep you from seeing, that you are truly free of these things, for God knows what you need and He graciously provides you with everything that you need to support and sustain your body and life.

Thus, learn from the birds of the air, for, they do not sow, and yet they eat, they do not reap or gather into barns, and yet they have food for tomorrow, should it come. And does not God, your Father, love you more than these? Yes, indeed, He does, but, perhaps, not in the way that you think. For, He loves you in such a way that He will not let you remain in bondage to anxiety and worry, idolatry, sin, and death. So, He will allow you to pass through times of lean and times of plenty, times of weakness and times of strength that you may call upon Him at all times and in all places, in faith, confessing that He is God, ever faithful, almighty, and unchanging.

Thus, learn from the lilies of the field which cannot even move as can the birds of the air. They are root-bound in the earth, totally dependent upon rain and sun, and in the right amounts, to live. They are alive today and thrown into the oven tomorrow. They grow in fields of their own kind, indistinguishable one from another. And yet, how they are arrayed so that any one of them is more glorious than a king dressed in his finest robes! And, if God so clothes these whose life is but a breath, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

And, besides all that, asks your Lord, can you add a single hour to your life by being anxious? Can you add a single minute to your life by worrying about tomorrow? No, of course you cannot. And, like all tyrannical masters, anxiety, worry, and fear actually rob you of life: minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades. Your heavenly Father knows the things that you need and He graciously provides you all that you need to support and to sustain your body and life now, and into eternity.

The problem arises when the gifts of God’s grace are seen as the fruits of our labors, when we perceive ourselves to be the lord instead of the steward. Then we are tempted to hoard our possessions, to be envious of the possessions of others, to begrudge what we don’t have, and to be discontent with what we do have. Do you see, then, how we become enslaved to our possessions, how we make mammon, money, our god? And god mammon is a tyrannical master, controlling you by making you fearful of losing what you have and anxious of getting more tomorrow, making you miserable all the while. And, the end is worse than the beginning, for nothing lasts forever and you can’t take it with you, for, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever."

But, don’t worry. You don’t have to live like that. You don’t have to search for worth and meaning in deaf and mute idols. You have worth and meaning because your heavenly Father created you and loves you and has given His Son Jesus to free you from bondage to sin, death, and the tyranny of mammon. You have died to that tyranny in Holy Baptism and you have been raised to new and free life in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Still, the old evil foe, the devil, would have you believe that it’s all about you – what you do, what you earn, what you need, what you own. Through lies and deception he would mock God. But, do not be deceived, God is not mocked. Indeed, God has mocked the devil and has shown him to be a pitiable fool.

God fooled the devil, sending His own Son in the form of weakness and poverty, unlike the birds, for which He provides, having no place to lay His head. God fooled the devil, sending His own Son into the oven of His wrath against sin to quench that fire so that is finished and there is no more. And, God fooled the devil, raising His own Son from death, snatching Him out of the lion’s jaws, and making Him King over heaven and earth that all who believe in Him might live and have eternal life.

All this is yours through baptism and faith, for you have died with Christ and you have been raised with Him, thus, there is nothing to fear. Jesus has clothed you with His own righteousness, there is no need to worry. And, Jesus feeds you with His precious body and holy blood, there is no need to be anxious. And, He has given you a family, His body, the Church, so that you are not alone. Each of you is called to serve one another. Through each of you God provides for all. Let us do good, then, to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Do not be anxious about today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all that belongs to Him in Jesus will be added unto you.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)


Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24; Proverbs 4:10-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox. Many of its claims and teachings are counter-intuitive – they do not follow or make sense according to human reason, wisdom, and perception. For example, if you want to be rich with heavenly treasure, then you must be poor in spirit. If you want to save your life, then you must lose it. If you want to live, then you must die. For, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, came, not to save the righteous, but sinners, and only sinners can be saved. This is the lesson that your Lord would teach to you again, today, from yet another perspective, that if you hope to enjoy resurrection to new life, then you must face and accept your death.

So, the Holy Spirit has inspired St. Luke to include in his Gospel an account of Jesus miraculously healing ten men afflicted with leprosy. In the story, there were ten lepers who, because of their leprosy, were dead to ordinary social life. They were unclean and thus cut off, separated, from the community. They had to stay a good distance from other people and shout out “Unclean!” when in the presence of others to warn them of their disease. They could not participate in the ceremonies of the temple or the fellowship of the synagogue. They were lepers, outcasts, dead to their families, dead to their former friends, dead to ordinary social life, and utterly incapable of being healed or changing their status on their own. They had nothing of their own – not health, not wealth, nor good reputation – so they had nothing to keep and they had nothing to lose. Thus, they were in the perfect position to receive mercy. And it was mercy, and only mercy, that they cried out for from Jesus.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” all ten lepers cried from a distance. And, what did Jesus do? How did Jesus respond to their plea for mercy? Jesus looked at them, and then He spoke to them saying, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Did Jesus touch them, wave His arms in the air, and shout “Be healed”? No! Jesus did nothing of the sort. Rather, He told them to go and to show themselves to the priests. While they were still lepers, still outcasts, still dead to ordinary life, Jesus commanded them to act as if they were healed and no longer outcasts. “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” That was the protocol according to Leviticus 14:2-3 which specified the necessary ceremonies for the removal of ritual defilement from a leper who was already physically clean. Luke does not tell us what the lepers thought about Jesus’ response to their plea for mercy: Did they take Jesus seriously? Did they merely walk away confused and in dismay? They came to Jesus pleading for mercy, and He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. Regardless of what they thought of Jesus’ response, however, they went as He commanded, and, as they went, they were healed.

Jesus did not heal them then and there on the spot, though He certainly could have done it that way. But why not? Why did our Lord choose to heal the lepers in such an unspectacular way, in a way which allowed for the likelihood that most would not see a connection between the healing of the lepers and Himself? Indeed, the Christian faith and life is one of mystery and paradox in which we walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection. The ten lepers had nothing to lose and anything, everything, to gain; they were dead to the world and couldn’t help themselves in any way. Thus, they were prepared to receive mercy as a gift. They had the gift of faith, and it doesn’t matter if it was great faith or small faith, strong faith or weak faith, they had the gift of faith, first to call upon Jesus for mercy, and second to do as He commanded even though it seemed unspectacular and useless foolishness. They went as Jesus commanded, and, as they went, all ten were cleansed of their leprosy.

“Then one of them, 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.” One of the ten ex-lepers makes the connection. He knows that His cleansing was the result of God’s mercy in and through the unlikely means of this man Jesus. The man recognized that Jesus had not only cleansed him of his leprosy, but that he had restored him to his people, his community, his friends, and his family – that he was a son again! But to drive the point home all the more Luke informs us that this man was not only a leper, and therefore dead to ordinary social life and an outcast, but he was also a despised Samaritan. Thus, he was a twofold outcast, a double loser, a duck twice dead. Ten lepers were cleansed, but only one returned to give thanks, and he was a Samaritan.

Doubly dead, that is how you must see yourself in relation to your Lord. You have nothing to bring to the Lord to merit His favor. You have nothing to do for the Lord with which to earn His favor. You have only to pray Kyrie eleison, “Lord, have mercy.” You must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.

Yes, in the resurrection – your confidence and faith is in that future and final healing and restoration. Through Holy Baptism and faith in Jesus Christ you are, even now, healed from the leprosy of sin and death, and you have, even now, the gift of eternal life. You live, even now, as a forgiven sinner, every bit as much as the ten men lived as cleansed lepers. You have died to sin in Christ and you have been resurrected to new life in Christ. But, just as this resurrection has occurred spiritually, so must it, and so will it occur physically in the resurrection of the body. Just as you died spiritually to sin in Holy Baptism and were raised to new life in Jesus, so too must the body die and be raised to new life in Jesus. Thus, by dying, you live and by losing your life in this world you save it. For, the Christian faith and life is mystery and paradox and you must walk by faith and not by sight, confident that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore you to wholeness in the resurrection.

And, this is where thanksgiving comes in. By returning to Jesus to give thanks and praise the Samaritan leper confirmed his faith in God through Jesus that it was God who had mercy on him and granted him cleansing and healing from his leprosy. God does not need our thanksgiving or our offerings, but we need to give them. In giving thanks, by offering our praise, our time, or talents, and our treasures and wealth, we are acknowledging that all that we have comes from the gracious hand of God. We give back to Him only of what He has given to us and thus glorify Him as our God, the Creator, giver, and sustainer of all things.

As we celebrate Labor Day this weekend, it is an opportunity for us to reflect upon how God provides for all our needs of body and soul through the multitudinous vocations of others. God heals through the vocations of doctors, nurses, and surgeons. God feeds through the vocations of farmers, millers, butchers, and grocers. God protects through the vocations of military service, policemen and firemen, and government. If God wants people to glorify and honor Him, why does He hide Himself in lowliness and weakness? God hides Himself in these ways because we need Him to. We need to become like the thankful leper and recognize with the eyes of faith how dead we are before God and merciful He is towards us, forgiving our sins at His own cost and providing for all or needs of body and soul.

Even now He requires nothing of you, He needs nothing from you, but He has called you here to receive His gifts: mercy, grace, forgiveness, faith, love. He is the God who came, not to be served, but to serve, and to lay His life down for the sins of the world. Let us return in thanksgiving, glorifying the Lord our God for the mercy He has shown to us in His Son Jesus.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.