Sunday, September 27, 2015
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.
Monday, September 21, 2015
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.
The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. A funeral procession is winding down the hillside away from the walled city on a hill. Men are carrying the body of a young man upon a bier. A great crowd follows, wailing in grief and sorrow because a young man is dead and a young mother is widowed and childless. No one can do anything to change the situation. No one can offer any real comfort. It is an utter tragedy, senseless and inexplicable. But it is real. It is all too real.
But, by chance, there was another procession that day, one approaching the walled city on a hill. In this procession, no one is wailing in grief and sorrow and no one is dead. In fact, the great crowd was dancing and skipping and shouting out in joy and laughter, and the one leading the procession is the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus. The great crowd accompanying Jesus had heard his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and had followed Him through the region of Capernaum as he healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. They had witnessed Jesus’ power and authority in releasing all manner of men from their captivity to sin and death. Now they would witness Jesus’ power and authority over death itself.
Jesus’ saw the grieving mother from a distance and He had compassion for her. You must understand that He did not simply feel bad for her, but He was filled with gut-wrenching compassion for her in her lostness and the real and necessary wages of sin, death, that had been paid out to her young son and her husband before him. Jesus said to her, “Do not weep,” for the weeping, the grief and the sorrow, would be borne by Him. And then He reached out and touched the bier, for the uncleanness of sin and death would be borne by Him as well. But the real miracle was in His Word, as it always is, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. Martin Luther once put it this way in his hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden (Christ Jesus Lay In Death’s Strong Bands): It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death, its sting is lost forever.
Death is all too real. In a sense, we are all part of that funeral procession winding down the hillside away from the Garden of Eden. There the poisonous venom of sin first entered our First Parent’s veins. Now it flows through the veins of all of us who live and breathe and die. That day it was a young man who received his wage in death, tomorrow it is an old man, the day after a wife and mother, and the day after that a newborn child. But, the young man that day represented the best of us, alive in health and vigor of youth, all the world open to us and ripe with potential and possibility. But he was taken by death, the inarguable due wage we all earn for sin. If that young man cannot escape death, then what hope is there for any of us?
On our own, left to our own devices, there is no hope. We are dead. Even while we live, we live each day in the knowledge that death is coming, sooner or later, at a time we cannot know. There is no hope…, until we set our eyes on Jesus. When we lift up our eyes out of this life and world of death, the trappings of worldly idolatries and corruption, when we admit that we are dead, or at least the living dead, and lift up our eyes, then we can see Jesus who has come, and who comes to us now, as the Lord of Life, our Redeemer and Savior.
Jesus has compassion, gut-wrenching compassion, on you in your grief and sorrow, your sin and death. And He does the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and the incredible – He touches your bier. He takes your sin, He takes your uncleanness, He takes your death upon and into Himself. He didn’t raise the dead boy to life until He first took from him that which caused his death. Jesus didn’t cast death away, He took it into Himself, He swallowed it up as scripture plainly saith. He drank your cup of poison for you, to the bitter dregs, so that you could live. He sucked the poisonous venom from your wounds and He became what you are, the living dead, so that you could become what He is, truly and eternally alive.
And, just as that dead young man represented the best of us, doomed to die despite how alive we believe ourselves to be, so Jesus has become the living man for all of us so that in and through Him we are alive now and we will live, even through death, forevermore. Jesus is our true Adam, in whom we are all one, who has defeated death by dying for you, His Eve, His Bride. When faced with the serpent’s temptation He overcame by the Word of God and faith. And when you were threatened by the devil, Jesus, our Second Adam, took the serpent’s bite Himself. He laid down His life in love, unto death, for you.
Life died that you might live. Life died for you, young and old and newborn. The Bridegroom died that His Bride might live. But the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended.
The funeral procession that day was heading to the tomb, and nowhere else. There was no expectation of encountering Life; there was no hope that anything or anyone could change that hopeless situation. But, when Jesus came, incarnate in human flesh, when Jesus came as a man, that changed everything: The Son of God became the Son of Man. The highest in God’s glory divested and humbled Himself and became the lowest. He who was sinless was made to be sin for us. He who is Life became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
The great crowd that followed Him did so because they saw in Jesus power and authority over all manner of disease and evil spirits. And when Jesus met that somber funeral procession, they witnessed His authority over death itself. But His power and authority did not come simply from might or will, but Jesus had power and authority over sin and death because of His perfect and obedient fear, love, and trust in God His Father above all things and because of His perfect and obedient love for all men. Jesus bore the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In Jesus, people began to turn from fear, hopelessness, and despair to faith in God’s promises finding their fulfillment in Jesus. And so, they followed Him, they listened to His teaching, they witnessed His miracles, they told others, and ultimately, they brought their sick and their dying, their demon-possessed loved ones, and they brought their children to Jesus that He might touch them with His holy hands and speak His life-creating Word of blessing upon them, that He might raise them spiritually, and physically, from death to His eternal life.
In a similar way most of you were brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism. And, in a similar way many of you have brought your own young sons and daughters to Jesus in Holy Baptism. There beside the still waters, through the hands and the voice of His undershepherd, Jesus touched you with His holy hands and Jesus spoke His life-creating Word of blessing upon you. In Holy Baptism the procession of death was met head-on by Jesus’ procession of life in a strange and dreadful strife, but the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. In Holy Baptism Jesus has touched you with His holy hands and has spoken His Life-creating Word of blessing upon you, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And, as it was in the beginning, so it is now, His Word brings into being what He says. And then, Jesus returned you to your Mother, the Church.
Yes, we all have the same Mother, for there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We all have the same Mother, the Bride of Christ, the Church, which is one body, and of which Christ is Her Head. As the Fathers have taught us, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside of the Church. There cannot be salvation or life outside of the Church, for the Church is the body of Christ and there is no salvation outside of Him. We are saved by His humble and obedient perfect life, death, and resurrection, not merely in an external and objective way, but we are saved by being grafted into Him, born again from His death into His life, living in, to, and from Him in selfless, sacrificial love and service to our neighbor, especially those of the one body of faith, the Church. And if we would bring people to Jesus that He might touch them with His Holy Hands and bless them with His life-creating Word, then we must bring them to where He is present with His Words and His Wounds to heal and to bestow life and to bless; we must bring them to where He is present with His body as Her Head; we must bring them to Holy Baptism, we must bring them to Confession and Absolution, we must bring them to the Word of God preached, we must bring them to the Word of God confessed, we must bring them to the Word of God eaten and drunk, that is, we must bring them into Holy Communion with the Lord and Giver of Life, Jesus Christ, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forevermore.In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, September 13, 2015
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.
“I’m about to prepare the evening meal for my family, so that we might eat it and die.” I think my wife has said something like that from time to time. But, do you hear the desperation in the widow’s remark? Do you hear the hopelessness and the despair in her words? “All I’ve got left is a handful of flour and a little oil, enough only for my son and I to eat tonight, and now you want me to bake you a little cake. Well, why not! It all ends the same way anyway. At least it will come a little quicker!”
We’ve all felt like that from time to time. The money is tight – no, the money is gone – but there’s still a pile of bills to be paid. Our little church is in that position right now! All you see and hear on the news and the internet is the continuing dissolution of values and morals in America, the uprising and advance of extremists and people who hate us and want to kill us, drugs and violence, graphic displays of pornography and sex in every thing from music awards ceremonies to fast food restaurant commercials. It’s easy to be become anxious and worried. It’s easy to become overcome by hopelessness and despair. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel, to give up, to let it all go to hell, to just let death come, the sooner the better.
You see, you cannot serve two masters. And, whether you realize it or not, that is exactly what you are doing. You are serving your master the devil. Well, you’re not serving God with your fretting, worrying, anxiety, and despair, so just who did you think you were serving? Jesus says that you cannot serve God and mammon. I know, our English translation says “money.” Sure, mammon is money, but it is much more than that. Mammon is all manner of material wealth, and fleeting and worldly things that we are tempted to possess and amass and put our fear, love, and trust in. Mammon includes money and possessions, but it also includes fame, power, popularity, respect, and honor. Understand, these things are not evil or sinful in themselves, but they are, in truth, God’s blessings upon you. However, what you do with them, what you make with them, and how you receive them is what makes the difference. It’s truly a spiritual matter: Do you receive the LORD’s blessings as gifts over which you have been given stewardship in your vocations, or do you believe them to be the fruits of your own labors for which you have merited money and possession, fame, power, popularity, respect, and honor before your fellow man and before God?
Satan tempts you towards the latter. Thus St. Paul exhorts you saying, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” This is to say, you must walk and think and choose and decide to use your gifts in the right way, in accordance with the purpose God entrusted you with them. But, if you give into the devil’s temptation, then you will become conceited, thinking too highly of yourself and your fruits, and envious of others and their gifts. Then, God’s gifts become your master instead of God who gave them to you. Then your fear, love, and trust is in mammon, and not in God above and before all things. You will be tempted to believe that you are free and independent, but mammon is no easy master, but it is a cruel tyrant and you are its slave. And, the fruits that your master mammon will produce in you are against the Spirit. Therefore, St. Paul exhorts you to test your own work to see if it is pure and in accord with God’s will and command.
In this regard, we are here to help each other. St. Paul also exhorts you saying, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” You are your brother’s keeper; thus, St. Paul says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” They say, charity begins at home. Well, this place is your spiritual home, and these people are your spiritual brothers and sisters. Right here, in your family of faith, is where your walking in the Spirit begins and is honed and perfected so that you will be empowered and well-trained in guiding others to life in the Spirit.
Now, what does all this have to do with worry and anxiety? Everything! For, worry and anxiety are the worship you pay to a false god, to a tyrannical slave master, to mammon, and to Satan. In contrast, peace and contentment are the fruits of fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, they are also the proper worship of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not speaking something mysterious, but He is speaking plain old common sense, though in a profoundly perceptive and ontologically true way. Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” No one improves or extends their life in any way by being anxious and worried. In fact, you will most certainly shorten your life and make your living less enjoyable. So, why do it? Why give in to this temptation?
I know it’s hard. And, your Lord Jesus knows it’s hard too. That’s why He has gathered you into this family, His body, the Church. You are not alone. And, when you suffer the affliction of temptation, and even when you fall – especially when you fall – your brothers and sisters in Christ are supposed to be here to pick you up, to direct you to the healing oil of Baptism, Confession, and Absolution, and to the cleansing wine and nourishing food of the Lord’s Supper. And, your LORD promises you that, until He returns, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”
Do not be afraid! Rather, in faith, reach out, go out, do the loving thing, the merciful thing, the compassionate thing, even if it seems the foolish thing, the thankless thing, or even the dangerous thing. When the widow expressed her despair and hopelessness that she was down to her last rations and was about to die, Elijah directed her to her faith in the LORD and in His promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”
Go and do. Those are words that, as Lutheran Christians, you have been somewhat conditioned to hear as Law and not as Gospel. I say to you, that is a good thing. You must always be on guard against legalism and the slavery to works and the works righteousness that it produces – a fear, love, and trust, not in God, but in yourself and your own faith, piety, and works. And, yet, the Holy Scriptures, even the Gospels, the Apostles, and Jesus Himself regularly command you to go and do. As I spoke to you two weeks ago concerning Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, how you hear and understand Jesus’ go and do has everything to do with what you believe about Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit. For the baptized, for the regenerated, for the faithful, for you, Jesus’ go and do is not a commandment of the Law, but a fruit of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit equips you to perform these works of love and service for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for your neighbor, not for merit before God, but in love of God and the people He loves, and to His glory above all things. Jesus gives you what you need to go and do, and He works in you and through you as you go and do them.
However, if you are filled with anxiety, worry, and fear, then you will be unfruitful, but not fruitless. You will bear fruit, to be sure, but not the fruit of the True Vine Jesus, but the fruit of the evil one: pride, envy, jealousy, wrath, lust, sloth, greed, hatred, etc. Jesus would have you live by the Spirit. Jesus would have you live, not in slavery and its trappings – fear and bitterness and resentment –, but in true freedom and its fruits – love, mercy, compassion, charity, selflessness, etc. “Do not be deceived,” writes St. Paul, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
The answer lies in Jesus’ words, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” You shall have no other gods. You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. “No one can serve two masters.” “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Do not let yourself be overcome with fear and anxiety, hopelessness and despair. These are the temptations of the evil one, and your flesh is weak to withstand them. But, instead, be filled with the gifts of Jesus – faith and forgiveness, life, now and for eternity – and serve Him by being served by Him and by serving others with what He has served you. Go and do this, not in fear, or out of coercion, with resentment or pride, but go and do them out of freedom and love.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Well, you’ve found it! The kingdom of God is right here with you now, before your very eyes, to clothe you and to comfort you and to empower you with His righteousness that you may live without fear, in love and freedom, all the days of your life, glorifying God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in service of your brother and sister and your neighbor in Jesus Christ. Here, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, September 6, 2015
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.
“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” That was the question a lawyer asked Jesus in last Sunday’s Gospel. The lawyer wanted a quick fix to his problem, just like you. He didn’t want some open-ended, ongoing regimen or discipline for the rest of his life, but he wanted something he could do, check off his list, and then get on with his life – just like you. Because of this, many Christians think that once they’re baptized, that’s it, there’s nothing more to do, and they’re in like flint. Others rationalize a “once saved, always saved” doctrine in which, once they’ve “given their heart to Jesus,” He’ll never let you fall away. Then, they go on their merry way, placing their trust in “eternal security” rather than in a lifelong, ongoing relationship with Jesus.
And so, there were ten lepers who pleaded with Jesus, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And, Jesus had mercy on them. He told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. They each got what they wanted. They got a quick fix and were healed. All they had to do was show themselves to the priests. Check! Done! Fini! Then, they were off on their merry way, having nary a thought about Jesus – save one. One leper turned back to return thanks to Jesus. This thankful leper knew that Jesus had done something precious and miraculous for him. He also knew that Jesus didn’t have to do it, but that it was an act of mercy, just as he and the others had pleaded for. However, the thankful leper did not only thank Jesus, but he fell down at Jesus’ feet and he worshipped Him. And, to place the thankful leper in even more stark contrast to the others, St. Luke tells us that he was not a Jew like the others, but he was, once again, a Samaritan.
The thankful Samaritan leper was a changed man. No longer was he a leper, and no longer was he a foreigner. Now he had a relationship, a family, and a life as a follower of Jesus. For, no one has an encounter with the Lord Jesus and walks away unscathed. You either receive Him in faith to your great blessing, or you reject Him in unbelief to your judgment and condemnation. There is no gray area, there is no fence-straddling, and there is no lukewarm faith when it comes to Jesus. He who is not with Him is against Him, and He who does not gather with Him scatters.
You see, the Christian faith and life is not a “one and done” sort of thing, but it is an ongoing relationship with Jesus and with His body the Church. It is a walking together in Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. Your Holy Baptism was not a deed, but it was a birth; you were literally born again of water and the Spirit to a new life that will never die. Your new life must be fed and nourished, protected and kept in and with Jesus, in His body the Church. If God will be your Father, then the Church, the Bride of Christ, must be your Mother, for in the Church is found the womb of the font from which you were born, the breasts of the Word and Supper from which you feed and are nourished, and the Holy Spirit of God working through these means, joining you together as a family of faith in koinonia, in fellowship, with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and with each other.
So, where does your “eternal security” lie? It lays in koinonia, in fellowship, with Jesus and with His Bride, the Church. To boast in your salvation by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ and to neglect His Church, Confession and Absolution, His Word, and His Supper is, at the very least, to cut yourself off from the spiritual food and life and divine protection your faith and new spiritual life require in order to survive. And, if prolonged, your neglect of koinonia and fellowship with Jesus and with His body the Church will lead to apathy and disdain, not only for the Holy Things, but also for the Holy One Himself – and then there will be no hope for you. The thankful Samaritan leper understood this, and so he returned to the source of his healing, his life, and his salvation, and he offered thanks and he worshipped Jesus.
Leprosy was a disease of the flesh that made you unclean and cut you off from koinonia, from fellowship with God and the temple, the family of faith, the Church. You and I and all people suffer a spiritual leprosy of the flesh, sin and sinful rebellion, which serves to cut us off from koinonia with God and with the Church. Merciful Jesus has washed you clean in His holy, innocent shed blood. You have been born again of water and the Spirit to a new life that cannot die. Will you live it with Jesus, the giver and source of your new life? Or, will you go your own way, the way of your flesh and the world that leads only to life apart from koinonia, fellowship, with God and the Church.
It is in this regard St. Paul exhorts you today to, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For 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.” Just as the leprous man could not free himself from the effects of his leprous flesh, so too you cannot free yourself from the temptations and the weakness of your sinful and rebellious flesh. While you have been cleansed by the cleansing blood of Jesus in Holy Baptism, your flesh cannot be cleansed but must die and be raised anew. And, the only way that you will be able to resist the corruption of the flesh is by remaining in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus in koinonia with Him and with His body the Church. St. Paul exhorts you to beware of the sins of the flesh, “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these,” with the warning that “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This means that you cannot willfully pursue such things and hope to be saved, even though you may be baptized and receive the Sacraments every now and then. Yes, by confessing your sins and being absolved, and by receiving the Sacraments faithfully and regularly, Jesus blood cleanses you from all sin, however, to willfully pursue and practice such sins of the flesh is to break koinonia with Jesus and with His Church. It is to despise the Lord and His grace and mercy and to go your own way, the way of sin and death apart from God.
In contrast, however, St. Paul proclaims, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” You see, there’s no going back. The way of the forgiven is the way of the Spirit. The way of the cleansed leper is the way of Jesus, the way of humility, peace, and thanksgiving. The way of forgiveness is not a quick fix or a “one-and-done,” “once saved, always saved,” work, but it is a new life and a new way of living. It is a life lived in, and upon, Jesus Christ and His gifts. It is a life that is first and foremost receiving, and then giving thanks, and then giving to others as you have received. Now, rinse and repeat every day, every Lord’s Day, and every Feast and Festival day for the rest of your earthly life with your brothers and sisters in Christ, your new family of faith enjoying koinonia, fellowship, in the Word and water, body and blood of Jesus in His body and Bride the Church.
For, just as you were born into a family and a community, having a father and a mother, grandparents, and likely siblings, uncles and aunts and cousins, etc., so were you born again into a family, a community, a body, and a koinonia, a fellowship. You are not an island, and you are not alone, but you are a member of the body of Christ, the Church, and you draw your life in Her from Christ through Word and Sacrament. Your life is His life lived in and through you. Apart from Him you cannot live. But, with Christ, in Christ, and through Christ you are alive with a life that cannot die. Come, eat and be strengthened. Come, drink and be forgiven. Come, with your brothers and sisters in holy koinonia with Jesus and be His holy, spotless, sinless, and beloved Bride. Receive and believe, give thanks, and live – not as you once lived, but live in Christ, in humility and service to your neighbor, bearing the fruits of His life in your life to the glory of God.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.