Preached September 25,2011
St. Luke 17:11–19
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This is the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, and the second Sunday in our three Sunday cycle on “true and laudable service“—namely, service in love, purity, and singleness of heart. Last Sunday we were focused on the Service in Love, and this Sunday we focus on Service in Purity. If we are to truly serve the Lord God, it must be done with pure hearts and minds; it cannot be properly done with hearts and minds that are continually stained with the defilements of the world.
There is a constant internal conflict that goes on within anyone who attempts to be a part–time Christian. St. Paul describes this in the words of our Epistle lesson saying, Galatians 5:16-17 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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. This is the unhappy condition of the man who has heard the message of the Gospel, has been attracted to it, but has not fully committed himself to it. On the one hand, he wants to live according to the Word, and yet the devil pulls hard on him, making him unhappy in the Christian life. If, on the other hand, he decides to abandon himself to the things of the flesh, he is not happy there either because his conscience pricks him, reminding him that this is the road to eternal death. This sad state of lack of commitment makes him unfit to enjoy either the life of the flesh or the life in the Spirit of God. What a misery!
As soon as we transgress God’s holy Law, we are aware of what we have done, we stand condemned by the Law. We are in an adversarial position with respect to God, no longer in the position of sons by adoption, but rather as the accused in the dock. We know that we are guilty; our own conscience convicts us. Our relation with God is much changed, and we are far away from Him. It is only by seeking forgiveness and restoration that we can remove the weight of the Law from our lives, to live again by Grace. Until such time as we do that, we are alienated from God, and unable to truly live our lives as Christians.
St. Paul goes on to enumerate many of the overt sins common in his time, Galatians 5:19-21 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 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. While we might try to add a few modern items to this list, in fact the list is remarkably complete when we take these various sins in their broad meanings. These sins lead to broken homes and the destruction of marriages upon which the homes depend. Some of them lead to false religion, to the replacement of true, revealed religion by paganism. Some encourage the destruction of civil society, the destruction of order and peace in our lives and the rise of chaos. As St. Paul says, a life immersed in things of this sort will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In contrast, St. Paul describes the life of the man who has dedicated his life to Christ, Galatians 5:22-24 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 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. The contrast with the libertine life is quite evident! The first three items, love, joy and peace, are for the individual man in his own life; love is the restoration of his relation with God, while joy and peace are the constant realization of that fact. Being at peace with God, the man is able to be at peace with himself. The next three, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, are for the man’s home, family, and close friends, that they may all benefit from his good nature. The last three, faith, meekness, and temperance, are for the benefit of the world. By faithfulness, a man makes it easy for others to work with him, by meekness he is enabled to work with others. Temperance is self–governance, the ability to abstain from those things that are forbidden and to limit those things that are allowed so that a man may attain the best for himself and others. Those that truly belong to Jesus Christ have all of these virtues by their commitment to the Saviour. The world demands that we have them, but only Jesus Christ provides them.
Since natural man is caught in a life of sin, even when he first hears the Word, we have seen that he is faced with a period of struggle to get to the point of becoming a fully committed Christian. This is a period during which he has heard enough of the Word that he no longer fully enjoys the life of sin, but he is not fully committed to Jesus Christ either. This is the status of the vast majority of our world around us. They have heard at least some of the Christian message, but still they linger on in the ways of the world. What is missing? Let us turn to the Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus is traveling when the following scene develops, Luke 17:11-12 11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: Leprosy is a disease of the flesh, and it was understood as the obvious punishment for sins of the flesh. Thus, a group of ten men, all contaminated with leprosy, represented to the ancient Jews, the gathered defilement of the sins of the flesh, exiled from human society to live in the desert so that their defilement did not further contaminate the community. This was seen as sin personified.
In their misery, they are naturally drawn to Jesus. As required by the law, they have stood far off, but they lift up their voices, Luke 17:13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. They are aware of their situation, and of the fact that if anyone can heal them, it is Jesus, the Son of God. For this reason then they call out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Who else can they turn to? There is no one, but here is the Son of God, the one who has the power to heal them, so they are drawn to Him, and they call out for mercy to Him.
For us, as it was for them, the first step is to recognize our state of degradation, our lack of wholeness. Many look at themselves and say, “I’m OK, you’re OK,” not realizing that those statements are complete untruths. We are not OK, but rather in our natural state we are sick with sin, often to the point where we do not even begin to realize it. Once we begin to have an awareness of our sin, then we can approach Jesus for forgiveness, but we will not do this until we are aware of our own sin. This is why we absolutely must hear the Law.
The lepers approached Jesus asking for cleansing, and listen carefully to what Jesus says to them: Luke 17:14a And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. Notice that Jesus did not say to them, “You are healed,” nor did he tell them do go to do something such as bathe in a particular body of water to effect the healing. No, he simply said, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. The implication is that when they arrive at the priests, they will be well, but they must go to the priests in faith that this will happen. To believe that prayer has been granted is to actually receive it! Luke 17:14b And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
So all ten of the men departed to go show themselves to the priests, but then one of them turned back, Luke 17:15-16 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. When we are redeemed by Jesus Christ, we cannot simply walk away from Him, but rather we are forever called back into an on–going relationship with Him, just as was the one leper. His leprosy was healed, and he realized that turning back to give thanks to God and His Son, Jesus Christ, was vastly more important than going to show himself to the priests. So he does what is necessary, he falls at Jesus feet, to give thanks and praise for this renewal of his life. And we are told that he was a Samaritan, just as was the major figure in the Gospel lesson last week. Thus these people who were often thought to worship entirely wrongly, are seen here as grasping the main truth of the Gospel while those Jewish lepers miss the point entirely. Those we think impossibly bad may be the ones that are saved while we fail to make the connection ourselves.
The life of internal purity is essential to the true and laudable service to the Lord God. It is the only way we can have the unity of purpose with God to be truly working in His service, rather than at crossed purposes with Him. We cannot indulge ourselves in the vices and corruptions of the world from time to time and still think that “I’m still a good Christian, I am one of God’s loyal and faithful servants.” It just does not work that way. To belong to God is a full time, whole life commitment, with no loopholes. There is no other way.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.