The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Luke 17:11-19 – September 17, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Today, ten men are healed of their leprosy.
And today, ten men, not just one, but all of them, return to the source of their faith.
Our Gospel reading from St. Luke, is not about gratitude or thanksgiving. The point this morning is not that you the Christian should remember to come back and say thanks to Jesus.
The ‘Healing of the Ten Lepers’ is explicitly about faith, it is about what faith is and what faith does.
And today, we see that faith always returns to its source, to its author, from whence it came.
And more than that, this is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing reality.
Faith always wants more. It is never satisfied.
Today, we find this not in the Samaritan leper alone, but also and absolutely in the other nine.
They are led by faith back to the source, back to the place in which they trust, and fear and love.
Back to Jerusalem, back to the priests, back to the temple, and back to lives that they longed for and loved.
These men certainly had faith, it was just not faith in Jesus.
And we know this not because of their lack of gratitude, or because they lacked thankfulness.
It is most likely they sang our Lord’s praises, and shouted His name all the way back to the Holy City.
It is not they were not thankful.
It is that their faith was in vain, it was in the wrong thing, and we see this, simply in what they return to.
This faith of theirs led them away from Jesus, away from the source of true and saving faith, and in that journey, the object, the thing they trusted in was made evident. It is clear to you and I, and it is also a warning.
So what then, do you return to?
What do you fall back on for comfort?
What is your safety net and the peace that calms your anxieties?
What is it that you tell yourself when you need to hear that everything will be OK,
or that everything will go well for you?
Is it Jesus? Is it His Word? His faith? His mercy?
And if we are unwilling to answer that question in our own hearts, then today, St. Paul answers it for us:
“The works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.”
Do you return to these things?
What do your neighbors see? What does your family know? What is evident in your flesh?
When you’re given more than you can handle, and the deadlines at work are stacked up to your eyeballs, what is it that your co-workers see? Is it love, joy, peace, and patience?
When your children are out of control and deaf to the words of your groaning, what faith do they find in you?
Is it goodness, gentleness and self-control?
When you suffer all kinds of evil, persecution, torment and insult, what do even your enemies find in your actions? Is it kindness and faithfulness?
The works of the flesh are evident, St. Paul says, that is, they stink, and you cannot hide them.
Even if you choose to be blind and deaf, your neighbors see it all the same.
So, what then?
What do you return to when the curtain is drawn back and you realize the works of your flesh? What do your children see when you’ve lost your temper? What does your spouse know when you’ve spoken poorly?
Do you go back to repentance and faith? Do you show your children what it is to be forgiven, to cry out for mercy, to live as the baptized?
Or do you cover it up? Do you deny it? Act like it didn’t happen, justify your behavior and move on with your life?
Faith returns to its source. It always wants more.
A faith that is founded in works, goes back to works, a faith founded in self and in pride, goes back for more pride, more self, more me.
The Epistle reading from Galatians chapter 5 is often butchered and misread among us, among Christians and the Church.
For we desperately want fruits of the spirit that are evident, and works of the flesh that are carefully hidden.
And so we hear the list of sins that Paul names out and we check ourselves, but never too carefully, not too seriously, we squint, and stammer, and come away from that litany of leprosy and death thinking that well, we’re not perfect, but we haven’t failed at everything, so we’re still good, still clean, still pure, still in the family.
And then we come to the fruits of the Spirit and we mark how the love of Christ is always growing in us and how we’re more patient today than we were yesterday, more loving now than when we first believed.
We read these words and think on them, we imagine how they’ve shone out like beacon in the night in the quiet faith of our lives, how we’ve been gentle to our neighbor by not saying that thing that we wanted to say but didn’t, how we’ve been kind even to those mean and ungrateful people who will never thank us for it.
This is not faith, at least it is not the faith of Jesus, which is the only faith that matters.
When the Samaritan leper returns to Jesus, he prostrates himself and worships not because he has seen these fruits growing in his heart, or because he is so thankful to be more patient today than he was yesterday.
No, in fact, the Samaritan returns because in himself he does not know of peace, and patience, and kindness and faithfulness.
In his own rotting skin he sees that works of the flesh are evident, and that his love fails, and his trust is misplaced, and his fear is more than imprecise.
But what he knows of love and joy and peace, though it is not in Himself, he knows it in this Jesus, in this temple made without hands, in this High Priest who not only judges us holy, but makes us holy Himself.
He returns for more, because in faith he rightfully does not see it in himself, he comes to take more of Jesus, for that is what faith does, it comes back and it wants more.
This is why this idea that is so prominent, and perhaps so fashionable among us, is entirely illogical and opposed to the faith:
That is the sentiment that as we grow in the faith, as we get confirmed and move into adulthood, that we have somehow become more wise in Christ, and in fact so wise that we can decide and keep ourselves from him whenever we want, after all, we’ve figured it out, we’ve grown in the faith, so why not be more independent?
This is not faith at all. It is a return to self, to pride, to anything but Christ. And what will you find there?
Thanks be to God, that our Lord pursues us, the faith that drove the Samaritan back to Jesus was not his own, but the faith only of Christ, that He Himself faithfully plants, waters, sustains, and drives in us even back to His own body, blood, water and Word.
Our Lord keeps preaching, He does not stop, He wants to have us, to bring not just the one, but the other nine, to call them away from their works, and to see Him the work that is already done, to call them away from themselves, and to find in His name and identity that does not pass away.
He pursues His Church even through His Church.
He uses honest and faithful conversations between parents and children.
He uses even tense and difficult moments between husband and wife.
And He uses fathers and mothers, would dare in true faith to teach their children that it is not just OK to repent, but it is faith to humbly ourselves, to repent, to cry out, Lord have mercy and live in the fruit and the faith of another.
That is what faith expects, it is why faith prays and waits. Our Lord pursues us, and drives us back to Himself.
For faith always wants more, and that is our Lord’s glory.
The text of the Offertory that we sing right before the service of the Sacrament is taken from Psalm 116, and in it we ask this question:
“What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” (Ps. 116:12)
Which is to say, how should I thank God for all that He has done for me? What words can I say, what things can I do to show him and praise Him for His grace and mercy? What song can I sing, what work can I perform?
And what follows this question, is not actually what we sing next and perhaps have come to memorize in the Offertory (LSB pp. 159, 176), but rather the Psalmist immediately answers his own question and declares:
“I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps. 116:13)
How do we thank God for all that He has given us? We take even more from Him.
Faith is never satisfied, it always wants more, and where that may sound greedy or discontent, it is in fact the highest praise.
Indeed, the knees that hit this communion rail, and the hands and mouths that take the cup of salvation,
these humble things, these simple actions, sing and declare the highest praises of God in all of creation.
For when faith returns the Christian to Christ, and gives Him to take even more from Christ, to cry out, “Lord, have mercy”, this speaks of God as God wants to be, as He has made Himself to be known.
That God is gracious and merciful, and in Christ, He is your High Priest, who does not simply examine you, but reaches in to the dirt and leprosy of your sin and becomes cleansing Himself, He does the work, He is the faith, His mercy is the highest praise.
Indeed, both now and soon, your faith returns to its source. To the temple made without hands, to the High Priest who calls even You holy and blessed as the one who comes in and through the name of the Lord, your faith returns not simply to the fruit given by the spirit, but the very tree itself, the source of faithfulness, the very fulfillment of peace and joy.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.