Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve (Luke 17:11-19)

“Rise, and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Thanksgiving Eve/celebration is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from Luke chapter seventeen. Dear friends in Christ, it is amazing how our liturgy brings Scripture to us! Every Sunday morning, directly after the Confession and Absolution and the Introit, after we have entered into God’s presence by having our sins forgiven, we come to a part of the service called the Kyrie. Now, the form of the Kyrie differs from service to service in our hymnals, but what is always included is the cry of the congregation, ‘Lord have mercy!’ The reason it is called the ‘Kyrie’ is because the Greek words ‘kyrie eleeson’ are translated ‘Lord have mercy.’ Does this phrase sound familiar? Of course it does, we heard it in our text for today: “On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] 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 upon us!” These ten lepers were calling out, ‘kyrie eleeson,’ Lord, have mercy! When we speak or sing the words of the Kyrie, we are joining with all others throughout history who have called on Jesus to show mercy.

We need this mercy, because we are afflicted with many sicknesses and diseases in this life. Life lived in fallen bodies, corrupted by the affects of the Fall into sin, is difficult and often filled with troubles, as the lepers in our text found out. These lepers had reason to cry out for mercy- they were afflicted with a disease that had no cure, a disease that was highly contagious, and so they were separated from their families and their people. We do not have to think very hard to make a connection to those lepers- we all have been or are being afflicted with many sicknesses and diseases. Whether it is simply the cold or flu, or something like cancer or heart disease, we all have experienced the fact that our bodies are fallen, we see the effects of sin in our own physical bodies. We need healing, we need deliverance, we need mercy!

But our physical weaknesses and infirmities are only part of the corruption of sin, in fact, they are very minor in comparison to the sickness that afflicts us all- sin. Ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, sin has been a disease that has been passed on from each generation to the next. It is a part of our very being, it is in our DNA, so to speak. From the very moment of conception, we are filled with sin, and there is nothing that we as humans can do about it. It clings to our flesh like leprosy, it corrupts us to our very core. And that is only the sin that is passed down from our parents. We actively add to that corruption each and every day, we help to spread the disease of sin to others through our words and actions. The sin that has filled us since conception continues to spawn new sin in our lives, we can’t help but sin, it is part of our very nature. As much as we try, we cannot rid ourselves from sin, but instead we live in rebellion against God.

This corruption of our fallen bodies and souls, which brings us physical diseases and sins upon sins, makes us unclean. The ten lepers stood “at a distance” not to be courteous, or because they were afraid of passing leprosy on to Jesus and His disciples, but because they were judged unclean according to God’s Law. The Old Testament contains an elaborate system of clean and unclean, a system that was carried into Jesus’ day. The people of Israel were to be pure and holy, they were to be ‘clean’ before God. There were many things that could make a person ‘unclean’ before God, including disease or the food that one ate. A person who was unclean could make others unclean, and so unclean people were banished from the camp until they could once again be made clean. But the lepers in our text had no hope of ever becoming clean, they were banished to live a life in exile together, they were unworthy to be with God’s people, much less with God. Like those lepers, our own sin defiles us, it makes us unclean. Our corrupted flesh, our sinful thoughts and actions, all make us unclean and unworthy to stand before God. We need mercy, because we are unclean, and with our sin clinging to our flesh, we have no hope of being with God or His people.

“When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” The ten lepers needed mercy, and they called upon the only one that could make them clean, who could show them mercy. Jesus Christ became man for the very reason of making clean what had become unclean by sin. God’s beautiful creation had been corrupted by sin, it had become unclean and unworthy to stand before the God who had given it life. But in the person of Jesus Christ, God cleansed all of creation, Christ was His agent of cleansing for a world that was filthy and unclean. Our text begins like this: “On the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem, to the very place where His ultimate act of cleansing would take place. On this journey, He took up our sins and diseases, He took all that made us unclean upon His perfect shoulders and He carried them to Jerusalem. Each time that He healed someone, He was making another part of creation clean, but the greatest cleansing was yet to come. For when He entered Jerusalem, He entered to shed His blood, He entered to take our sins and diseases to the cross and there to die for them. On the road, He cleansed ten lepers, but on Calvary’s cross, His shed blood cleansed you, me, and all of humanity, indeed, all of creation. Everything was cleansed by His blood, it covered up every sin, every corruption, every disease, and every source of uncleanliness that filled our fallen bodies and souls. Red blood made us white and clean on that Good Friday, and not only us, but all of creation.
This cleansing then came to you and me in water. We call Baptism the washing of water with the Word precisely because it is in that water that we are cleansed. Just as water removes dirt from the body, so water applied “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” removes sin and all that made us unclean. Christ’s blood shed on Calvary then makes us clean and white, so that we can stand before God forever.

In our text, Jesus told the ten lepers to “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They were to go to the location of God’s presence, the temple in Jerusalem, to be declared clean, to become part of the community once again. But before they had even made it there, they were cleansed. Nine men continued on to the temple to declare their cleansing. One man, however, turned back. “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” This man, who Jesus describes simply as a ‘foreigner,’ saw something that the other nine did not. He realized that the focus of God’s presence was no longer in the temple in Jerusalem, but instead it was centered in this man who was more than a man, Jesus Christ. He saw with the eyes of faith that Jesus truly was who He said He was, God in the flesh, the Messiah come to save. When Jesus was born, the temple became obsolete- God’s presence was in Jesus Christ, and would remain there for all eternity. Wherever Jesus is, there we have God’s presence, and God is present to save, He is present to cleanse. Jesus continues to clean us each and every time that we make our robes filthy again in sin, He is acting to cleanse our every stain. He does this through the words of forgiveness spoken by a pastor or other Christians, and through the feast of His Body and Blood. But this is only a foretaste of what is to come, for when Jesus Christ returns in glory, He will truly and ultimately cleanse all of creation, He will make everything new and clean, we will stand before God with the white robes. Our sicknesses and diseases remain with us in this world, but on that day, he will wash them all away.

When we realize this, when we see with eyes of faith that God’s presence is located in Jesus Christ, we respond as the Samaritan did: “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” When we praise God, we are lifting Him up before the world as someone worthy to be praised for what He has done, namely because He sent His only begotten Son to bear our sin and be our Savior. When we fall on our faces and worship Christ, we acknowledge that He truly is God, that He deserves our worship and adoration. When we have been cleansed by Christ, when He has shed His blood on our behalf, what else can we do but give thanks to Him? Our thanksgiving does not bring us cleansing, it does not bring us Christ’s gifts, but instead is simply a response to the great things He has done for us. Each of these three responses is also a confession- we are confessing that God’s gracious presence is in Christ, we are confessing before all the world that the cleansing we all need only comes through Christ and His shed blood. When we give thanks, we are acknowledging, as the Samaritan leper did, that Christ has cleansed us.

And so as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we look toward all the gifts that God has given to us. He has given us families and friends, food and shelter, and a free country to live in. These are all wonderful gifts, gifts that it is proper to give thanks for. In our gradual today, we said: “The eyes of all look to You, [O LORD,] and You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” However, we do not stop there- God has given us even greater gifts. Through Christ, we have been cleansed from all our sins, we have the promise that someday our corrupted, diseased bodies will be renewed and raised to live before God forever. That is the gift that we ultimately give thanks for on this day and every day. May the Lord continue to shower gifts of both body and soul upon you, and may He deliver to you His greatest gift, the gift of cleansing, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of living before Him forever, Amen.

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