Sunday, September 2, 2018

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.
“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.

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