10/10/2022 10:16:11 AM
Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, October 9, 2022
Dear Friends in Christ, At the end of his Gospel, the Apostle John tells us what we have recorded in the Bible is really only a smattering of everything Jesus did while he walked among us, including his miracles. However, of the many miracles God has preserved for us in the Gospels, it is probably safe to assume the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers would rank among those best known.
Because it is a familiar story for many of us, it would not be surprising if you have already formed an idea in your mind on where this sermon is going to go. You might be thinking you’ll be hearing about the importance of being thankful and a warning against ingratitude.
And you’d be right. We’ll get to all that. In fact, we can’t not get to that if we want to faithfully expound on what God is teaching us through this text.
But that’s not the main emphasis of where we’d like to go this morning. What we’d like to do today is focus not on the response of the receivers, but on the character of the Giver. Today’s lesson provides us with a golden opportunity to consider Jesus’
- As shown to ten men in the past
- As shown to each of us in the present
In broad strokes the account we have before us goes like this: Travelling from the north country to the southern city of Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples are approached by ten men described as having “leprosy”. While that may bring a pretty specific visual image to mind, the original word can mean any number of diseases that affect the skin, some of which were contagious, and some of which were curable.
When people with skin diseases reached a level where they were considered an infection danger to others within the community, a quarantine by separation was put in effect. The Covid 19 virus – especially in its earliest days – has made us quite aware of this process.
This forced isolation was not intended to be hard-hearted discrimination or banishment; rather, it was a safety measure provided by Old Testament law. That’s why we find these men standing at a distance from Jesus. Calling out to Jesus in a loud voice, they ask for his pity.
In the original language of the New Testament (and the way it is reflected in some English versions of the Bible) the same word can be translated as “mercy”. Regardless of the translation, behind this word is the idea of compassion and kindness, especially to those who are in a very bad or desperate situation.
Which is what these ten men were in: a very bad or desperate situation. So, “mercy” accurately describes what they needed. And what they were seeking. And, most importantly, what they got.
Jesus heals them all. He then directs them to appear before the priests, who would declare them to no longer be “unclean” and allow them to reenter the life from which they had been excluded and sorely missed. So off they went. As they made their way we are told that new health and vitality began coursing through their bodies, replacing the disease they had only moments ago.
At this point all ten men were alike. All had leprosy. All had evidently heard of Jesus and knew what he could do. All appealed to Christ, acknowledging him as their “Master”. In obedience to Christ’s command, all proceeded to the priests. And all were healed.
Here is where the group now makes a split between one and nine.
The Lord notes that only one man, a Samaritan, returned. We can almost hear the sadness in his voice. The fact that his nationality is mentioned is significant. The common bond of leprosy brought these men together, but normally there was high ethnic hostility between Samaritans and Jews. Yet it was this man who came back to thank and praise Christ, while Jesus’ own countrymen just kept walking. And Jesus held him up alone as a man of faith and understanding.
This then, is the historical incident. We see a grateful life that expressed itself in thankfulness and praise; a life that truly understood how deeply and personally it had been touched by the magnificent mercy of Jesus Christ.
We’re twenty centuries removed from this event. Our health circumstances today are entirely different. But you know what? Each one of us has experienced the same thing. Each one of us has had our lives touched by the magnificent mercy of Jesus Christ. Let’s talk about how.
In the mid 1800’s, at a time when strict isolation was considered the only solution, a Roman Catholic priest named Father Damien voluntarily went to a designated leper colony on the remote Hawaiian island of Molokai. Those sent to Molokai were told they would never return. He worked there for 13 years caring for the physical and spiritual needs of those with leprosy (technically Hansen’s disease), until he died of the disease himself at the age of 49.
What’s noteworthy – and the reason I’m telling you this – is that from the time he arrived and well before he got sick himself, it’s reported he would begin his sermons by addressing the people with these words: Brothers and sisters in Christ; fellow lepers.
He wasn’t pandering to them when he said this. Rather, he was making an important equation. He was conveying that, whether people recognize it or not, all of us were born with a condition far more deadly or insidious than any form of leprosy: the spiritual disease of sin.
The reason it is so insidious is because this condition makes us outcasts in the eyes of a holy and sinless God, who demands the same kind of holiness and sinlessness in his creatures. Failure to comply brings consequences. The wages of sin is death – and not just death in the sense of an end to life on this earth, but death as eternal isolation from God in a very real hell.
What can we do? How do we escape the righteous judgment of God? Where do we turn?
Like the ten men, we have to look outside of ourselves. Like them, we must throw ourselves upon Jesus’ magnificent mercy. And what we find is this: Jesus does not hold back. He gives us mercy freely. And fully. And willingly.
How does he do it? By taking the punishment those sins deserve upon himself. As the Old Testament prophet Isaiah concisely states it: “By his stripes we are healed.” On the cross of Calvary the sins of the world rested on his sacred shoulders. And when he died, so did the power of sin to damn us eternally.
What this means is that while sin has not been erased from our lives (we still have a sinful nature and because of this we daily struggle with sin and its effect in our lives), the guilt of sin has been removed. The forgiveness of sins means, in the words of Jesus, that we have “crossed over from death to life.” Eternal life. Meaning, we’re as cured of our sins as those lepers were cured of their leprosy.
And if we’re cured when it comes to our eternal life, we’re also cured of a lot of the things that ail us in our lives on this side of heaven as well. Things like…
Loneliness. Sociologists tell us that through social media and the internet we are the most connected society the world has ever known; yet there is an epidemic of loneliness. Maybe you’ve experienced this personally to one degree or another.
The good news is that as Christians are never alone. Jesus Christ himself says “I will not leave you as orphans” (that is, without a sense of family) because “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” For the believer in Jesus Christ, loneliness has been banished.
Jesus is the cure for despair. There are times in life when the perfect storm of unwanted circumstances seem to converge upon us at just the wrong time and we find ourselves out of sorts and sad and wondering how on earth we are going to get through this.
But then we remember Jesus’ magnificent mercy. In our mind’s eye we see him hanging on the cross to save us from our sins and remember the words of Paul to the Romans: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And we are reminded that if Jesus has met our greatest need – the forgiveness of our sins – we can trust that he’ll meet every other lesser need as well. And despair has been banished.
Jesus is the cure for restlessness and worldly weariness. At those times in our life when we just feel tired, Jesus says: “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Finally, Jesus is the cure any thoughts of insignificance or worthlessness or low self-image. Because Jesus tells us no matter what we may think of ourselves, he has loved us with an everlasting love. And he’s got the nail holes in his hands and feet to prove it. So he implores us to never think of ourselves as less than he does.
That is quite a list of blessings. So how do we react to Jesus’ magnificent mercy? The only way we can. Let’s go back to our story. The healed Samaritan responded with thanks and praise, with personal effort and worship and honor directed to the One who had shown him such magnificent mercy.
We can, and we will, do no less.
Rummage around the fine print in the back of our Christian Worship hymnal and you’ll discover the author of three hymns is an early church leader by the name of Ambrose of Milan. He was born in the year 340 and died in the year 397. He’s recognized as one of the great ancient “Church Fathers.”
He is also credited with making this insightful and quotable statement. For Christians, he said, “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” Ambrose is suggesting (and who would disagree?) that the foundational and defining expression of the Christian life is – or at least ought to be – thankfulness.
As far as what such a grateful life looks like? You don’t need me to give you a roadmap or a checklist. Each of us can joyfully figure out those particular and personal details on our own.
And while those details will be as individualized as we are, what we all have in common is this: Our lives have been touched by the magnificent mercy of Jesus Christ, and we are the blessed beneficiaries of all that means today, tomorrow, and forever.
God be thanked. God be praised. Amen.