+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 17:17
Theme: All Were Cleansed
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The one leper who returned was a Samaritan. This was significant. Jesus’ reference to him as a ‘foreigner’ allows us to infer that the other nine were Jewish. Why had they not returned to thank Jesus? Was this not another example in the long history of the people of Judah and Jerusalem rejecting the prophets sent to them? Was it a preview of the coming renunciation of Him at His suffering and crucifixion? The consequences of such rejection are no different today. Christ says, “Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I will disown him before My Father in heaven.”1
Jesus’ habit of holding up Samaritans as good spiritual examples was insulting to the Jews. It probably seemed insensitive and unnecessary to many. But this served to make Jesus’ teaching all the more effective. The Jews could be called to repentance at the same time Gentiles were assured they too could be included in the kingdom. There is no ancestry, bloodline, class or status that either assures or prevents membership in the kingdom. The law condemns all. Grace opens heaven’s gates without prejudice.
All ten lepers were cleansed, but were all saved? They were healed in body, but were they restored in soul? Only God can judge. Part of spiritual wisdom is having the humility to “get the log out of our own eye”2, and the maturity to endorse God’s forgiveness to others. This is not easy. We live in community with other believers. Like us, they are sinners. Jesus explained that important petition in the Lord’s Prayer in this way, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”3 Can we condemn those whom Christ has forgiven? Can we enslave those whom Christ has freed? Can we snub those whom Christ has welcomed? Is our sense of justice and satisfaction more holy than God’s? Are our standards more rigorous than His? Can our need for revenge take higher priority than His declaration of absolution?
We are told today that the leper who retuned was made well by his faith4. Only he had the appropriate response to Jesus; humility, worship, thanksgiving. These are marks of the Holy Spirit’s activity. Faith is always a ‘receiver’ of God’s gifts. Faith is never a negotiating strategy. No one is owed anything from God because they have faith in Him. Faith itself is a gift from Him. And remember, our trust in God is not predicated on what benefits we think He can offer us- even if these are eternal blessings. Least of all can we bargain with God hoping to gain certain advantages after vowing specific acts of charity or obedience. We believe in God because His promises are true and Christ is truth. Everything is sorted out on that basis.
When things are going smoothly in life it’s easy to accept these propositions. When we’re healthy, happy and prosperous, free from crisis or trauma we readily tolerate the favour of God. When there is no opposition to our Christian belief or no conflict raised by living the same we might be quick to think God is rewarding our piety. Or we may wrongly assume life is naturally meant to be trouble-free and that our sanctification is facilitated effortlessly.
But, in fact, the reality is otherwise. Life is plagued with misery and we are often surprised with hardship or sorrow. God allows or even sends to us difficulties and sorrows? There is no way to gloss-over or excuse this truth. How then, can this be a basis for faith? How can we judge or measure God’s intentions? It’s unhelpful and dangerous to speculate beyond what the Scriptures reveal to us.
Evil often seems to come as a random succession of disparate events. An accident occurs, a job is lost, a crime is committed, a sickness is diagnosed- all in close proximity. Yet Satan always works to unite these in purpose and goal. He tries to wear us down. What the secular world may call a string of bad luck is in fact, a highly coordinated effort. But God is at work here too. The question is in what way? The specifics are beyond our perception. We can’t know the hidden mind of God. But the purpose is not in doubt. God persistently seeks to crucify our sinful nature, curb our self-centredness, conform us to Christ, and cultivate genuine thankfulness. Someone once said, “In adversity we usually want God to do a removing job when He wants to do an improving job. To realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the storm.”
Our focus is so often misplaced. We fret and worry about so many things. Is my faith strong enough? Am I good enough for God? Will my health ever be restored? Will my relationships ever be mended? Will I get through this grief? How do I measure up in the eyes of others? These are not unimportant concerns. But they are not resolved by any abilities that we have or can acquire. Remember the mustard seed. If what Christ has done isn’t true than none of that matters anyway. If Christ’s death was not an atonement for sins than all other concerns are trivial by comparison. The apostle Paul says it clearly, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”5
The question is not so much “What can God do for me?” But “Can you not see what God has already done!” His blessings are not haphazardly dispensed in some random or un-unified way. God is not reactive. He is neither like a primed emergency services authority poised to respond to the next disaster, nor like a harried Father scrambling to find ways to help His wayward or endangered children. He who creates and He who redeems and He who blesses and restores does so according to His unchanging nature revealed in Christ.
God doesn’t trail human history. He designs, authorizes, and executes it. Even Satan’s powers are in subjection. As such, existence flows from and returns to the source He designates. The love of God is on display on the cross. There exposed publicly for the world to witness is the deep and mysterious compassion of the Almighty. There His power is hidden in weakness and His authority is veiled in helplessness. There the heavenly and just wrath is absorbed by the sacrifice of the Messiah’s own blood. There Satan meets his doom. There the Son of God dies for the children of men. There life prevails; for lepers, thankful or ungrateful- for us.
And God is pleased through seemingly ordinary means to promise extraordinary things.
Your baptism isn’t a past or temporary event, but a present reality. It not only ties you into the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but makes you a participant in the eternal kingdom. Holy Communion is more a participation in a future feast than it is in a perishable meal whose vitality soon expires. The words of Scripture, the words of the Spirit, are not provisional human words, but the voice of God. These are all previews of things to come. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
10 October 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 10:32-33
2 See Matthew 7:5
3 Matthew 6:14-15
4 See Luke 17:19
5 1 Corinthians 15:17