Monday, October 10, 2016

Semron - Luke 17:11-19 - Pentecost 21

Luke 17:11-19
October 9th, 2016
“Mercy for Lepers”

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

“Well, friends, first you have to ask me into your heart.”  No...

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

“You do your part, and I'll do mine.”  No...

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

“Oh, but what have you done for me lately?”  No...

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

“Go, show yourselves to the priests”.  In other words, “I'm way ahead of you, fellas.  The healing is already a done deal.  No strings attached.  I have had mercy on you, in fact I'm all about mercy.  No need to pay me for this, you couldn't afford the price anyway.  But receive this gift.  Just go and make it official, now, with the priests.”

So our merciful Lord, in yet another example of his great compassion, heals the 10 lepers.  He saved them, as only he could, from a fate worse than death.  For apart from the physical horrors of leprosy, their disease also made these men ritually unclean.  And even worse than bearing the shame of such a condition, they were cut off from society, friends and family.  The were exiles.  Castaways.  Dead men walking who were not even afforded the comfort of loved ones, as the grave stared them in the face.

But Jesus makes clean the unclean.  He heals the sick.  He brings even the dead back to life.  Leprosy is no match for him.  Nor is the root cause of all earthly suffering and disease.  Christ conquers death, by bearing its wages upon himself.  He goes to the cross!  He carries that cross outside the city.  And there he lays down his life as a ransom for many.  Into his own flesh he takes all that is or ever was unclean, and he casts it, with himself, into the darkness.  He takes it, even to the grave.  But there it stays.  For his part, a resurrection follows – and his body is restored not just to life but to exaltation.  And it is verified, shown not just to a few priests, but to all the witnesses of the resurrection – including at least 500 people on one occasion.

Of course, he does so also for you.  Sure, you may not see outwardly what those lepers did – the rot and stench of sin's consequences.  But surely, sin has left its mark in your life.  As you grow older, and your little box of regrets becomes a closet, and then a storage facility.  As you see the chaos sin unleashes in your relationships – and don't you go thinking it's always the other person's fault!  Sin may not bring leprosy, but it eventually rears its head in our aches and pains, our chronic and acute conditions, disease, and finally death.  You can only live in denial of sin for so long, until the wages of sin come due in the starkest fashion, and it's undeniable.

When you see it, when you know it, confess it, Christian!  Call for help to the only one who can save!  Beg for mercy from the one who is always merciful.  “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

And, of course, he does.  He heals.  He restores.  He cleanses.  He even bestows new life.  Although he doesn't always do so outwardly, in the fashion we desire and on the timetable that pleases us.  Even Christians, even the most faithful Christians, still get sick and die.  Christians bear crosses in this life – problems that sometimes have no earthly solution.
None of this means you aren't a Christian.  None of this means God has forgotten you, is angry with you, or is punishing you.

Sometimes all we can do is keep faith and know that God works in all things for the good.  Faith trusts that God knows best.  We walk by faith, and not by sight.  And faith also looks to the horizon, that final day when the dead in Christ rise, and our eternal inheritance is fulfilled.  Then we will see, in our restored flesh, the final “yes” to all God's promises in Christ.

And that prayer of the lepers, the prayer of blind Bartemaus, is the prayer, really, of all Christians - “Lord, have mercy!”  We prayed it already this morning in song, the “Kyrie Eleison”, Greek for “Lord, have mercy!”  It's always an appropriate prayer because it calls on the merciful character of God, and of Christ.  It trusts God to both know and do what is best.  It asks for help, not because we are worthy, but because faith knows that God delights in showing mercy.  So we can pray:  forgive me my sins, Lord have mercy!  Save me from death, Lord have mercy!  Bless the helpless, Lord have mercy!  Comfort the distressed, Lord have mercy!

But there's a second part to this story.  It's not just that these men beg for mercy, and Jesus grants it.  9 of them are, at least outwardly, obedient to his command – they set out immediately to “show the priest” the healing Jesus bestowed.  They are eager to get on with their lives, see their friends and families, perhaps get back to work and life as normal.  And can that be so wrong?

But the one, the one of the 10 returns and falls on his face, to give thanks.  And this one, a Samaritan.  The other 9 we assume were Jews.  But here is the outsider amongst the outsiders. The one who the Jews would expect to set the bad example.  But he alone returned to give proper thanks.

There's a reason that this is the text appointed for our Thanksgiving Day services every year.  This leper, now cleansed, this Samaritan, shows us by his example the pattern we ought to follow:  We see our unclean, wretched state.  We cry to God in Christ for mercy.  We receive the very mercy we need from Christ.  We return to him proper thanks for all his benefits.

Yes, first of all, even in worship.  The leper fell before Christ, that's what the word often translated as “worship” really means – going face down, prostrated.  We humbly, reverently, yet joyfully and thankfully acknowledge, first of all, the gifts and the giver.  This is the pattern laid out in all of scripture, in the Psalms - “let us come before him with thanksgiving” (Ps. 95), “Enter his gates with thanksgiving” (Ps. 100) “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chr. 16:34) and Paul writes, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3)
A thankful, grateful heart, living in the Christian, is part of the fruits of our faith.  But it doesn't stop with simply saying “thanks” to God.  Faith also expresses its gratitude in love for our neighbor:  That we would show how much we appreciate the mercy of Christ by showing mercy to others.  That we would help as we have been helped, love as we have been loved.  A Christian does these things not to earn or gain what we already have – rather, out of thankfulness we exercise our faith in service to our neighbor.

Truly, we are nothing, and we have nothing apart from Christ.  We are just as bad off as a leper colony.  Separated from God by sin, and careening toward a pitiful death.  But here comes Jesus.  We cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” And he does.  We are made clean by his blood.  May we also return thanks where it is due, not only in word, but also in deed.

So you, too, rise and go.  Give thanks to God.  Your faith in Christ has saved you.

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