Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sermon: Trinity 14 – 2011

25 September 2011 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

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

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In our fallen world, the word “flesh” means “rotting meat.” In the Scriptures, the word flesh is described by St. Paul when he recounts the “desires of the flesh” which are “against the Spirit.” The “works of the flesh are evident,” St. Paul preaches to us, and they are: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”

In other words, our flesh is sinful. God did not create our flesh to be this way, but we have made it this way, dear friends, dear fellow sinners, dear brothers and sisters headed for the grave.

“For the wages of sin is death.” Rotting meat.

The disease called “leprosy” is mentioned quite often in both Old and New Testaments. Leprosy causes one’s flesh to die and rot while still attached to the body. It is a horrifying disease. It causes disfiguration and fear. It causes its victims to be put in colonies where they are considered “unclean.” It is a living death.

But the flesh was not always corrupted with sin, disease, and death. Our flesh was created perfect and clean by our perfect and clean Creator. It is only our sin that makes the flesh what it is to us.

The author of the Proverbs, likely the ancestor of Jesus, King Solomon, wrote: “Be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.”

Dear friends, God’s Word is the cure to the disease! The Word of God is the antidote to death that brings life! The Word Made Flesh is indeed “healing to [our] flesh!” “Be attentive” to the healing Word, dear brothers and sisters! “Incline your ear” to the Word, dear friends!

Jesus rolls back the curse that made our flesh rotting meat. Jesus defeats the father of lies who desires nothing more than the corruption of our flesh even unto death. Jesus confronts the sin-rotting flesh that sticks to us like leprous tissue, and He replaces it with living flesh that sticks to Jesus for all eternity! And He does this by means of His Word preached and His Word given in the Sacraments.

“For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.”

Our blessed Lord proved this in His encounter with the Ten Lepers. They knew they were leprous, that their flesh was as good as dead, that they were unclean, and that their dying flesh would one day kill them. And they pleaded with Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And we pray with them: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

Our Lord Jesus cures them with His will and His Word. Jesus, God made flesh, restores their flesh to what God created it to be: cleansed, wholesome, a protector of life instead of a bringer of death. He commanded them to go and be declared clean by the priests. “And as they went, they were cleansed.” They saw in their flesh the result of Christ’s healing Word. The Ten were instantly and completely cured – by the Word of the Word Made Flesh.

Dear friends, this is a beautiful picture of God’s kingdom. We poor miserable sinners join the church of every time and place to plead: “Lord, have mercy!” And by means of His Word, spoken by His ministers, declared to His holy people: our leprous flesh is restored as Jesus removes our sins and the ugly results of them. He takes away our shame and reproach, makes us whole, and gives us life.

No more rotting meat!

Instead, by the Lord’s grace and mercy, by the Spirit’s regenerating power, in the place of dying leprous flesh we see in us a living work in progress, “the fruit of the Spirit” that is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” For as the apostle reminds us: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

By virtue of His crucified flesh, by His passion, and by His desire, He calls us to repent, puts to death our Old Flesh by drowning us in baptismal waters, from which we emerge cleansed and reborn, with fleshly bodies that will rise again on the last day, never more to suffer, never more to die.

This is why we Christians are a thankful people. We do not come to worship to prove to God how holy we are; we know better. We do not come to earn points toward our salvation; we cannot do anything of the sort. We do not come to congratulate ourselves; we know we are leprous and dying and in urgent need of the healing Word of God.

But rather, dear friends, we come like the Tenth Leper. We come in our fleshly mortality seeking God’s mercy and the healing Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we receive it! And like the Tenth Leper, it is our joy to “turn back” again and again to the house of the Lord, “praising God with a loud voice.” It is our privilege to run here week after week, to fall on our faces before Jesus “giving Him thanks.”

We thank Him for calling us out of death to life. We thank Him for His grace. We thank Him for the gift of faith. We thank Him for His Word and Sacraments. We thank Him for taking away our sinful flesh, our guilt, our reproach, our shame, and our mortality. We thank Him for the “fruit of the Spirit,” for justifying us, making us saints, giving us a new heart and a new life, for giving us life in eternity even as He has won it by His own death in time. We thank Him that we have a new flesh to look forward to: a flesh resurrected by the One to whom we cry out for mercy, the One who has mercy, who heals and restores, and who breathes new life into us. In fact, our whole lives are a thanksgiving – every hour of every day: for we are lepers no more, dear brothers and sisters! We are cleansed!

In gratitude and humility, we bow and kneel, we fold our hands, we remind ourselves of the sign of His cross, we lower our heads and close our eyes in prayer. We fall to our knees to take His flesh and His blood to restore our flesh and our blood.

We thank Him that He speaks life-giving Words to us as we bow and kneel before Him. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Savior, the Word Made Flesh, has uttered no sweeter words to our flesh than these:

“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.

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