Sunday, August 28, 2005

Sermon: Trinity 14

28 August 2005 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (and Prov 4:10-23; Gal 5:16-24) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Leprosy is a horrible disease – though none of us here may have ever known a person with leprosy. The disease causes a person’s flesh to turn against itself, so that a person dies little by little. Until recently, such people were banished to leper colonies, so that their corrupt flesh would not spread to the healthy. One could hardly think of a more terrible fate, or a more Satanic distortion of creation.

For in the beginning, God created all things and declared them all “good.” And when he had concluded creation by making mankind, he declared his creation to be “very good.” God created a perfect universe for us to enjoy: abundant food, no need for labor, no diseases (like leprosy), and most importantly, no death. Flesh was meant for life – not for death. It was only when Adam and Eve rejected God by sinning that misery, disease, and death came into the world. It was only because of sin that flesh began to war against spirit – even to the point where flesh and spirit separate from one another – which is what it means to die. This is not what God intended. This is what man chose for himself, what the author of our Old Testament lesson bewails: “the path of the wicked… the way of evil.” Indeed, we “do not sleep unless [we] have done evil.” We make others fall. Truly we have perverted creation, even such wonderful nourishments of bread and wine, turning them into “the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence.”

We have welcomed sin into our lives to the point where we accept it as natural and normal. We live among horrific violent crime, and hardly flinch. We are surrounded by lewdness and open perversion to the point where we aren’t even shocked. But worst of all, we accept the premise of all of the world’s religions: the body is evil and the spirit is good. This heresy prompts people to believe that religion is purely “spiritual,” that once we shed the body, once we have elevated ourselves above creation, we can somehow achieve oneness with God. Such a perversion causes people to mistreat their bodies and to look upon God’s “very good” creation as somehow evil.

Look at how our society treats death. It is often seen as a “solution” – be it genocide, euthanasia, or abortion. Or, it is seen as a natural part of life – like the Disney movie “the Lion King” which espouses the Pagan view that our deaths are part of a mystical “circle of life,” that death is good and nourishing.

What can be a more diabolical distortion of the truth as confessed in Scripture? What a debasement to our flesh, which we confess in the Creed every Sunday will be resurrected!

Now, you may be tempted to point to our epistle reading and claim this worldly false religion (that the flesh is evil but the spirit is good) is something St. Paul believes in. But this is not the case at all. For Paul is speaking of our corrupted flesh. He implores us not to yield to the desires of our sinful flesh that wars against the Holy Spirit. For Paul defines the works of the this flesh to be misuses of the flesh, such as carnal sins (which mock God’s good creation of sexuality), selfishness (which mock God’s good creation of a universe in harmony and peace), jealousy (which mocks God’s good gifts of possessions), and heresies (which mock God’s good gift of his Word).

Also listed is the sin of “pharmakeia” – translated here as “sorcery.” Pharmakeia literally means “drugs” or “medicine.” And what could be a more blatant example of something good and life-giving which has often been twisted into an agent of death and the devil? In fact, in the ancient world, phamakeia was a shorthand way of saying “abortion” – for people in the Greco-Roman world would use drugs to induce abortions.

The “path of the wicked” from our Old Testament reading, and the “works of the flesh” from our epistle are one and the same. They are deliberately choosing evil over good, the corrupted, dying, leprous flesh over the flesh that God created to live forever, the idolatry of selfishness over service and obedience to our Lord. And the wages of such sin is, as Paul tells us in Romans, death.

In our Gospel text, ten dying men came to Jesus. They had no illusions that their suffering was part of a sanitary cartoon philosophy of the circle of life. They were literally rotting away like living corpses. They were in pain. They were ostracized by the community. But they knew where they needed to go for restoration of their corrupted flesh: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” That is to say, after invoking our Lord Jesus, they sang the Kyrie along with us. Jesus only spoke a word, and they were cleansed. Their rotting flesh was made whole. They were given life. Jesus sent them to the priests for a declaration of their cleanliness. All were healed, the grateful and the ungrateful alike – by grace alone, “without any merit or worthiness” of their own. All ten were “lost and condemned person[s], purchased and won… from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.”

And in spite of this miraculous healing, this new lease on life, they are still sinners – for 90% of them don’t even come by to say “thank you.” Though their leprosy may be cured, their flesh is still corrupt. They are still walking dead-men, for they still have their sinful nature clinging to their flesh – just like all of us. We seldom give our Lord as much as a “thank you” for all his blessings he has given us – may he forgive us for our ingratitude.

But notice the example of the one grateful recipient of our Lord’s grace. He returns to say “thank you” – and he does so by falling on his face before our Lord, worshipping him. And he is a Samaritan – he is not from the chosen people who had the Law and the Prophets. He is a “foreigner,” he is a “Gentile.” He is a person of mixed ancestry: hated by everyone. But notice his gratefulness. For his restoration was even more dramatic. He loves much, because he has been given much.

How do we imitate the example of this sainted Samaritan? Notice how he shows his thanks: Jesus tells us he “gives glory to God.” Notice what we did this morning. After we imitated the Samaritan leper by singing: “Lord have mercy,” we too gave glory to God by singing “Glory be to God on High.” And after hearing the Lord’s word in Holy Scripture and in his preached proclamation, we will fall down on our knees before our Lord Jesus to worship him – just like the cleansed leper. We do this at the “eucharist” – which is Greek for “giving thanks.” Indeed, we give thanks to Jesus every time we kneel before him and receive his body and blood in the eucharistic feast. And notice what our Lord gives us in the feast: the same thing he gave the leper: cleansed and incorruptible flesh and blood – his own flesh and blood, in fact.

In the same way that we honor the host of a feast by asking for seconds, we show our gratitude to our Lord when we come back again and again as he heals us, cleansing our corrupted flesh by restoring it anew with his own flesh. We join our Lord’s Great Thanksgiving when we partake of the meal with Jesus who “having given thanks” blessed and broke the bread of his body and the wine of his blood. And notice the restoration that our Lord gives us in the eucharist: he exchanges the “bread of wickedness” for his very body, the bread of life, of righteousness. And he replaces the “wine of violence” with his very blood, the wine of peace and reconciliation, of forgiveness.

In this miracle of restoration that our Lord gives us, this thanksgiving feast, we join the church of every time and place in replacing the pharmakeia of abortion and death with what the very earliest church fathers called the “pharmakon athanasias,” the “medicine of immortality.” Our Lord replaces our corrupt, sinful flesh with his everlasting and perfect flesh.

And notice what happens before the grateful, eucharistic Samaritan takes his leave: Jesus gives him a blessing to send him on his way. Jesus continues to give us this benediction before we too leave his presence to return to the world.

Dear Christian brothers and sisters – we are more like the lepers in this biblical account than we realize:

We too are dying bit by bit, plagued by sinful flesh that rots away, fueled by sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

We too have been cleansed by a physical encounter with Jesus, “crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires,” having been washed in baptismal water like Naaman the leper, who was told to wash in the Jordan River, and whose flesh was restored.

We too have been sent to the priests to be declared clean.

We too cry out “Lord have mercy” and give glory to God.

We too have been given God’s words, “for they are life to those who find them, and health to all their flesh.”

We too have been given instruction, “do not let her go, keep her, for she is your life.”

We too kneel before our Lord to thank him by worshipping him, and by receiving the medicine of immortality.

And, dear friends, we receive his gifts again and again, week after week. We hear his absolution and his blessing Sunday after Sunday. And though we sin again and again, we are restored again and again… and again. And though we will all die in the flesh, we will all rise in the flesh. For in Christ, we are on “the path of the just… like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.”

Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God!

In the Name of the father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.