Sunday, September 5, 2021

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 fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. This Proverb is one of the best known passages in all of Holy Scripture. But, what does it really mean? What is the fear of the LORD? And, why does it bring wisdom? First and foremost, the fear of the LORD is reverence and awe. Reverence and awe are our natural response when we recognize and acknowledge the LORD to be God and the Creator of all things. When we recognize that our existence is not happenstance, but that each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, apart from any will or intention of our own, even that of our parents, then we are caused to look outside of ourselves to the LORD, and to begin to seek Him and to know Him. What we know about Him by observing ourselves and the world we live in is that He is powerful and creative – and that compels our reverence and awe. However, when His Spirit calls us in faith, then we begin to see that, not only He is powerful and creative, but He is also loving, merciful, and gracious. Then we truly begin to fear the LORD in the fullness of its meaning, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

And so, wisdom is a relationship and an order, and the fear of the LORD is the beginning of that relationship and order – when we come to realize and to recognize the God who has always been there, who is the very Creator and Source of our lives and of all things that exist. Then we begin to discover a Divine Law that has always been there as well, a Law that we had misappropriated to other things, other men, and other gods, but now we appropriate to the true and only God. For, we all have our laws, and we all have our gods. For many, god is an incomplete version of the true God. For many others, god is an impersonal force or energy that we can learn to utilize to our benefit or for the benefit of others. For so-called atheists and secular humanists, god is more personal (and subjective) than that – you are your own god, and man’s reason, intellect, wisdom, and experience are the only truth.

Last week, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, we heard about two men who were so concerned about the letter of the Law as they understood it that they could not, and would not, obey the spirit of the Law to help a brother in need. But then, along came a Samaritan, a man who, in many ways, could be said to not be under the Law – for he was not a Jew, at least, not fully, and his people were not of the covenant or bound by God’s Law as the priest and the Levite were – and, in his freedom, he was able and willing to step down into the ditch with his half-brother and help him.

Fast forward to this week – you just heard St. Luke’s account of the ten lepers. All ten appealed to Jesus for mercy. All ten were commanded to go show themselves to the priests. All ten were healed on the way. But one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to offer Him thanks and to praise God. Now, if all you take away from this story is that it is good to give thanks to God, then you’re missing about ninety-five percent of the story. There’s much more going on than that. How must the Samaritan have felt when Jesus commanded him to go to the priests? He couldn’t do that; he was a Samaritan. By law, he wasn’t permitted in the temple. Thus, when the Samaritan leper saw that he was healed, he returned to the man who had healed him, Jesus, and he worshipped God there, at Jesus’ feet. The Samaritan leper was free from the law to worship God without fear, recognizing His merciful and gracious presence in Jesus.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. The Samaritan leper awoke from his spiritual death to see that the LORD God was standing right there before Him, not to destroy him, not to judge him, not to condemn him, but to forgive him and heal him and restore him. And all this was the LORD’s gift to him, free, no strings attached, by grace flowing from the boundless love, mercy, and compassion of God. The forgiven Samaritan leper was wizened to see that the Law could not condemn him when the LORD God forgave him and treated him as His own son. Arguably, the other nine, faithful Jews, still sought to win God’s favor by obedience to the Law. They saw Jesus as a Rabbi, a teacher of the Law, and they dutifully obeyed his command to go and show themselves to the priests. Only the healed and forgiven Samaritan leper could see with eyes of faith that Jesus is the LORD’s Great High Priest. Therefore, the thankful leper went to see the only Priest who could ever forgive sins and restore sonship with God; he went to see Jesus, and falling down at his feet, he thanked Him and He worshipped God who, in Jesus, has graciously visited His people.

St. Paul says in our Epistle lesson today, “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Please understand what this means, and what it does not mean: What this means is literally that “you are not under the Law”. That is to say that the Law no longer condemns you, because Jesus has fulfilled the Law for you. However, what this does not mean is that you are free to disregard the Law, that you may willfully disobey it without penalty. No, you are not under the Law’s condemnation, but you have been freed from the Law that you may do it without fear of condemnation when you fail.

Likewise, Solomon gives you instruction in wisdom in today’s reading from Proverbs: Keep hold of this instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life. Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. […] The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

The wicked walk in darkness, and they stumble upon they know not what, because they are driven and compelled by fearful obedience to, or willful rebellion against, the Law of God and / or the self-created laws of men. To walk in the way of the wicked is to walk without recognition of the LORD, the source of light, the knowledge of whom is wisdom. This is why we have prayed with the Church this morning, “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.” Therein we confess that, on our own, we will stumble and fall. Therefore, we pray for the Lord’s mercy, believing and trusting that we receive it through Jesus Christ, and we return to the Lord, not only to give thanks, but we return to our Lord Jesus, recognizing and confessing in Him, God’s gracious visitation.

We recognize and acknowledge our LORD and God as the very source of our life and the giver of all things good and needful. We are thankful for His mercy, compassion, and love; we are thankful for His forgiveness and grace; and we are thankful for His gracious visitation of us in Jesus Christ. Therefore we commit ourselves anew to fear the LORD and to grow in wisdom. We love the Law of God in the freedom of the Gospel. God’s Word instills in us the fruits of His Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no Law.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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