Preached: October 17, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit brings us to praise our Savior is Luke 17.
And it happened that in traveling to Jerusalem he was going between the borders of Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a town, ten lepers, who stood far off, greeted him, and they raised their voice, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Taking notice, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And it happed that as they went they were healed.
One of them, seeing that he was healed, returned glorifying God with a loud voice and fell on his face at his feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan.
Jesus responded and said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the other nine? Were none found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?" He said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has saved you."(Luke 17:11-19)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Psalm 50:15. “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me" (Psalm 50:15 NIV). That’s one of the core passages that I want the Catechism students to memorize each year. Maybe you still remember it from your confirmation days. The King James translated it: “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 50:15 KJV).
That passage summarizes what we see happening in the text today. The lepers call on Jesus in their day of trouble. He delivers them. And one of them glorifies and honors him. For you see, dear fellow believer in Christ, faith glorifies our merciful Lord. May the Holy Spirit strengthen your faith today to glorify your merciful Lord. For you see, like those lepers, we glorify him with our pleas for mercy. And like that one Samaritan, we glorify him with our public thanks. Faith glories our merciful Lord.
How horrible leprosy was! Parts of the body decayed away even as the victim lived on. But leprosy also destroyed a person socially. To keep it from infecting others, lepers could no longer live with their families or visit their friends. Cut off from others, even Jewish and Samaritan lepers would set aside their national differences just to have each others company. They lived exiled in their own colonies, not allowed to come close to the healthy. That’s why they stand far off when they call out to Jesus. There was no cure for the disease, only a lingering, hopeless existence as an outcast.
But here comes Jesus. Could he help? They cry out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" (Luke 17:13 NIV). ἐλέησον (Eleison)! Have mercy!
Do you see the beginnings of faith there? Why call out to Jesus if they did not think he could help? Why call out if they did not believe he was merciful? Faith glorifies our Lord with pleas for mercy.
Let’s think about their plea. The Greek word is ἐλέησον (eleison), meaning “have mercy, have pity." Christians have called out those words in our liturgy for a millennium and a half. How many times haven’t you sung: “Lord, have mercy on us," “Kyrie eleison"? Have you thought about those words?
I think their meaning is often lost on us. We parrot them but not with the same attitude as those ten lepers. For you see, we live in an age that expects others to help. It’s our entitlement. Oh yes, if you can make it through life without needing help that’s best. But if you do need it, society owes it to you. It’s your right. For example, throughout history the government has taken money to run its country. We call that taxes. But now many expect the government to give them money if they need it. It’s their entitlement, their security.
Or maybe think about that controversy in Tennessee. A fire department let a house burn down because it was outside the city limits and the owner had not paid the annual fee required to have fire coverage out there. We might argue that the fire department had an ethical obligation to help. But did the owner have a right to expect it, as if they owed it to him? Of course, not.
As children of our age, we fall into that kind of attitude. We don’t want to feel needy. So we don’t ask for help. But if we do need help, we convince ourselves that society owes it to us. “Someone better off than me ought to take care of it.” And how often doesn’t that feeling overflow into our spiritual life so that we feel that God owes us a fair deal as well?
But the cry ἐλέησον “have mercy on me” says the opposite. “I have nothing to offer. You don’t owe me a thing. But look at my wretched condition. Have compassion. Pity me, miserable creature that I am. See how much I need your help. Show me your mercy. Rescue me! Deliver me! Lord, have mercy on me. Kyrie eleison."
Those are humbling words that lay our soul bare before Jesus. It does not hide behind complaints as if we deserve better. It does not claim to be owed anything. But like those lepers, we call out to him in our helplessness. Outcasts. Hopeless, if left to ourselves. Don’t imagine you can make it on your own. Don’t imagine that you are owed the help you need. Rather call out like the lepers did. Lord, have mercy. Kyrie eleison.
For you, too, know that Jesus is able to help. No matter what you face: the spiritual leprosy of sin eating away at your conscience, the attacks of Satan, the hurt you can’t express in words, the loneliness of this life, the futility of this rat race, the deep pain those closest to you inflict, the doubt that attacks your faith, the struggles of facing a dismal day, the failings of your body -- Jesus is greater than all. For he is your God. He owes you nothing, but his mercy is greater than all your needs combined.
Call on him in faith knowing how much he wants to help you. For look, he left the glory of heaven and came to this earth as a helpless baby without even a proper bed. He carried your sins and endured their curse. He died for you. What wondrous love is this! Such mercy! And since not even death could hold him down, do you think anything can stop him from delivering you now that he reigns over all with the power of God’s right hand?
So call upon him in the day of trouble. Your plea for mercy glorifies him. No matter how far away you might feel, call out to him as those lepers did. Don’t think you can make it on your own through life any more than those lepers could have cured themselves. “Call upon me in the day of trouble,” he says. Such words for you! Don’t dishonor him by imagining you don’t really need his help. Don’t dishonor him by thinking he owes you. Rather faith glorifies him with our plea for mercy. Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
And how did Jesus answer? “Go, show yourselves to the priests" (Luke 17:14 NIV), he said to the lepers. The priests were in charge of determining if someone had leprosy or not. The only reason for these ten to go to the priests would be if they were cured.
Do you hear Jesus’ promise implied in that command? Strengthened by that promise, their faith acts. They go, before the healing takes place. They trust Jesus. And on the way, they are healed.
So also, Jesus’ words of promise heal us. That’s how he answers our plea for mercy. But how do we respond to his life-giving message that heals our sin-sick souls? How do we respond to the Gospel, those glad tidings that brings us the joy of forgiveness and peace with God? Do we respond like the nine or like the one?
Now there are many ways we express are thanks to God. In our prayers, in our giving, in the words we speak to others, by the way we live our day-to-day lives, as we carry out our roles in life, and more. But notice how this Samaritan did it. He returned to Jesus even though the majority didn’t. He throw himself at Jesus’ feet, praising God in a loud voice. He did this in public where others could see how important Jesus was to him.
Where do we publicly meet with Jesus today? He comes to us through his word and Sacraments. Although we can privately meet him as we study his word at home, here in church is where his word is publicly proclaimed. Here is where the Sacraments are given. Here is where we come to praise our God in a loud voice. For here we publicly give him thanks.
So we gather here for Bible class and for the divine service. Jesus comes to us through his Word and Sacrament. We fall before him in gratitude as we take to heart his message. We praise him in speech and song as we raise our voices to proclaim the great things he has done. Faith glorifies our Lord with our public thanks.
Do you think about that as you plan your Sunday morning? Why do you come to church? Yes, it’s to be fed with God’s word. Yes, it’s to be assured of forgiveness. We want to be guided and encouraged in our Christian living. We want to encourage one another by our presence. But that’s not all. Even if the sermon was rather monotonous, even if you didn’t learn anything new, even if it didn’t seem all that exciting or inspiring, and even if others didn’t appear encouraged by your presence, nonetheless, your coming publicly shows how important your Savior is. It publicly thanks him week after week. Think about that as you participate in the hymns and liturgy. You are here to thank your Savior. Raise your voice. Even if you can’t sing well. Raise your voice. We’re not here for a concert, but to thank our Savior in public. We’re not afraid to raise our voice at a game. How much more so here as we praise our God! Thank him not only in your hearts but out loud.
Only a minority of Americans go to church. Far fewer attend Bible class. It’s easy to rationalize to ourselves: “So many people seldom if ever come, so what’s so bad about me missing once in a while?" Nine out of ten did not go back to publicly thank Jesus. Maybe they figured they could do it later on or in the privacy of their own prayers or next week. But that did not make the majority right.
“Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 50:15 KJV). Maybe as a Samaritan, that one leper realized just how undeserving he was, and thought, “How amazing that Jesus even healed me!” He couldn’t keep such thanks private.This goes back to what we talked about earlier. If we imagine that God owes us deliverance, we only feel a shallow thankfulness. But as we grow to see just how undeserving we are and that he owes us nothing good, how amazing that he saves a wretch like me. How could we stop our faith from glorify him with our pleas for mercy and with our public thanks?
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.