O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
October 10, 2010
Fellow baptized saints, this must be the point during the service where you are thinking "It's Thanksgiving Sunday, the sermon title is 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' and the Gospel reading is about lepers." How is pastor ever going to tie these seemingly random things together? Well, I'll let you in on a little secret. In order to keep things interesting for the confirmation class, I've asked them to give me one word each week that I have to put in the sermon. And of course this week, they creatively thought of 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.' And while I may think the sound of it is something quite atrocious - this is their choice. So sometime during the sermon, it is going to show up again. But what about Thanksgiving and the lepers from our reading?
The evangelist Luke records that as Jesus is making His final approach to Jerusalem, He enters a village where He is met by ten lepers. From a distance they cry out to him, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." Jesus in seeing them, opens His mouth and says to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." We know that as they go to see the priests, they are cleansed of their leprosy.
Now in order to appreciate what this means, it is fitting to know a little more about leprosy. Leprosy is an unsightly, painful disease of the skin. It manifests itself on the exterior of the human figure and generally produces a response of disgust from outside observers. The reason for this response lies at the root of what leprosy truly is. Leprosy is what we call it when parts of your body die. As a whole you continue living, but certain parts of your flesh begin to die and decompose. Certainly not the cleanest image you could picture - which is why Jewish law in that day declared that all individuals suffering from leprosy must be keep away from the rest of the community. Lepers became outcasts so that they wouldn't defile the rest of society. Imagine a loved one of yours contracting leprosy and being banished from your home and society. One day they are with you at home, the next day they are cast out, left alone to suffer. Some may even consider this worse than the death of a loved one, because at least with death there is closure and the hope of the resurrection. Leprosy had no cure in Jesus' day.
And we may think, "Oh those poor people." But Jesus speaks this message to you today. He calls you and I to recognize that we too suffer from leprosy. Not leprosy of the skin, but leprosy of the heart. Spiritual leprosy. A leprosy of sin. Jesus sees the deepest darkest parts of your heart. Jesus knows all the hidden places you have worked so hard to bury. The parts that hurt. The parts that scare you because you know you can't control yourself or protect yourself there. You don't want anyone, not even God, to see these parts. However, these dead parts of your heart inevitably come to the surface sometimes. This leprosy manifests itself in your life as more sin. Sin that you commit in an effort to protect those dead, painful parts. Layers of lies are built up around those parts in defense. But sadly, as we desperately try to cover up our spiritual leprosy, the more separation is seen among our relationships. The more we try to hide from God. And eventually, though we may have never intended it, our words and actions begin to generate a response of disgust from those around us. Left untreated, our spiritual leprosy banishes us from the community of faith.
But isn't this why we are here today? We are here because Jesus heals lepers. We are here because when Christ opens his mouth and speaks leprosy is cleansed. And this is not some cheap magic spell, like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious." No, it is the same powerful Word that created the universe. The same power that created something from nothing is working in the Gospel of Christ. Life returns to dead flesh because Jesus speaks. Outcasts return to society because of the power of His Gospel. What had no cure finds itself cured at the Word of our Lord.
We gather in this place today to hear the same powerful Word that created the universe. Christ speaks to you the same Gospel with which He healed the lepers. He speaks the miracle of physical healing to them, but to you - He speaks the miracle of spiritual healing - the forgiveness of sins. His powerful Gospel, which He speaks from eternity, is spoken to you. He says, "I see the death and sin in your heart, I understand the pain it causes you, I know why you try to hide it - And I forgive you - for all of this."
Now, you may be thinking, how can we have such certainty today that things are the same for us as they were for those ten lepers so many years ago? To explore this, I invite you to open your service book to page 152. We've seen this already today. What does it say at the top of the page in red? Service of the Word - that is, Christ serving us His powerful Word. So this is where the Christ begins to serve us His Word. Let's compare the Gospel reading from Luke with our Service of the Word.
The first thing that happens in the reading is Jesus entering the village. In the service, we have an introit or entrance hymn, when the stole which represents the Office of Christ and His ministry enters the sanctuary - or altar area.
Then, in the reading, the ten lepers cry out to Him, "Lord have mercy." In the service, we have the kyrie - or Lord, have mercy - Already we can see what is happening. The Service of the Word that we practice each week is the same way the Church has been worshipping since the beginning. The Service of the Word is the same for us today, as it was for the very first Christians.
And our reading isn't over. Next, Jesus speaks to the lepers. Turn to page 156 - we overlook the hymn of praise which is added from another part of the Scriptures - and we find the readings which climax in the Gospel reading. The focal point and climax to the Service of the Word is when Jesus speaks to us in the Holy Gospel, just as He spoke to the ten lepers in our reading. Look at the way we decorate the Holy Gospel in order to confess that Christ is truly here speaking to us. We stand in His presence, no longer sitting like the other readings. We sing to Him about the power of His Word, "Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." We acknowledge His presence further with versicles that surround the reading - "Glory to You, O Lord" and "Praise to You, O Christ." We light the Gospel light to show that Christ is speaking His universe creating Word in our presence right now.
So you can be certain that when this light is lit - when you are standing before Him - when you have cried out to Him - Lord have mercy - and He speaks - you are being healed of your spiritual leprosy - the dead parts in you are being brought back to life - Christ is removing the sin that separates you from God and those around you - Christ is restoring your place in His holy family, reaffirming your baptism into His Church, calling you back and pointing you towards the Service of the Sacrament - the communion - community - where He continues to serve you even greater things, even more grace
And so we have great confidence - we are transformed to be like the one leper who came running back to thank Christ. When we understand that He cleanses us of our spiritual leprosy, that He creates life in our heart, that He serves us His Word the same way today - then we are thankful. We sing hymns with joy. We confess the Creed with vigor. We offer forth prayers of thanksgiving with certainty that we are heard. We truly understand how much there is to be thankful for. Our family, friends and community. Our health, food and shelter. Our vocations, callings and jobs. But most of all the undeserved forgiveness of our sins and healing of our spiritual diseases. The sure and certain promise of eternal life with all the saints - those beside us and those who have gone before us - everyone who has celebrated with thanks before the Lord. Truly it is a Sunday of Thanksgiving - Thank You - Thank You - Thank You Lord Jesus. In His name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr