O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on Luke 17:11-19
Preached on October 7, 2012
Click on the Play button
to listen to the Sermon.
Fellow baptized saints, a very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours this frosty Sunday morning. There is much to thank God for, and it is fitting to take a moment to reflect on what He has given us. What are you most thankful for today? What is the most amazing gift you have ever received?
We heard about the ten lepers in our Gospel reading this morning. Ten men who stood at a distance and cried out to Jesus that He might have mercy on them. Ten men who were cured of a disease that caused their skin to die rapidly. What do you think they were thankful for?
At first glance, one might think they were thankful for the end of the hassle that came with their disease, you know, the pain and discomfort. But pain and discomfort are tolerable. There were things that were far worse than pain and discomfort that came with leprosy.
Moses writes in Leviticus, "The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean.' He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp."
Unclean? Live alone outside the camp? As long as he has the disease?!? Leprosy sounds like serious stuff. Now, there were many things that made you unclean in the ceremonial system of Israel, all of which were associated with death. Blood, corpses and leprosy. You couldn't come into contact with any of them or you would become unclean. But having leprosy was the only thing that landed you a life outside the camp. Everyone else could remove themselves from what made them unclean and be restored, but you could not remove yourself from your dying skin. You were trapped in your leprosy. You would cry out 'Unclean, unclean' to warn others not to touch you. You were like walking death, and anyone who touched you would become unclean.
Can you imagine what it would have been like to contract the disease? You were looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner with your family, to the food and the fun and company, but with leprosy you were put outside the city. Forced to dwell beyond Perimeter highway, so you would not defile the city, so you would not defile the people. You would stand on the edge of the highway longingly looking into the city, picturing what your family was doing without you, but you wouldn't want to be near them for fear that you would make them unclean. For fear that they might become leprous like you. And you never knew if you would get better. How could they ever understand? How could they know how much you miss them? How much you love them? How many things would you want to say if you could only see them, especially on Thanksgiving? But you wouldn't dare, because you would never want them to experience the trap you were in.
This situation seems like it couldn't get any worse, but even being separated from family and friends, was not the worst thing that came with leprosy. Though what we have described is more than we can bear, leprosy caused something far worse. For unclean things cannot be with holy things. They must remain apart. Leprosy made you unworthy of being in God's holy presence. It cast you out into the darkness, away from His goodness and mercy. It excluded you from divine worship, from all of the holy things of God. It separated you from the source of all life, all light and all that is good and left you with all that is dead and dark and evil. Instead of being free to worship God, you were trapped outside with all the unholy things. You were not worried about whether you would see your family again, you were terrified that you would never see anything good ever again, that you would spend eternity without God and His goodness.
Can you imagine being cut off from God's holy gifts, being excluded from His presence? What would be racing through your mind? How am I ever going to get clean? What can I do? Who will rescue me from this unclean darkness? Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
Beloved, our Lord entered the darkness of this unclean world for one reason. To proclaim freedom to the captives and restoration to the unclean. "Go and show yourselves to the priests." Show them that you are clean. Show them that you are healed. Show them that I, the Lord, have come close to you, so that you may come close to me. And as they went, they were cleansed.
Yes, Jesus had ended their pain and discomfort. He had reunited them with their families and friends. But He had rescued them out of darkness and brought them into the marvelous light of His holy presence. Now they were free to worship Him, free to enjoy His goodness and mercy, free to rest in His eternal peace. There was much to thank Him for, and they had the rest of their restored lives to do it, even all of eternity.
What is easily missed about this account is how it is really a story about us. Though we'd like it to be different, each one of us was born into this world as a spiritual leper, with flesh filled with the spiritual death of Adam. Our human nature is unclean and unworthy of God's holy presence. By nature we are excluded from divine worship. Trapped outside His holiness with all the unholy things, and we deserve to stay there for all eternity.
Every child conceived in the natural way has been touched by that death and will die. But our Lord was conceived by the Holy Spirit and took on our flesh that He might restore our fallen nature, that He might heal the leprosy that lives deep within our flesh, and bring us back into His holy presence. He asked Himself, how could they ever understand? How could they ever know how much I love them? So He was cut off from His Father, becoming unclean in His bloody death on the cross. Through the shedding of His innocent blood, He has restored our human nature and opened heaven to us.
But heaven has not been opened to you in some faraway distant time that has no bearing on your everyday life. God wants to be with you now. He wants to come to you now. He wants you to enjoy His holy presence and a foretaste of heaven here, even as you wait for their fulfillment in eternity. And He does that for you in the Divine Service, in the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. From the moment His service to you begins, He is drawing you ever closer to Himself, bringing His heaven down to you, and pulling you into His holy presence. Each part of the liturgy draws you nearer. Think about it.
He is present when we call on His Name in the invocation. Then He declares you clean, in Holy Absolution, reminding you that you belong here in His presence because He has washed you in Holy Baptism giving you a new birth. Then in the Kyrie, we stand at a distance and cry out with the ten lepers, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Create a clean heart within us that we may come closer still, and just as He did for the ten lepers, so He does for us. He speaks the powerful Word of His Gospel and preaches us clean, preparing us for more of His holy things that bring His presence even closer.
Finally, heaven opens even wider to us in the service of the Sacrament where we sing with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven - Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts - Here we are on earth, joining the hosts of heaven in proclaiming the holiness of God's eternal presence, and when we think that this is as close as we are going to get - He puts His presence into our mouths. He pours His Holy presence down our throats that it may fill us from the inside - that we may be ever strengthened in our restored connection to Him, and bask in the peace of our God.
No, it may not mean earthly riches, or early retirement or an end to your arthritis. But it means, freedom, rest, restoration, yes, it is a foretaste of heaven.
Because of the way our Lord opens His heaven to us in His Word and Sacrament, we no longer have to warn others to stay away by saying unclean, unclean - but now God calls others near, by the new words He has put on our lips, Be cleaned, be cleaned. Christ has put His Gospel on our lips. We have changed from walking death, to walking life, carrying eternal life out from His heaven to all the world. We used to be afraid to touch others, but now God has made our touch one of restoration and peace, one we can have great joy to share.
Well, we began this morning's meditation by asking ourselves what we are most thankful for today. Did you tell yourself, "I thank God for cleansing me of my spiritual leprosy and giving me access to His holy presence?" No, well now you can, because Christ promises an eternity without pain and discomfort. He promises an everlasting communion of family and friends. And He brings His Holy presence into your life to fill you with His eternal goodness - even as you wait for His glorious return. We have much to thank God for. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr