Preached September 9, 2012
St. Luke 17:11–19
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The general theme of the second half of the Trinity season continues this morning with the words of the Collect for the Day, “…give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou does command…” We are asking for the gifts of the Holy Ghost in our lives that He may lead us to sanctification and thus to the eternal glory that our Lord Jesus has promised.
In praying the Collect, we are asking for an increase in what are called the theological virtues. Under the influence of these theological virtues, because we love God and believe and hope in Him, we are enabled to live our lives in obedience to Him and to draw closer to Him. In the technical language of moral theology, the theological virtues create within us a tendency to seek after God, our true end. Man was created by God for Himself. This is what we are praying for in the Collect for the Day.
The gifts of the Holy Ghost are somewhat like a garden. God provides the necessary seed, as only He can. But it is up to man to tend the garden and care for it. The gifts of the Spirit mature over time as faith grows, just as the fruits of a garden. It would be truly surprising to find deep and abiding faith in a small child, a faith that could withstand great persecutions. This kind of faith is not the result of a sudden, blinding conversion – which is not to deny sudden conversions, but to say that they are only the beginning of what must be a long term relationship with Jesus Christ. An enduring faith is the result of many years of faithful life, lived in the family of God, in the household of faith.
St. Paul talks about this in the Epistle lesson for today when he says, Galatians 5:16a This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, In using the word walk, the Christian life is described as a journey; this is comparable to the growing of the garden. It is not a single event, but a process that continues over time. It begins when we are baptized into Christ’s Church, and we begin our walk with Him through our life. Some will wander off the path if they so choose, to their eternal damnation. But St. Paul is telling us that we must walk in the Spirit, that is, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, throughout our whole lives. And he goes on to spell out the reason for this when he says, Galatians 5:16b… and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. If our garden is to produce good fruit, it must not be filled with weeds and thorns. They must be kept out.
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. If we turn away from God, the Holy Ghost does not simply let us go and wash His hands of us, but rather He fights for us. He wars against the flesh, making us perfectly miserable in our sinful ways. This is not because the Lord wants to see us miserable, but rather because He wants to see us turn back to Him. Notice too that there is no compromise between the things of God and the things of the devil. All too often we tend to think that there is some way to accommodate both, to make it possible to have just a little bit of wickedness in our lives, without being really evil. This is not really possible at all. There is absolutely no compromise between the things of the devil and those of our Lord God, and we must learn to distinguish between them clearly. Satan is a glib talker, a subtle salesman, but in the end, he is the same old devil, and there is no compromise between God and the devil. We must choose, and there is only one correct choice.
Galatians 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. As modern readers, we may read this verse and think that St. Paul is saying that those who are led by the Holy Ghost are free to break the law, but we know that would be nonsense. So what is he saying? Remember that St. Paul is a Pharisee, and that for a Pharisee, a reference to the law means the Law of Moses. So the point of this is to say, the question that you must ask yourself is no longer, “Am I justified before God by the Law of Moses?” but now the question is, “Am I justified before God by Jesus Christ?” The Mosaic law is no longer the standard of salvation for anyone who believes in Jesus.
Now we can just imagine that, just as happened often with our Lord Jesus, somebody must have asked, So just what are these works of the flesh? How would we know them if we saw them? St. Paul goes on to describe them in Galatians 5:19–21 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. Most of these terms are well understood, but in some cases the words on not in our every day vocabulary. Adultery refers to illicit sexual relations with a married person, while fornication is illicit relations between unmarried people. Uncleanness is obviously the opposite of purity, and presumably here includes sodomy and bestiality. Lasciviousness means whatever is contrary to chastity; all lewdness, so it is evident that the first part of St. Paul’s list, that which is given in verse 19, covers all manner of sexual immorality. But then he goes on to the rest of our life, beyond sexual sins. Idolatry is the worship of anything other than God. At the time the words were spoken by St. Paul, he may well have had in mind worship of various pagan deities, but today it can easily include the pursuit of wealth, health, beauty, fame, prestige, personal growth, recreation, and on and on. Witchcraft, including spells, incantations, and potions were common in St. Paul’s day and they continue to be active in our day as well. Hatred is an old acquaintance that hardly needs any introduction at all. The term variance is perhaps not familiar in this sense, but it means contentions, where the principle of hatred proceeds to open acts; hence contests, altercations, lawsuits, and disputes in general. Emulation is a word that we almost never use as St. Paul has used it here, but he meant unholy zeal, fervently adopting a bad cause, or supporting a good one by cruel means. This includes things like the Inquisition, pretending to support true religion by torturing and burning alive those who both profess and practice it. Wrath is the turbulent passions and disquietude that shakes our peace. Strife in this case seems to refer to splitting hairs over words, disputing every point of doctrine, making an issue out of every detail. Sedition refers to the division into separate parties, wither in the Church or in the State. This is a place where we have great difficulty in our present day because we don’t know how else to resolve our differences regarding political issues. In the Church, this calls strongly for harmony. Heresies are bad doctrines, contrary to Scripture, that are the product of the carnal mind. Finally, to sum it up, in verse 21, he adds just a few more items. He speaks of envy, that is grieving at the good fortune of others and the wish to see them pulled down. Murder is, of course, the taking of a life. The last item mentioned is “drunkenness, revellings, and such like,” which refers to excess in drinking, eating, singing, dancing, merry making. This is not to say that we should never have a good time, but we must never lose our sense of self–control. It is certainly easy enough to over do it, especially if we frequently make a late night of it!
St. Paul makes it very clear, that those who do these things will not see the kingdom of God. It is just that simple. Your garden will be full of weeds and briars, and there will be no fit fruit in your garden. But then he describes what the fruit of the garden will be when it is produced under the guidance of the Holy Ghost. Galatians 5:22–23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Notice what he says the fruits of the Spirit are; he names them off one by one: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. He does not tell them that they will be able to raise the dead, that they will be prophets, that they will speak in tongues, that they will have any strikingly visible manifestations of the Holy Spirit. They will have only the quiet signs of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance: against such there is no law.
Galatians 5:24 And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Jesus entered into death through the Cross for our salvation, and it is only when we also die with Him that we can hope to rise with Him on the last day. Thus it is necessary for us to crucify the affections and lusts of the flesh so that they do not pull us away from Him while we remain in the flesh. This requires that we bring our flesh under complete subjection to the will of God. When we do this, we are healed, even in this life.
In our Gospel lesson for today, our Lord Jesus healed ten lepers on the road. When the men first saw Jesus, they stood far off as was required by the law, but they called out for mercy. Jesus’ immediate response is that they should go to show themselves to the priests as required by the law to verify that they were cleansed of their leprosy. As they went to the priests, the cleansing happened, Nine of the men apparently continued on their way to show themselves to the priests, just as Jesus had told them to do. But the tenth one turned back to Jesus to give thanks, and he was a Samaritan in the group.
This is a reminder that even those who grow up thinking that they are God’s chosen people, called byHis name, often fail to be properly grateful for the great benefits that they receive from God. All ten were made clean, including the nine Jews, so they all received God’s healing. But only the Samaritan returned to give thanks to God in a loud voice. To remember to be properly thankful is also a major part of our Christian character. We must not take God’s gifts for granted, as something that is simply due to us. God owes us exactly nothing. Everything we have, we receive directly as a gift from God our Father. We need to be conscious of that fact, and to be continually expressing our gratitude to God for His blessings, great and small, day in and day out.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.