Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, AD 2021

Luke 17:11-19; Galatians 5:16-24

It’s a reality of our Christian life on this earth that we are constantly wavering between calling out to God and seeing His work and living as if He did not particularly matter. God comes to the forefront especially when we are in need, but when things are going well we can start to forget. This is not good, it is the war between our new man and the sinful Old Adam that still clings to us. In times of strength, we think that we are strong Christians, that we need nothing, so when difficult times come we blame God for not keeping his promises. Truly God wants to strengthen us, heal us, and give us every good thing, for He is our loving Father. But he does not want us to depend on our own strength. He calls us baptized to the Lord’s Supper, where He strengthens us, where the true strength for this life is found falling before Him in faith.

St. Luke gives us the account of the ten lepers to teach us about this faith. A leper was someone who had a skin disease, which may or may not correspond to what we call leprosy today. According to the Old Testament ceremonial law, a leper would have to separate from everyone and call out “unclean! Unclean!” Contrary to common belief, they were not usually contagious. They were unclean not because of germs, but because they were not suitable to enter worship in the presence of God in the temple. They were instructed to remove themselves from the community until their condition improved. If someone else in the community encountered them, that person would be unclean for a time and therefore not able to worship. These lepers were removed from their communities, their families, their work, and living alone, or with other lepers, until they were healed.

This explains why the lepers both stood at a distance and called out to Jesus for mercy. They had great need. They knew they could not free themselves from their condition. They must have heard of Jesus the Great Healer while he was traveling and went out to seek him. Jesus simply responds, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” The Old Testament law said that when a leper’s condition was improving, he would show himself to the priest and the priest would test him for several days. Then the former leper would make a sacrifice and be let back into the community as clean. When Jesus is telling the lepers to show themselves to the priests, he is saying that they are now being healed.

How wonderful the gifts of Christ, as they go, they are cleansed! We read that the leper saw he was healed. It was obvious to all of them that their leprosy had faded away. All the pain and rashes went away. These men felt like themselves again for the first time in a long time. In response to this gracious gift of Jesus, this life-changing act, only one of the ten turns back to Jesus.

This one, this Samaritan, a man outside of the people of Israel, turns back praising God with a loud voice and falls at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Jesus asks why only one of the ten returned.  It isn’t just due to lack of thankfulness. Jesus isn’t like a relative that always demands a thank you card. The Samaritan leper’s thanks and glory to God were a fruit of his faith. The Samaritan leper sees the healing work of Jesus which causes him to go to Christ. Because this faith was created within him, we see the result – “Your faith has made you well” or literally, “Your faith has saved you.”

What of the other nine? They had some faith, right? They called to Jesus and were healed. Well, they didn’t come back. They were not commended. Jesus asked where they were. This is the quick forgetfulness of our Old Adam. We seek Jesus when we are in need, and that is a good thing, but when our restoration comes, Jesus becomes just one of many other things. Maybe the nine lepers were glad to be healed, but began to think, “well I’ve been taking my vitamins anyway, that probably had something to do with it” or “well I think I was trending toward getting better” or “I’m glad I found the right guy to take care of this.” Whatever the reason, they did not want to come back to Jesus. Why?

It comes back to idolatry, in faith in the wrong thing. They all ultimately think they made themselves well. Jesus was the agent they used to get better. Jesus becomes a tool to further their own station. Jesus is just a means to another end. They want Jesus so they can get back into the community, but they don’t want to come back to Jesus. If they come back to Jesus there are going to be strings attached. They will have to follow Him. They will have to truly make good on their call of “master”!

Our Old Adam always wants to be free from dependency on God. Jesus heals and saves, fine. God is in control, fine. We want God in control as long as he does what we tell him to do. But God is not in control to follow our whims. He is in control for our good, for the good of our souls. And if he allows physical harm to come, we should not take that as if He is less in control. We should instead see how we are not in control. He allows trouble in this life because He loves us and wants to discipline our Old Adam. The devil is still God’s devil, and God uses him for our good. He wants us to see that we are all leprous beggars, deserving nothing, with nothing to offer. Our desire for dependence on ourselves is completely ludicrous to him. We fight over who is the least leprous, who will be king of the leper colony. That’s where all those works of the flesh come from that St. Paul lists. 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. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. There is no inheritance trying to keep your place in the leper colony of sin. Christ says – leave that place, come to me, be healed.

The Samaritan leper does this. He is no great theologian. He has simple faith, faith like a child, the faith that saved. He glorifies God, recognizing God according to His power. He sees that Jesus is this very God of Israel. This Jesus is not separating from him, a leper. This Jesus is completely giving of himself. The Samaritan is not worried about Jesus becoming his master. He knows that Jesus gave of Himself when the leper was an unclean, exiled beggar, and Jesus will continue to give of Himself.

Jesus says “Go your way,” but he could also be saying “Come your way.” Come with me. For what way is there to go now that the Samaritan has thrown himself at Jesus’ feet? There is only the way of Jesus. The way of the cross. This is why Jesus is heading to Jerusalem – to completely give of himself for all men, not just ten lepers. The cross of Jesus is the glory of God. It is the Son of God giving of himself completely for sinners. Jesus does not deny us because of these of our flesh, but continues to give. In that death on the cross He paid for all of them. In His resurrection from the dead, He gives His Spirit to us so that we may also live a self-giving life.

For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. These are the fruits of the Spirit because they the attributes of our self-giving God. Faith recognizes this source and goes to Jesus. Give yourself up and throw yourself at his feet. Jesus Christ comes to us in the Sacraments for this reason, so we can see that it is nothing of our own that strengthens us. Maybe hearing preaching we can think of ourselves as particularly clever and wise in understanding. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper demand nothing of you. They give you no confidence in yourself, in what you can do. Here at the altar, you are coming to Jesus’ feet and recognizing His glory.

The Samaritan recognized a glory hidden, but real, a glory in a man, Jesus, who was nothing to look at. In the sacrament you recognize the glory of the body and blood of Christ, hidden to our eyes. You recognize the communion with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. And more, you have the faithful saints, the ones beside you on the rail, who are faithful heroes that you may never fully realize in this life. As we all come before Christ, we live trusting His strengthening, that those fruits of the Spirit are working out from us every day.

You should have no reason for confidence in the flesh, in the Old Adam. In times of difficulty this is easy to see. In times of ease, it can be difficult to see. We do not live by what we see. The competition of this world we know by faith is merely a leper colony. The true kingdom is found in the self-giving of our Crucified Savior. He says, Rise, and come my way, come to where I give of myself to you – your faith has saved you. Amen.

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