SERMON FOR THE 14TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 9-2-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
If you could only read one writing from Dr. Martin Luther, besides of course the Small Catechism, you could make a case for a short little writing, titled “A Brief instruction on what to look for and expect in the Gospels.” Anyone could do it and it’s only 5 or 6 pages. In it he suggests that Christians should take hold of Christ in the hearing of the Gospel in a twofold manner.
First, Christ is an example to us. We imitate him and walk as he walks. We follow him. We love and serve our neighbor. But secondly, Luther suggest we must grasp and lay hold of Christ on a yet higher level than this. Namely, that before we take Christ as an example, we accept and recognize Him as a gift to us – that this Jesus is sent by God to be our Savior. We must see that this Lord Christ is born for us, bled for us, and died for us. That God raised him up from the grave to speak a word of absolution –a peace that surpasses all understanding – an approval from God – which unbars the gates of heaven.
When we read and hear the Holy Gospel and have it preached to us, we learn that it is nothing else than Christ Himself coming to us, or we being brought to him. What do we mean by this? It means that when you read the Gospel or hear of Christ healing 10 lepers, besides being a historical account which it is, it is ultimately also about the ongoing ministry of Christ among us. The lepers may as well be you. So when we hear of healings, and miracles, and sinners helped in the Gospels, we see and hear about the work of Christ among us – here and now! This is why the great Christian artists will often paint themselves into their works, at the side of Christ, at his crucifixion or so forth. We must do the same. In a way, it is not enough to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. Even the demons know who this Jesus is. We must, by faith, also believe that Jesus is for us – that he is on our side, a gift, our comfort, and greatest joy. We believe that he comes near to us filled with nothing but kindness and compassion. Has pity on us, and pardons us from all sins.
This is faith. Something the Samaritan leper certainly had, and which Christ glorifies. “Your faith,” said the Lord, “has saved you.” Faith is to believe that through Christ we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Faith is a glorious thing, if you believe, well, then that’s the way it will be.
This morning in our Gospel do note: The ten lepers cried out from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11–19). They cry out from a distance because their condition cut them off from God and others. So also do the works of the leprous flesh cut us off from God and others: idolatry, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, envy, drunkenness, sexual immorality, and the like. Our mind and hearts are by nature hostile to God. “Those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” writes the apostle Paul. Thus we cry out with the lepers, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy,” eagerly seeking His good gifts. When we sing the Kyrie on the Lord’s Day, we are like those lepers. And that kyrie is no penitential dirge. It’s a hymn of praise. We believe that God will help us, that his chief attribute of mercy will rain down upon us, that he will be gracious to us.
Jesus said to the lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. So too, we walk by faith and not by sight, being confident of Jesus’ help before we see any evidence of it, trusting that Jesus’ cleansing words of forgiveness will restore us to wholeness in the resurrection of all flesh.
So what can we learn above all from the healing of the Ten Lepers? First, consider what a great and wonderful thing faith is. To believe in God with a total trust, saying, “I know that for Christ’s sake God will give and do for me whatever I ask for. And even if he doesn’t do it in the way and at the time I would prefer, he will do it in his own way, which is infinitely better.”
Second, we learn from the bad example of those 9 healed lepers who refused to turn around and thank God. Ingratitude is a plague and disease from the devil. An ungrateful heart destroys the joy and love of life – and encourages unhappiness and misery.
We must first be thankful to God above all, our father in heaven, for he provides for every need of body and soul. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. Rather than shoveling food in our mouths, we should first open our mouths to pray, “The eyes of all look to you O Lord, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.”
We ought to cultivate gratitude: gratitude in response to the undeserved kindness of God. That he does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. But comes to us in kindness, gentleness, and love through the mediation of His Son. The father’s heart is kindly disposed toward us. And so even though we deserve only death and hell, we instead receive God’s approval, health and healing, heaven itself and all spiritual blessings.
Christian children, university students, and all sons and daughters be on guard against the destructive sin of ingratitude toward your parents. Through father and mother you received life and all that you are and have. Your parents risked everything on seeing that you were cared for. Be on guard against anger, frustration, or ingratitude toward them – this is the work of the devil. You can never repay them enough. Look past their shortcomings as Christ has also done for you, and in their old age cover them with the mantle of His grace, that they would be adorned with God’s honor and protection.
The third lesson we learn springs from the fact that Christ does not let the ingratitude of the nine lepers deter him from doing good to others. In this, we learn from Christ to be truly thankful, but we also learn the unique Christian virtue of learning to put up with ingratitude from others – all the while, being patient, kind, long suffering- and serving one another sacrificially and gladly even when its met with thanklessness and scorn.
Our Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. He makes to spring up every good food, every pretty flower, every good gift for life and joy, and hardly anyone thinks to thank him at all. He could darken the sun, and let the whole world die of hunger. But he doesn’t do this. In spite of the world’s thanklessness, and ingratitude, the goodness and mercy of the Lord endures.
We see our dear Lord Christ in this way today. This is what Christian love must be like. That it bears and patiently tolerates all things, including ingratitude, and will not allow it to make one bitter. Christian should come to learn to expect ingratitude in this life, but remain cheerful, and we should not at all become discouraged. Every Christian should continue to do good to others, knowing that the Lord himself will thank them in their stead.
In summary, what can we learn from the account of the 10 lepers? We should see ourselves in the miracle. Like those lepers, we acknowledge that our sin and the works of our fallen flesh have separated us from God. But God in His mercy, has come near with healing. He has baptized you, washed you, and cleansed you from all sins, making you pleasing to God in heaven. Let us all be as the one leper who returned to the true High Priest to give Him thanks and glory. For Jesus bore our infirmities in His sacrifice at Calvary. His words are life and healing to our flesh. So we too do an about face, week after week, and return to Him, and confess Him as Lord and God.
In him, you may boldly say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
For this we are eternally grateful to God. We patiently tolerate ingratitude and do good to all people. Cheerfully, gladly, until Christ returns. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
(much of this sermon is a reflection on Martin Luther’s House Postil for Trinity 14)
GENERAL PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Almighty and most merciful God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we give You thanks for all your goodness and tender mercies, especially for the gift of Your dear Son and for the revelation of Your will and grace. Implant Your Word in us that, with good and honest hearts, we may keep it and bring forth the fruits of faith.
We humbly implore You to rule and govern Your Church throughout the world. Bless those who proclaim Your truth that we may be preserved in the pure doctrine of Your saving Word and that faith in You may be strengthened, love toward others increased, and Your kingdom extended. Send forth laborers into Your harvest, and sustain those whom You have sent that the Word of reconciliation may be proclaimed to all people and the Gospel preached in all the world.
Grant health and prosperity to all who are I authority, especially to the president and the congress of the United States, the governor and legislature of this state, and to all those who make, administer and judge our laws. Grant them grace to rule according to Your good pleasure for the maintenance of righteousness and the hindrance and punishment of wickedness, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.
Accord to Your good pleasure, turn the hearts of our enemies and adversaries that they may cease their hostilities and walk with us in meekness and in peace.
Comfort, O God, with Your Holy Spirit all who are in trouble, want, sickness, anguish of labor, peril of death, or any other adversity. Grant courage and steadfastness especially to those who suffer for your name’s sake that they may receive their afflictions in the confidence that You will acknowledge them as Your own.
Although we have deserved Your righteous wrath and punishment, yet, we ask you, O most merciful Father, not to remember the sins of our youth nor our many transgressions. Out of Your unspeakable goodness and mercy defend us from all transgressions. Out of Your unspeakable goodness and mercy defend us from all harm and danger to body and soul. Preserve us from false doctrine, from war and bloodshed, from plague and pestilence, from all calamity by fire and water, from hail and tempest, from failure of harvest and form famine, from anguish of heart and despair of Your mercy, and from an evil death. In every time of trouble, show Yourself a very present help, the Savior of all, especially to those who believe.
Cause all needed fruits of the earth to prosper that we may enjoy them in due season. Give success to the Christian training of the young, to all lawful occupations on land, sea, and air, and to all pure arts and useful knowledge, crowning them with your blessing.
Receive, O God, our bodies and souls and all our talents, together with the offerings we bring You, for by His blood Your Son has purchased us to be Your own that we may live under Him in His kingdom.
These and whatsoever other things You would have us ask of You, O God, grant us for the sake of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Savior, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.