Sunday, August 28, 2016

Homily for The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 14)

(No Audio Available)

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 lepers stood at a distance, for that is what the law required of them. Their disease caused them to be cut off from their family, friends, and community, and from the temple and the synagogue as well. However, when they cried out saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” they broke the law which also demanded that they cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” not for mercy. Nine of them were Jews, and one of them was a Samaritan. But, unlike the Parable of the Good Samaritan, all ten lepers found themselves equally ostracized. Being a child of Abraham counts for little when you are a leper. All ten were looking for mercy from anyone who might show it to them, from Jesus, who could identify with Jews, and with Samaritans, with the man left for dead in the ditch, with lepers, and with you as well.
The lepers cried out for mercy, that is all. They weren’t concerned about fairness and equality. They weren’t looking for someone to justify and to accept their diseased state. They knew their condition personally, intimately, physically, and spiritually. They offered nothing to Jesus or to anyone. They didn’t make excuses or point to the failings of others in order to justify themselves. They were fully accountable lepers. Leprosy was their condition, their disease, and no one else’s. What they desired, what they needed, was mercy, a kindness shown to them that they did not merit or deserve, that they could not earn or buy, but that was freely shown to them by grace alone, true love in action. And, that is what you and I need as well, now, and always. You and I need, now and always, the grace, mercy, love, compassion, and forgiveness of Jesus, for you and I are spiritual lepers, cut off from our families, from our friends, and from our communities, and from the holy presence of our Triune God, because of the leprous disease of our sin and death.
Like the Good Samaritan, in that parable, Jesus did not hesitate to respond in mercy. However, He didn’t heal them on the spot exactly, at least not physically, but He commanded them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Their healing did not come instantaneously, but it came through their faith and trust in His Word, and their obedience, the fruit of their faith, that they did as Jesus commanded. All ten lepers immediately set out for the temple to show themselves to the priests just as Jesus had commanded them. And, as they went in faith and trust in Jesus, doing what He commanded, each one of them was healed along the way. Once again, there was no distinction made between Jew and Samaritan. All had the same affliction in common. All pleaded for and received mercy and healing when they trusted in and obeyed the Word of their Lord. However, their healing came through faith and obedience, through fear, love, and trust in the Lord, and not as an instantaneous, isolated event.
Jesus sent them to the temple and to the priests, even as He sends you to the Church and to Her pastors, for their healing, and your healing, is directly connected, effected, and sustained by your fear, love, and trust in the Lord and His Will and His Word. Healing, cleansing, and forgiveness are received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. And yet, these are never alone. One of the chief effects of the lepers’ disease was that they were cut off from their families, friends, and communities, and from the worship community and life of the temple and synagogue. Part of their healing was restoration to these. So, also, your healing, cleansing, and forgiveness is not an individual, isolated effect, but it is a communal one shared with and in the presence of the community and the family of the body of Christ, the Church. While you were absolved of all your sins in Holy Baptism, Jesus commands you to “Go and show yourself to the priests,” to go to Church in faith and trust in His Word and Sacraments that you may be healed. Jesus’ Word is your spiritual bread that sustains and strengthens your faith. Jesus’ body and blood is the medicine of immortality that forgives your sins anew, that strengthens your faith, that saves you and protects you from the devil until you are received to Jesus at the death of your natural body.
You see, Jesus didn’t just heal the lepers, He restored them to their families, to their communities, to their Church, and to His Father, Spirit, and Himself. Jesus changed them. No longer were they isolated, cut off, and alone, but they were part of a family, a community, the body of Christ. Christ’s body is absolved, nourished, strengthened, and sustained, equipped, sent, and protected by lifelong, regular reception of His Gifts. Jesus freed them from the bondage and slavery of sin and death. Jesus freed them from the condemnation of the law which kept them isolated and alone. And, Jesus has freed you from the same. Jesus has freed you from the coercion and condemnation of the law so that you may live freely without fear as part of a family, a community, His body the Church. Jesus has freed you to live, not for yourselves alone, but for Him and for your neighbor, with no sense of loss or inequity or unfairness. And, Jesus has freed you for something else: Jesus has freed you that you may praise Him and glorify God through Him, giving thanks to Him and confessing Him in word and deed.
Thus, there was one healed leper who returned to Jesus after going to the temple, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks, and praising God with a loud voice. Only one out of the ten healed lepers returned to give thanks and praise and worship to the source of their healing. Only one of the ten healed lepers recognized and confessed the source of their healing by bearing the fruit of a faithful confession in word and deed – and that one was a foreigner, a Samaritan. Why was it the Samaritan alone who returned to give thanks to Jesus and praise to God? Perhaps that is because, unlike the other nine Jewish lepers, the Samaritan leper was doubly unclean. Not only was he a leper, but, being a Samaritan, even when he was cleansed from his disease, he would still be considered ritually unclean, meaning he still could not worship at the temple or synagogue. Perhaps here, once again, as in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus is pointing out the hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees who attempted to justify themselves by observing the law while failing to fulfill the spirit of the law in showing love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.
“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus replied to the thankful Samaritan leper. Jesus’ words literally mean, “Your faith has saved you.” Now, Christians often have a fundamental misunderstanding of what faith is. They think that faith is a choice or a decision that you make, or at least an assent or movement towards God. However, nothing could be further from the truth. First and foremost, faith is not something that you do, but faith is a gift from God by the Holy Spirit through His Word. It is impossible for anyone to believe apart from the faith-creating work of the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. Therefore, if you have faith, if you believe and trust in Jesus, then give thanks to God, for this is His work, apart from which you would be as dead as Lazarus in his tomb four days – he stinketh. Thus, Jesus can rightly say “your faith has saved you,” because faith is the God-given, Spirit-created gift in you that clings to His Word of promise, the Gospel truth that, in and through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven you, cleansed you, restored you, and saved you out of death and has raised you up to new and everlasting life in Him. The cleansed Samaritan leper believed this. Thus he returned to Jesus to give Him thanks and praise and to worship and glorify God in and through Him. His God-given, Spirit-created faith in Jesus had truly made him well. To God alone be the glory in Jesus Christ.
While the cleansed Samaritan leper may not have been restored to the community and to the worship life of the temple and synagogue, that was because of man’s laws, not God’s. Nevertheless, he was changed, and he walked a new path from that moment on. In our Epistle lesson today, St. Paul contrasts the desires of the flesh, which we can think of as leprosy, and the desires of the Spirit saying, “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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”
In holy baptism you were cleansed of your spiritual leprosy. And, here in the Church your new life is cared for and protected, sustained and equipped. However, it is your spirit that has been cleansed and set free. Your flesh is still leprous and prone to pursuing a different way than the way of the Lord. Thus, you must daily resist the desires of your flesh and put the old man in you to death through repentance and absolution. And, you can only do this when your new man is cared for by receiving the gifts of your Lord in Word and Sacrament on a regular and steady basis. Skipping church is like skipping a meal. Cutting yourself off from the Lord’s gifts of Word and Sacrament will cause you to be weak and sick, and to eventually die a spiritual death. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these,” in other words, the things forbidden you in the Ten Commandments. “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” in other words, those things exhorted you in the Ten Commandments. “Against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
As we prayed today in the Collect: “O Lord, keep Your Church with Your perpetual mercy; and because of our frailty we cannot but fall, keep us ever by Your help from all things hurtful and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.” Your Great High Priest Christ Jesus is present here and now with His Word and His Wounds to cleanse you anew and to nourish, strengthen, protect, and keep you in faith that you may resist the temptations and desires of your leprous flesh and continue to walk by the Spirit in faith. He has heard your cry for mercy, and He mercifully forgives you and keeps you. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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