Sunday, September 10, 2023

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


Trinity 14

                                                                                       Lk 17:11-19



          In May Matthew and Abigail graduated from high school.  People were very generous in giving graduation gifts to them.  I was impressed because, of course, we are talking about two people.  If you give a gift to one, you are kind of committed to giving a gift to the other.   And two gifts do add up.

          Now not that we really needed to tell them … but just in case … Amy and I reminded the twins that they needed to write thank you notes.  They discovered that the act of writing out thank you notes for those gifts took some time. It involved some effort.  And that is the point.  A thank you means that we take the time and effort to acknowledge some good that another has done for us.

          In our Gospel lesson this morning we hear about a miracle Jesus performed as he healed ten lepers.  Surprisingly, only one returns to give thanks to Jesus.  In our text we learn about the nature of Christian faith.  We see how God works to increase our faith.  And we are reminded that our response to the forgiveness and salvation God has provided is one of thanksgiving.

          In the Gospel lesson we learn that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem as he traveled from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south.  Geography dictated that in order to make this trip it was necessary to pass through an area where Galilee and Samaria bordered one another.

          The Samaritans were not Jews. They were also not Gentiles. They descended from the people that the Assyrians had brought in to replace the population of the northern kingdom when they were taken into exile.  Over time, these people created their own type of Judaism.  They had their own version of the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Old Testament.  They had their own temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.

          The Samaritans were very similar to the Jews. But they were also certainly different, and this caused great tension between the groups. During the second century B.C. the Jews destroyed the temple on Mt Gerizim. The relationship descended into acrimony.  We see this in chapter nine of the Gospel.  When Jesus approaches a Samaritan village, it refuses to receive him because he is headed toward Jerusalem.

          In our text we learn that as Jesus was traveling between Galilee and Samaria he approached a village.  Ten lepers met him, stood off at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The term “leper” in the Bible describes a person who had some kind of skin condition that made the individual ritually unclean according to the Book of Leviticus.    

Touching a leper made a person unclean as well until the proper rituals were done to address this.  Lepers could not live in the village with other people.  They would live near a village so that family and friends could support them.  It’s not surprising that we find a group of lepers living together as they shared in the only community that was available to them.

The lepers approached Jesus while remaining separated from him at the necessary distance.  They had heard the news about Jesus and they believed in him.  They cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  The lepers addressed Jesus by name and called him “Master.”  In Luke’s Gospel, the only other people who use this term to address Jesus are his disciples. Their cry was “have mercy on us.”  This language meant “help us!” as they appealed to Jesus.

The lepers teach us about the nature of faith.  They have heard the word about Jesus.  They approach our Lord in bold expectation. They cry out to him in confidence that he will help them. They turn to him, not claiming any merit, but instead relying solely on Jesus.  They show us what confident trust in the Lord looks like.

They had come to Jesus in faith.  And then our Lord acted to increase their faith.  He acted to cause their faith to mature.  He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  The lepers had come to Jesus in faith.  Now he told them to go to Jerusalem and show themselves to the priests who could certify that a person was healed and clean.

Jesus told them to go.  Yet nothing had yet happened.  He sent them to see the priests while they were still afflicted with leprosy.  The Greek grammar makes this clear as it tells us, “And as they went they were cleansed.”

The lepers believed Jesus’ word.  Though they had not yet been healed, Jesus had told them to go and show themselves to the priests. So they began the journey. They travelled when there was not yet any healing – when there did not appear to be any reason to go see the priests.  Yet because they had Jesus’ word they went.

This is often how God deals with us.  We believe in Jesus.  We have his word of promise and love.  Yet we continue to experience health issues, or depression, or challenging circumstances in our life.  We encounter what seems to be the absence of God’s love and care.  This can cause us to waiver in doubt or even feel anger at God. 

However, God uses these circumstances to cause us to grow in faith.  They become the means by which he leads us to trust in him even more.  He prompts us to turn to Christ and his word alone.  We have nothing else except Christ, yet in Christ we have all that we need.  We cling to Christ’s word, and through that word the Spirit causes our faith to deepen and grow strong.

The lepers had called upon Jesus in faith.  They trusted his word as they went to see the priests though they were still leprous.  And then as they were going they were healed.  They had trusted Christ’s word, and it was Christ’s word that healed them in his time and his way.

We turn to Christ in confident faith because of what he has done for us.  We learn what he has done in the words with which this Gospel lessons begins: “On the way to Jerusalem.”  St. Luke has structured his Gospel so that the final journey to Jerusalem frames much of the material.  We are told in chapter 9, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Jesus is journeying to Jerusalem.  Repeatedly, our Lord told the disciples about what would happen when they arrived.  Just before entering the city Jesus said, “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 goes to Jerusalem as the fulfillment of what God had promised in the Old Testament through the prophets.  He goes because of our sins.  Jesus’ purpose was to be numbered with the transgressors.  He went to be numbered with us.  He went to take our place. He took our place in order to receive the judgment that should have been ours.  St Paul told the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Christ did this to reconcile us to God.  In our sin we were alienated from God.  We were cut off from him and could expect nothing but judgment. But by his death on the cross he has given us peace through the forgiveness of our sins.  Now we are again able to live as God’s children.  Paul said, All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

Our sin brought death to Christ.  But Christ submitted to death in order to pass through it and defeat it.  As he had predicted, on the third day God did raise him from the dead.  We now believe and worship the risen Lord.  And he has not only has risen. Luke describes the goal of his journey has his being “taken up.”  Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus was exalted as he ascended into heaven and was seated at God’s right hand.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our confidence and strength. Because we know that God has acted in his Son to save us we are able to believe and trust in our heavenly Father no matter what may be happening.  We walk by faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This is the great answer God has provided that carries us through the challenges we face.  We have seen God act in the midst of suffering to save us, and so we can trust that God is present and at work even in the midst of our suffering and hardship. We do because God raised Jesus from the dead.

As they went, the lepers were cleansed.  We learn that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  He fell at our Lord’s feet giving him thanks.  Luke then adds the surprising piece of information: “Now he was a Samaritan.”

          Christ noted the circumstances as he said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then our Lord said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

          Of the nine men healed only one returned to give thanks. And the surprise is that he was a Samaritan.  The lone Samaritan teaches us about how faith responds.  It responds with praise and thanksgiving to God.  We do this first and foremost because of the forgiveness and salvation that God has given us in Jesus Christ.  We give thanks to God because in his grace and mercy he has acted to give us life with him. 

But our thanksgiving does not end there.  God is the One who provides us with every blessing in life.  He has given us our life and our family.  He gives us all that we need to support this existence, and so much beyond that.  He has given us a peaceful land and the freedom to worship him. We need to pause and take account of these blessings.  We need to respond with thanksgiving to God for these many gifts.

The ten lepers in our text teach us that faith calls upon God with confident expectation. Our heavenly Father often prompts that faith to grow and mature as we are called to believe in him in the midst of challenging circumstances.  Yet we are able to trust because of what we have seen God do in the death and resurrection of Jesus.  As his forgiven children, we give thanks for the salvation he has provided, and we respond with praise for the many blessings he has given us in this life. 






Sunday, September 3, 2023

Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity - Gal 3:15-22


Trinity 13

                                                                                      Gal 3:15-22



          Paul hasn’t told you the whole story. He is holding back and misleading you.  Should we be surprised?  After all, he is not one of the apostles chosen by the Lord during his ministry.  He wasn’t there when Jesus rose from the dead.  Instead, he is someone who persecuted the Church of God.  He can’t be trusted.   

Yes, you need to believe in our Lord Jesus. He has that part right.  But if you Gentiles want to be part of God’s people, you must do what the Scriptures say.  You must obey the Law.  You must do what God’s people have always done.

          For starters you men must be circumcised.  You must receive the sign of the covenant, just as Abraham did.  Apart from this you can’t be part of God’s people.  You must do the law.

          You also need to observe the days and festivals commanded by the law that God gave to Moses.  And while you are at it, you need to keep the food laws.  No more bacon and sausage and bratwurst.  God’s people can’t eat these things. This food is unclean and forbidden by God.

          This is the message that Paul’s opponents brought to Galatia.  Paul had evangelized the Galatians during his first missionary journey.  However, at some point after this, others came to Galatia with a different message.  It wasn’t a complete denial of what Paul had said. Faith in the crucified and risen Lord was still central.  But the opponents told the Galatians that Paul did not have things right.  Salvation came from the Jews.  And if the Gentiles in Galatia wanted to be part of God’s people then they needed to live like Jews.  They needed to do key parts of the Law, beginning with circumcision.

          Paul was infuriated by this.  He knew that it was a denial of the Gospel itself as the opponents added doing of the law to the reason a person was saved.  Rather than opening his letter with the usual statement of thanksgiving, he jumped right in by saying: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

          In this section of the letter, Paul is contrasting the promise and the law.  God’s promise is received by faith. The law, on the other hand, is about doing.  Paul’s point is that God’s salvation has always been based on the promise and faith. Earlier in this chapter he wrote, “just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’? Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”

          When God first called Abraham, he promised him, “In you all nations will be blessed.”  Many years had passed.  Sarah was far too old to have children anymore.  Yet when he pointed this out, God reaffirmed that he would give Abraham his own child as an heir.  We learn that Abraham believed God’s promise and that God counted him as righteous.  He considered him to have a righteous standing because of faith in God and his promise.  Paul added, “So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

          In our text, Paul says that salvation has always been about faith in the promise.  This couldn’t be changed. To illustrate this, Paul uses the example of a manmade covenant.  No one annuls it or changes it once it has been ratified.  It remains set and in place.   In the same way, the Law given to Moses had not changed or annulled the promise.  Paul writes, “This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.  For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.”

          God had given the promise that in Abraham all nations would be blessed. Yet in our text Paul clarifies that this promise had not been spoken to Abraham alone.  God had repeated the promise by saying it would be fulfilled in Abraham’s seed – in his offspring.  Paul explains, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”  God’s promise about the One in whom all nations would be blessed has been fulfilled in Jesus.

          Salvation was always going to be based on faith in the promise.  Yet God had given the Law to Moses. So in our text Paul asks the obvious question, “Why then the law?” The apostle explains, “It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made.”  The law of Moses was given because of transgressions.  It was given to make transgressions known – to make sin known.

          This might make us wonder about the relationship between the law and promise.  As Paul asks, Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?”  His answer is, “Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.”

          The law and the promise are not competing ways to have a righteous standing before God.  They cannot be, and Paul tells us why in our text.  He says, “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”  God’s Word has revealed our sinful condition.  It has made known the ways that sin has twisted and perverted us. It has revealed the depths to which sin has affected us – something we could not perceive on our own.

          The problem is not the law.  Instead, we are the problem.  The law is about doing and if you can do it then everything is fine.  Paul says, “But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”  The reason the law can’t bring life is because as sinners we fail to do it in thought, word, and deed.  And when you break the law it brings God’s judgment.  It brings God’s curse. As sinners the way of doing – the way of the law – can only bring curse.  The apostle tells us, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”

          For sinners, doing the law cannot be a means by which we can have a righteous standing before God. Left to our works, we would receive nothing except God’s curse.  And that is why God acted to save us.  He sent his Son into the world to redeem us. Paul says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,

to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

          God acted to redeem us – to free us from slavery to the curse.  He did it through the cross.  Paul says in this chapter, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”  When Jesus Christ was lifted upon the cross he was cursed by God in our place.  He received what should have been ours as he died on the tree.

          Yet the curse was not the end. On Easter God raised Jesus from the dead. He vindicated Christ as the One who redeemed us from the curse.  He began in Christ the new life that will be ours when the risen Lord returns on the Last Day.

          Now we live by faith in the crucified and risen Lord.  We live by faith in the promise – the promise fulfilled in Christ the offspring of Abrham. We who live by faith are blessed along with faithful Abraham.

          We are justified before God by faith in Christ.  And now it is through Christ that we are the descendants of Abraham – we are part of God’s people.  Just after our text Paul says, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”  You are in Christ.  You have been joined to him.  You are because you have been baptized into Christ.

          The apostle tells us, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Jesus Christ was Abraham’s offspring.  You have been baptized into Christ and so now through Christ you are also Abraham’s offspring.  It does not matter that you are a Gentile who has no right to make this claim.  Through baptism into Christ it is now true for you.

          In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul emphasizes that salvation is not by works.  He shows us that the way of works can never make us righteous before God.  Instead it brings the curse of the law. 

          Yet when we are living by faith as the baptized who are in Christ, things change. Faith makes us busy in doing works.  Paul says in chapter 5, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”  Faith trusts and believes God’s promise fulfilled in Christ. And because it does faith then becomes active in doing.  The apostle goes on to say, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

          This doing is focused on the needs of my neighbor.  Paul says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  So consider: What can you do for your spouse, your parent, your friend, or co-worker?  How can you support and assist others around you?  God has loved you in Christ, how can you share this love to meet the needs of the people in your life?  God doesn’t need you works.  You don’t need your works to be justified before God.  But your neighbor does need them, and God has made you a new creation in Christ Jesus.  He has placed you in the lives of others as the instrument of his love and care.

          Paul’s opponents had it all wrong. They had lost the Gospel.  Doing of the law can never be part of the reason we are forgiven.  We are sinners who fail to do the law, and this failure brings God’s curse.  But God has acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He has redeemed us from the curse of the law, and made us the sons and daughters of God in Christ, through faith. Now this faith worked by the Spirit acts in love towards others.