Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity - Lk 17:11-19


Trinity 14

Lk 17:11-19



          During last year, many of us came to know isolation in a way that we had not known it before.  The Covid lock downs that were implemented in the spring of 2020 were originally supposed to be brief – they were supposed to “flatten the curve.”  But instead, as we know, they dragged on for much longer.

          During that time, we were not able to gather together here at church for the Divine Service.  School was cancelled and students did not have the opportunity to be with each other.  Nursing homes and assisted living facilities were locked down so that family could not visit, and in some settings residents were essentially confined to their apartments.

Many people who have health conditions felt the need to be especially careful.  They lived in their homes and apartments, and limited interaction with the outside world to a bare minimum.  Families didn’t see each other for their normal visits.  Sometimes this was because both sides felt the need to maintain isolation – at other times it was because only one side felt this way.

The lock downs were aimed at maintaining public health.  But an unintended consequence of the lock downs was the impact they had on public mental health.  The isolation and loneliness led to a rise in depression.  This was tragically evident in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  What is surprising is that the group that reported that the highest experience of loneliness and isolation were older teens and young adults.

Last year’s lock down gives us a better understanding of what the ten lepers in our Gospel lesson experienced in their lives.  As I have mentioned in the past, when the Bible speaks of “leprosy,” we are never sure exactly what kind of condition it is describing.  It’s unlikely that this was the leprosy that we have known in the modern world. Instead, it was probably a whole range of skin diseases and conditions.

Whatever the exact physical condition, the impact on the individual was devastating.  Leprosy made a person ritually unclean according the Law of Moses. Contact with a leprous individual made that person ritually unclean as well, and a lengthy process was required to reverse this.  Lepers were not able to worship at the temple. Because they brought uncleanness to any whom they touched, lepers were not allowed to live in the normal settings of family and village.  Lepers were truly isolated and cut off from every day life.  The only company they had were other lepers – other individuals who were experiencing the same suffering. 

In our Gospel lesson we learn, “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers who stood at a distance 

and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Everything about this description fits with what we know about how lepers lived in the first century. Lepers couldn’t work a job to earn a living.  They were dependent on family, friends, and alms provided by strangers for their food and sustenance.  In order to receive these things, lepers stayed near villages, but of course, could not be in them.  Lepers had to cry out “Unclean, unclean” in order to warn away others. They couldn’t approach other people, and instead had to cry out to them from a distance.

          The ten lepers in our text stood off at a distance and cried out. They said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  In the Gospels we learn that the healing miracles of Jesus were a central feature of his ministry.  Reports about these miracles spread far and wide.  When the lepers became aware that Jesus was approaching the village that they lived near, they stood of at a distance and called upon him.   

Their cry was a remarkable example of faith. They said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The lepers called Jesus “master.”  In Luke’s Gospel, only the apostles use this term to address Jesus.  This tells us that they approached Jesus in true faith. 

And their plea was very simple: “Have mercy on us.”  This phrase means, “Help us!”  They approached Jesus.  They called him master in faith.  They pleaded for his help.  Their words acknowledged that they were totally dependent on him.  Their faith was comprised by two key factors. First, they believed that Jesus was willing to help them.  Second, they believed that Jesus had the power to help them.

Luke reports: “When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  The priests in Jerusalem were the ones who had the authority to declare a person clean – to authorize that a person no longer had to live as a leper. 

It is very important and pause to think about what is happening here. This is not like the event reported in the Gospel of Matthew in which a leper came to Jesus and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  On that occasion we learn that Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper, saying, “I will; be clean.” And then immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

Instead, in our text, Jesus tells ten men who are still lepers to go and show themselves to the priests.  The lepers started out on their way to Jerusalem because they believed Jesus’ word.  Nothing had actually happened yet. They still had leprosy.  Yet because Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priest, they obeyed his word. They trusted his word. They believed his word.

Next Luke tells us: “And as they went they were cleansed.”  The Greek grammar here is absolutely clear.  When they started out for Jerusalem, they were still lepers.  It was only as they were making the journey that they were healed.  Jesus’ word provided healing, but it did not do so immediately.  Instead, there were moments when the lepers had nothing more than Jesus’ word of promise.  Yet because they believed in Jesus, they trusted his word in the absence of immediate results.

The experience of the ten lepers in our text speaks very directly to what we often experience in our life.  There are times when we know God’s promises of love and care, but all that we can see are the problems, the challenges, and the hardships that are not going away.  When this is the case, we are faced with the temptation to doubt God. We are tempted to doubt God’s Word and wonder what good it does us.  We are tempted to get angry with God.

As we think about this experience, and how we react to it, we need to stop and pay careful attention to the first verse of our Gospel lesson. There Luke writes: “On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.”  This is one of a series of repeating statements in the Gospel of Luke, that are usually called “travel notices.”  They call our attention back to a key fact: Jesus is making his final trip to Jerusalem. 

In chapter nine we read, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Much of Luke’s Gospel takes place as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. On three different occasions, our Lord tells the disciples about what will happen when they get there.  Just before entering Jerusalem, Jesus said in the third of these, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”

Jesus Christ is journeying to Jerusalem for the final time.  There he will be taken up on the cross. On the night he was betrayed, our Lord said, “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.”  Jesus quoted Isaiah chapter 53 and applied it to himself. Though he was the sinless Son of God, Jesus died on the cross to fulfill these words: But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus died in order to win forgiveness for us.  But as he had said, on the third day he rose from the dead.  When the women went to the tomb early on Easter morning, the tomb was empty and the angels told them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And Jesus wasn’t only taken up as he hung on the cross.  The risen Lord was with the disciples for forty days, and then he was taken up as he ascended into heaven – as he was exalted to the right hand of God.

It is the risen and ascended Lord – the One who has all authority – who calls us to trust in his word.  In faith the lepers started out to Jerusalem when nothing yet had happened.  We can have faith in God’s promise of love and care in the mist of challenging circumstance because we already know what has happened.  We trust Jesus’ word because we know it is the word of the risen and ascended Lord who loved us so much that he died for our sins in order to give us forgiveness.

The lepers are a great example of faith.  When the opportunity presented itself and Jesus came to their village, they lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  Jesus still comes to us, and unlike the lepers we don’t have to stand off afar. 

Immediately after our text the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come.  Our Lord answered them: “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”  Jesus was telling them that he was the presence of the kingdom of God – the reign of God – in their midst.

The risen Lord is still the presence of God’s kingdom in our midst.  He speaks his Word to us in its different forms – all of which call us to trust and believe in him.  He does this in the word of Scripture as it is read and preached.  He does this through Holy Baptism and Absolution.  He does this through the Sacrament of the Altar as he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for you. Through this word the Spirit strengthens us in faith so that we can continue to believe and trust in the midst of all circumstances.

And lest I ignore the second half of our text, it is this word that also causes us to return praising God and giving thanks for the salvation he has given us in Christ.  We give thanks that because of Jesus we have forgiveness and eternal life.  We give thanks that because of Jesus, we know that we will share in his resurrection on the Last Day.     



















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