Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sermon: Trinity 14 & Confirmation of Shelby Stokes

13 Sept 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna,

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus is in the process of restoring all things to newness, taking away our sin, sickness, and death, recreating our broken universe into a restored paradise of the sort God first created and called “good.” It would still be good were it not for our selfishness and sinfulness, our desire to set ourselves above God, and our failure to see ourselves as we really are.

In His three years of walking with us and teaching us in His earthly ministry, our Blessed Lord healed many people as a preview of what He is doing to the whole world, and as a demonstration that He is Master over all things – even over illness and death.

The ten lepers recorded by St. Luke who received miraculous healings from our Lord are in many ways fitting examples of all Christians. On the one hand, we have inherited our sinful flesh from our ancestors. In that sense, we are sinful and can do nothing about it. Just like these ten lepers, who did not ask to suffer from this horrific disease, we are forced to live with the consequences that we cannot fix.

No amount of good works, healthy living, or purchase of top-notch healthcare could make the mortal illness of the lepers go away. And even if they could be cured, something else will eventually kill them. In that sense, we suffer from a terminal illness.

But the ten lepers know that they can turn to God for help. They have heard about Jesus, and they go to Him seeking His merciful use of power. In fact, their prayer is: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus heals them with His Word, and sends them to the priests – so that they can be judged by the law itself as having been cleansed.

But look at how the ten respond! Only one, and he a Samaritan, comes back to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, to say “thank you” and to kneel at the feet of the Lord Jesus in praise of the God who has restored his flesh.

Our Lord identifies this good work as evidence of the healed leper’s faith – a faith which has made him well in receiving the Word of God.

In short, this is the Christian life: helpless sinners, people on a crash course with death (which is the wages of sin) seeking healing from Jesus. And having gotten that healing, we offer ourselves back to God as thank offerings, as Eucharistic sacrifices of praise to our merciful Master who not only created us but redeemed us. The Christian life is not about curing ourselves through good living or buying God’s favor, nor is it simply postponing death by healthy living. The living out the Christian life is a result of our healing, not a cause of it. And in gratitude, we return week after week to fall at the feet of our Master, to seek his grace and mercy at all times, and that “thank and praise, serve and obey” Him.

Shelby, you are, and have been a Christian. But today, you have been invited to the Lord’s table, to take a mature ownership of your own spiritual life, and to begin to walk the way of the Eucharistic Christian life. In other words, you will join us in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the great Thanksgiving Meal of Holy Communion with the merciful Master who has forgiven you all your sins and taken away the leprosy of original sin by the very baptism that we all called to mind yet again today: when we made the sign of the cross and invoked the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At this point in your Christian life, you could walk away and never return – like the nine, and like far too many of our young people the very moment they take their vows to suffer all things, even death, before forsaking the faith. You are free to take the Lord’s Supper today, have your picture taken, only to be excommunicated a year or two from now for cutting yourself off from the church.

But there is a better way.

There is the lifelong path of repentance, of mercy, of gratitude, and of love that your merciful Lord has called you to walk. Come and walk this path with us, your brothers and sisters in Christ! And in walking with us, you will also call us and encourage us to remain faithful as well. For we all have the calling and the responsibility to remind one another in our parish family to be like the thankful leper, to return again and again to the font and fountainhead of our faith.

For the Christian walk is, as St. Paul teaches us, a “walk in the Spirit” so that we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” This kind of flesh, the ones in opposition to the spirit, is like the decaying and diseased flesh of the lepers. That flesh is in need of healing, to be like the restored flesh of our Lord. For “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” says St. Paul. And we are to flee the works of the leprous and dying flesh: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

But thanks be to God, dear brothers and sisters, that we are given the Holy Spirit, who produces fruit in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.”

And, Shelby, this renewal of your heart and spirit given to you at Holy Baptism is what you are confirming today with your public confession of the holy faith and your vow to be faithful to our Lord Jesus.

Our father in the faith, wise King Solomon, exhorts young people to “hear… and accept my words that the years of your life may be many.” He exhorts all of us to “keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.”

Solomon, the ancestor of our Lord Jesus also warns us of the “path of the wicked” and encourages us “avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on.”

And Solomon’s exhortation applies to all the Scriptures when he says: “be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings…. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.”

Healing to all their flesh.

This, dear friends, is what the ten lepers found in the words of Solomon’s Descendant, the very Word of God made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, who in the flesh restored their flesh. And the one grateful leper returned in the flesh to give thanks to the one who cured him in his flesh.

This is the Christian life. It is a spiritual life, but more. It is life in the Spirit that is also rooted in the flesh – especially the flesh of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving Feast that extends into eternity.

This healing of our flesh happens in our baptism and continues our whole life long in Eucharistic thanksgiving and praise of our Lord Jesus. Week in and week out we offer ourselves, body and soul, to Him who offered Himself as a Sacrifice for us, and who continues to offer His body and blood for us to eat and drink, to strengthen our faith, forgive our sins, and restore our dying flesh to eternal health.

And when the great day of the resurrection comes, as we all lie in our tombs, we will hear the voice of our merciful Savior calling to us: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen


Theophilus said...

Father Hollywood:

Some time ago my son stumbled onto your web site and suggested to me that I may find exchanges with you interesting. He told me that you welcome responses to your sermons. That takes courage.

Your Trinity 14 sermon of September 13 was very interesting to me. Your introduction was meaningful and right on target, from my perspective in the pew. What I really appreciated was that you refrained from stating that this was a literal story which proved the deity of Jesus. Instead, you seemed to interpret this story rightfully as metaphor depicting spiritual healing of the leprosy of sin through Jesus’ covenant-gospel message. “In short, this is the Christian life: Helpless sinners, people on a crash course with death (which is the wages of sin) seeking healing from Jesus.” That makes sense to me. “Jesus heals them with His Word.” Yes! That word, Jesus’ covenant-gospel, heals me also by naming me his beloved and forgiven son, and by ushering me into his righteous way of life, which is a life of thanksgiving.

Thanks for a meaningful sermon.

Blessings! TBR

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Well, thanks very much! I would only disagree with the word "metaphor." I do believe Jesus literally healed the lepers of their leprosy - but the leprosy is caused by sin. Jesus cured them physically, but the greater miracle is that he forgives their sins.

Thanks again, and blessings!