Trinity 14 2013

Trinity 14
September 1, 2013 A+D
St. Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Michael N. Frese

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The worst thing about being a leper isn’t the disease itself. It isn’t that your flesh develops boils and scabs, that it turns the skin and hair white or yellow, that swollen flesh appears raw, that the pain penetrates deep into your muscles and bones. To be sure, it’s a horribly painful disease, but that’s not the worst part. It’s one thing to be in agony at home being taken care of by family members, doctors, or nurses. It’s another thing altogether to be in torments of body and mind all by yourself—alienated.

The worst thing about being a leper is that you are an outcast, excommunicated from your family, friends, community, and the life and worship of Israel. Leprosy is highly contagious and the community doesn’t want what you have. God’s Old Testament law commanded that lepers be cast out. According to the law of Moses, if a priest determined that a man was a leper, his duty was to pronounce him officially unclean. His clothes and possessions shall be burned. All his days, he shall be unclean, and he shall dwell alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp” (Lev. 13:45-47). He is now an outcast, cut off from friends and family, cut off from the holy people of Israel; and worst of all, He is cut off from the temple, cut off from the priests and the sacrifices, cut off from the holy things.

Leprosy is an icon of sin. Sin is spiritual leprosy. Sin is more than just disobeying God’s law by your thoughts, words, or deeds. It is infectious, debilitating, and the pain goes below the skin to the heart. It is highly contagious and the community doesn’t want what you have. You excommunicate yourself by your sin. Leprosy changes you and makes you hideous. Likewise, sin changes a person and makes him ugly, sometimes physically as a result of harmful and abusive practices, but always emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Likewise, sin is not just something on the surface of the human soul. Since Adam and Eve sinned, sin is something that corrupts and clings to us in body and soul and cannot be removed by soap or pious thoughts. Eve saw the fruit and thought that it would be good for her, capable of making her wise. She was already duped. Temptations work the moment we are blinded to God’s command; the moment we actually think the sin will be good for us in some way, bring us happiness, (or a least a moment’s pleasure), or somehow make us better for it.

Leprosy’s curse was that it made one an outcast. Sin’s curse is that it also makes you an outcast, cut off from the heavenly temple, estranged from other people, and alienated from God. Sin is a spiritual leprosy. The devil, the world, and our sinful nature are masters of alienation. There is nothing Satan or the world love better than to alienate. Even with a pretense of community, sin makes people feel lonelier and less understood than ever. In the world of cell phones in every pocket, Facebook 24/7, and email at your fingertips, more marriages, friendships, and families are colder than ever. (Is it possible that although surrounded by people and communication, we are lonelier today because of our sin?). St. Paul diagnoses adultery, fornication, lewdness, hatred, contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, envy, drunkenness, and others as the sinful leprosy of your life. Sin can take everything you have from you. It can separate you from your family, friends, and even your church. Left to your sinful devices, you can alienate everyone and everything in your life. It’s that serious.

For sinners, the only remedy is that of the ten lepers. They recognized what they were—unholy, sick, diseased, alone. They recognized where their only help could come from. The lepers, even from far away, lifted up their voices and cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” This is the cry of repentance—namely recognition and faith. This is the cry from total helplessness. This is the cry that springs from faith in Jesus. It is the essence of all Christian prayer. That’s why it was one of the first pieces in the historic Divine Service liturgy. Every Sunday we sinful lepers cry out, “Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.” In the prayer of the church (modeled after the historic litany prayers), you respond to the petitions with your plea, “Lord, have mercy!” In the Agnus Dei right before the Eucharist you sing, “O Christ thou Lamb of God…have mercy upon us.” In the Post-communion collect we beseech God’s mercy for strength in faith and love. Jesus’ mercy is the beginning of your healing. He recognized your situation and passed your way, not leaving you alone.

Jesus heard the cry of the lepers and healed them. He healed them by His Word and command. He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” and as they went, they were cleansed. Jesus says, “Go,” and in their very “go”-ing, they are healed. God works in this way. He gives a command—either an action or a physical element—and he attaches his divine, miraculous power to it.

This is how He still works today. In Holy Baptism he doesn’t say, “Go,” but rather, “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). And in the act of baptizing, you are saved. In the Lord’s Supper he doesn’t say, “Go,” but rather, “This do,” and in this “doing,” the bread and cup which we bless become the body and blood of the Lord for your salvation. Here His miraculous Word makes washing, eating and drinking divine. Jesus heard the cry of the lepers and he healed them; He hears your cries (no matter how alone you are) and heals your sin—by Word, Water, and Supper.

Go, show yourselves to the priests,” the Lord says. For leprous outcasts, excommunicated from the temple worship and the priests, this is none other than an absolution, a reconciliation. “You have been accepted back into Israel, go be part of God’s people once again.” He sends them to the priests (Lev. 14). The Law required that sacrifice must be made, that the healed leper must be washed, that he must be anointed with blood and oil that he be clothed with clean clothes. This was a mystery, pointing to the fact, that sacrifice and blood was necessary for your cleansing also. It was a mystery pointing forward to the time when you would be accepted into the New Israel, the worshiping community of the Lamb of God sacrificed for you—washed and clothed in Christ.

One leper returns recognizing Jesus as the true Priest. This one leper recognizes the hidden divinity. This Priest, Jesus, is God. That’s why the Gospel says, “He returned and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.” To whom did he give thanks? He gave thanks to God, to the Messiah, to the healer of his and your leprous-sin

Jesus’ command is for you. Go to your High Priest. Go to the temple of His body. Cry out, “Lord, have mercy.” Receive the healing the True Priest has earned for you by His one sufficient death on the cross. Fall on your faces before Him. He is present in His Church in bread and wine in water and Word for the forgiveness of your sins—even the heinous, ugly ones. Return to Him who has mercy on you. Glorify him with a loud voice in your songs, give thanks to him in your prayers. Join your voices with those of the new Israel, all Christians, for you have been cleansed, reconciled, and welcomed back into the community, outcasts no longer.

In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana

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