Preached September 5th, 2010
St. Luke 17:11–19
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Last Sunday, we began a series on the several forms of service that we, as adopted sons of God and members of Christ’s holy Church, are called upon to perform. The first form, considered last Sunday, was Love. Today we move on to the second form, Holiness, or as it is often described, Purity of Life, a formation of the heart under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.
Our Epistle lesson for today begins with these words from St. Paul, Galatians 5:16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. It is immediately evident that he is contrasting on the one hand a worldly life with all the lusts of the flesh, and on the other hand, a life filled with the Holy Ghost.
Following the lusts of the flesh leads simply to destruction; it spoils all that it touches. The life of such a person is total confusion. This is what St. Paul is pointing to when he says, Galatians 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. A man with such confused internal state and holding such self contradictory thoughts cannot accomplish anything good in life. Confusion is perhaps the most common tool of the devil because it is so apparently harmless; who can blame someone who is confused? And yet, we ought not be confused, when we have the plain Word of God, set clearly before us. The confusion is from the devil, as a means to lead us toward the worldly life and away from the Holy Ghost.
When we give in to sin, we are immediately “under the Law,” in the sense that the judgement of the Law applies to us at that point. We are no longer in step with God, we are out of step with His Law in which we now read our own condemnation. The Law of God is now for us a burden, a limitation, a constraint upon our lives because we have placed ourselves on the wrong side of that relationship with God. It is only by following the Holy Ghost that we can come again to a right relationship in which we find pleasure in doing the will of God, so that it is no longer a burden upon our lives but instead is again our guiding principle.
The indulgence of the flesh often destroys the home by breaking the marriage bond, the basis for the home, as St. Paul indicates when he says, Galatians 5:19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, referring to a variety of gross sexual sins. In our present day, when sex is used to sell everything from toothpaste to real estate, the lures to this form of impurity are all around us every day. Television is especially noteworthy for its contribution to the general degradation of our society, along with many popular magazines and the Internet. Despite these many social influences, the evil must still be resisted; it is just as much evil today as it ever was before.
We actually see religious faith being compromised in many places today to accommodate the whims of society. On a moment’s reflection, such a “faith” cannot be much more than entertainment and organization for social action. Those thus engaged have frequently found it useful or necessary to reinterpret or discard significant parts of the Bible as simply being no longer relevant to “their mission.” These people are no longer practicing Christianity at all, but rather they have invented some new religion, even if they have kept a historic name.
As St. Paul says, Galatians 5:20-21 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. The sin of lust breaks up the whole of society, dividing everything. St. Paul is saying that all of the things that divide a man from his neighbor, all wrath, all heresy, all hatred, all strife, etc. these things are the result of following the lusts of the flesh, and he warns again that those who do them will not inherit the Kingdom of God. It is not just the Church that is divided as a result of sin; no, sin causes division and chaos throughout the entire world. Evil passions break out from time to time resulting in drunkenness, revellings, and sometimes even murder. If we have any question about the extent of the evil of the lusts of the flesh, all we need do is to look at the results which we can see plainly in the world around us.
For the man who lives the life of holiness, the fruits of the Spirit will be made manifest in his life. This includes nine graces that we may consider in groups of three.
Love, Joy, Peace
These serve the man’s own heart. Love is the restored relation with God, joy and peace are the constant realization of that fact. This man is at peace with himself because he is at peace with God.
Long–suffering, Gentleness, Goodness
These are for the man’s home and friends. He accepts evil as it comes in long–suffering; in gentleness he bears himself so as to give least possible offense. In goodness, he overcomes evil with good.
Faith, Meekness, Temperance
These are for man’s work in the world. By faithfulness a man makes it easy for others to work with him; by meekness he is able to work with others. Temperance is the power of self–control, so this means the ability to abstain from things forbidden and refrain from excess in things allowed in any good for his own benefit or the benefit of others.
Galatians 5:23-24 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. 24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. There is no law against such things because the Law exists to constrain the bad behavior of men. But there is no need to constrain the fruits of the Spirit which are in no way contrary to the Law. The graces given by the Holy Ghost can never be out of place or out of date as they are always Christian virtues. They enable us to fulfill the Christian life that we began with our Baptism when we were crucified with Jesus Christ. These graces are universally needed, but only Jesus Christ can provide them.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is traveling through Samaria and Galilee when He comes upon a group of ten lepers. Leprosy is a visible skin disease, and it was understood to represent complete moral defilement painted visibly on the surface of the body. Because of this sense of moral defilement, they were considered not so much sick but rather morally unclean. For this reason, lepers were complete social outcasts, forbidden to enter the towns and cities, and required to cry out a warning whenever they approached anyone. Thus they roamed the country in groups of outcasts, seeking to survive together.
When Jesus encounters the ten lepers, they stood far off Luke 17:13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. They are conscious of the rule that they must not approach, but that does not stop them from calling out to Jesus, the one of whom they have no doubt heard, to ask for healing. They are not presumptuous, but rather they come humbly, reverently, entreating healing.
Jesus does the most amazing thing. He simply says, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. These men are still in their leprosy, and yet He tells them to go and announce their cure! This is a real test of faith! It is only as they are on their way to show themselves to the priests that the cure is effected. They must start the journey in faith that the cure will happen, or else they will not be cured at all. As they start out, they have nothing at all to show, but by faith they are cured along the way. To believe that prayer has been granted is to receive it.
The part that follows the miracle is just as important as that which goes before. When suffering has driven man to Christ, gratitude must likewise send him back to Christ. The rescue from sin and death must be followed by a continuing fellowship with Christ, and those once blessed must be forever returning for a renewal of that blessing.
It is notable that this Sunday, the one who turned back to give praise to God is a Samaritan, just as the central figure of last Sunday’s Gospel lesson was the Good Samaritan. It is significant that we consider the Samaritans at a time when our theme is “true and laudable service” and we look to the Samaritans as models, even though their formal religion was a bit confused and they worshipped they knew not what, but their character and conduct was in many ways better than that of the Chosen People. We may be assured that our Lord did not choose His examples carelessly.
Our growth in holiness, the process of sanctification, comes about only through the continued experience of God’s grace in our lives through the action of the Holy Ghost. With this growth, we see our own wills coming ever more into conformity with the will of God and the level of peace in our lives growing more and more.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.