Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 14 - 2017

17 September 2017

Text: Luke 17:11-19 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I have heard two people this week bring up a verse that isn’t in our text, but it is an important point that touches upon our text.  That verse is Luke 18:25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Most of us instinctively like this text, because we aren’t rich. It enables us to wag the finger at people we are envious of.  What’s there not to like about that?

But in fact, dear friends, we are rich.  All of us.  First of all, we live in the 21st century and in the First World.  We have luxuries that even kings did not enjoy a hundred years ago: air conditioning, refrigerators and freezers, televisions, cell phones, automobiles, the internet, and all sorts of social safety nets – so that even people who are considered poor in America are rich when compared to the rest of the world.

But we are also rich in a different way: spiritually.  For whether we believe it or not, whether we are Christians or not, we have the love of our Creator and the sacrificial death of the Son on the cross for us to pay for our sins.  Jesus died for all – including His enemies, including those who reject Him, including those who don’t believe their sins are sins at all.  And being recipients of this free offer of eternal life, we are rich beyond measure.

So instead of looking down our noses at those who have more money than we do, what we should be doing is thanking God for His superabundant mercy, for lavishing upon us the most valuable substances on the planet – more precious than all the diamonds of the world: the priceless handful of water used in our baptism, which when combined with the Word, makes us heirs with Jesus of our Heavenly Father.  And let us thank God for the richness of the precious body and blood of Christ, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins, a Eucharistic feast that brings us into eternal communion with Almighty God.  What price can be put on the Sacrament of the Altar?

What greater treasures could we have, dear brothers and sisters?

And in this context, the ten lepers who met our Lord between Samaria and Galilee, were likewise wealthy beyond measure.  For though they were afflicted beggars, they were crossing paths with Jesus.  They could have had the equivalent of billions of dollars, but still would have been poor because of the cursed leprosy that was rotting their skin away and drawing them down into the grave day by day.  But in Christ, they were rich!  For they were lavished with the mercy of the Creator in the flesh, who came to restore their flesh in their time of great need.  And He did just that!

For they were cleansed.  They were healed.  Or as it literally says in the Greek, they were saved.  They were purchased and redeemed by Christ Himself!  And so they are indeed made rich beyond measure.

But there is a biblical warning about riches, is there not?  For let us not forget the camel and the eye of the needle.  Being rich can be a spiritual stumblingblock.  What do we profit, dear friends, if we gain the world, but lose our souls?

In the richness of being healed by Jesus, nine of the ten fell into the trap of having great possessions interfering with the kingdom: in this case, the riches of a restored health.  Their focus was on the health, and not the Healer.  Their focus was on themselves and not the one who gave them their very selves back.  They had already forgotten the grace and mercy of God in order to go back to being self-centered and ungrateful.

Except for the Samaritan, the “foreigner,” as Jesus puts it.  

For he too is “rich” insofar as he has been saved and given the gift of life.  But unlike the nine, this Samaritan “turned back, praising God in a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”  He returned to Jesus to worship, to praise, to acknowledge the source of his riches: the Lord Jesus and His grace.

This gratitude, dear friends, is what makes camels capable of passing through the eye of the needle.  It is the humility to understand that health and wealth and all good things come to us from above, from Him by whom all things are possible – even camels squeezing through the eye of a needle.  That kind of humility acknowledges that we do not deserve our riches or our vigor, but that our very life itself, and all that we need to support this body and life, come from the Lord above, according to His mercy – not because we are worthy, but because He is merciful.

We return to Jesus, dear friends, not only because He gives us health and life and forgiveness and communion with God, but also to give Him thanks and praise.  For we know where our health and wealth come from.  And in many ways, we Christians are “foreigners” like the Samaritan that came back to praise God.

Like the children of Israel as they left Egypt, we are “strangers in a strange land,” and like the Samaritans, we are looked down upon and marginalized by a culture that revels in its ingratitude, a world in which we are encouraged to brag and take credit that that which we did not earn.  Let us not fall into the trap of the nine ingrates, dear friends, but rather let us follow the example of the Tenth Leper, returning frequently to the Lord in prayer, in praise, and in thanksgiving, coming to where He is, and in our gratitude, once more rising from our knees after being fed with the riches of His very self, just as He invites 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.

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