It is a truism that no man fully fathoms the depth of God’s love. Saintly folk do better than most, but on the whole human beings are a rather forgetful lot. Perhaps the real problem with the human condition involves a kind of forgetfulness or willful amnesia. What I mean is that we humans habitually forget about the great mercies that have been shown to us by God.
First, we are not very thankful about all that is beautiful in creation. Though our eyes remain open, they will not see the beauty of God’s handiwork in nature all around them. And there is no excuse for being blinded to this view in Western North Carolina. What a fabulous vista surrounds us on all sides here. We need to be thankful for this first evidence of God’s wisdom and skill that greets us each and every new day. Look out around and see the colors, shapes, sizes, textures, dimensions, relations, and movement. See the stable and seemingly unmoving creatures –the rocks, mountains, skies, and lakes. Perceive also the moving creatures –the birds and beasts. Breathe in the fresh air and thank God for it all!
Second, we are not much grateful for what is beautiful in the lives of other people. We forget to appreciate the occasional “please” or “thank-you.” We neglect to give thanks to small gestures of kindness or consideration. We ignore the positive acts of generosity and good will that are everywhere around us. If only we would have the eyes with which to see them! Or we judge others for their faults, while failing to praise their virtues. We search for the evil and forget to hope for the good. We need to be thankful for God’s spark in other people...even if they have not yet fully embraced him! What about that little old lady at Ingles who needs to work in old age because the greedy crooks in corporate America have stolen her pension savings? Notice how polite she is. Notice how considerate and kind she is. Think about what you or I might do to help her!
Third we forget to give thanks for what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We forget his habitual giving and loving. We ignore the beautiful sacrifice that he made for us on the tree of Calvary. We refuse to ponder with delight his desire to make us a part of his Resurrectional life. We ignore his constant offer of friendship that comes to us perpetually through the descent of the Holy Spirit. We neglect gratitude to Him for coming to us in bread and wine as Body and Blood, as energy and power to ponder, wonder, study, explore, investigate, and to be thankful! He actually comes into us. He allows us to digest Him in our bodies and souls. He wants to move and define our thoughts, words, and works from the inside of our being! Are we thankful? If not, why not? If not, we might not make it to His kingdom! Let us be thankful beginning today.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation,
a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light…
(1 St. Peter 2. 9)
You might be wondering this morning how exactly I plan to weave the words just quoted from St. Peter’s first Epistle into this morning’s lections. St. Peter seems to be speaking of something rather grand, elevated, and regal, or of a reality that is radically other than the sordid business found in today’s Gospel. He talks of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people. He speaks, in other words, of a world that seems light-years away from the one we have just read about. For there we are reading about a leper colony, a sordid space of slowly suffocating spoilage, corruption, putrefaction, and decomposition. There we discover a sign and symbol of sin and its punishment and a spiritual sadness far removed from the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s good life. Over and against St. Peter’s vision of the glorious life to come, we find ourselves in a reality that still reeks of suffering sickness. But Jesus is the master artisan who can buttress the gap, unite the two, and so enable us to move from the one to the other. Jesus has a funny way of showing us that what we thought were mutually exclusive and radically opposed conditions of existence, end up being essentially interdependent and united moments on the way to His glory. Jesus will show us this morning, that the chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, a peculiar people is the destiny and fate of thankful lepers.
Jesus is on His way to peopling His holy nation with a chosen generation and a royal priesthood. Today we read that it came to pass, as Jesus went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. (St. Luke xvii. 11) Jesus is passing through the middle divide of two cities or two earthly communities. The one is full of Samaritans and the other full of Jews. In neither place will He find the conditions suitable to His spiritual work. Neither those on the left nor those on the right seem much interested in the healing and salvation that He longs to impart. Earthly people are taken up with worldly idols and false gods; their pretense to bits and pieces of knowledge add up to vanity and vexation of spirit. Jesus knows that the road to the kingdom must cut between man’s side shows and lift him above and beyond himself. And that road is peopled by those who need and desire what He has come down from Heaven to bring.
And as He entered into a certain village, there met Him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. (St. Luke xvii. 12, 13) Leprosy in the ancient world was viewed as a spiritual malady earning its carriers exile from the city of man. Its physical manifestations were deemed so hideously horrific by healthy men, that it was judged a sign of punishment for sins, both by the God of the Jews and the deities of the Gentiles. The leprous were unwelcome in both communities, and so lived on the borders of both as aliens to all. And it is into the midst of one such group that Jesus travels this morning. We meet them because Jesus chose not to take the common and safer route for Jews making pilgrimage up to Jerusalem, but to go through the midst of the more dangerous border country. Jesus chooses, in other words, a no man’s land in the middle of enemies from which to teach us about the nature of the road that leads to His kingdom. So these alienated and shunned lepers stand on the outskirts of the village, and they cry out for help to the one alone whom they trust will hear their plea. These men are in the midst of a horrible predicament and can find help neither from the Jews on the right nor from the Gentiles on the left. They are desperate and powerless. They are shunned and abandoned. They are companions in a disease that seeks a common cure. Their disease is so debilitating that they long for nothing but the healing power of God. So, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, they do have hope that a healer is at hand, and so in earnest they seek to extort the benefit. (Comm.Par. 262) And so they cry, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us. (St. Luke xvii 13)
And when He saw them, He said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. (Lev. 14.1-32) And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that healing of the lepers relies on no earthly touch but on the Word of God alone. The lepers’ faith and obedience rise up into the pattern of all sinners who would be healed and saved by the Word of God. Knowing that earthly medicines can make them no better and deprived of the milk of human kindness, their hearts hope only for what might come by the Spirit. They believe and trust Jesus, and so obey His command. They do not ask when and where they will be healed. Neither do they ask how? They do not so much as ask if they will be healed. In fact, they question none of it at all! They obey and then follow. For in trusting Jesus’ command, they are led by the Spirit. An outward and visible spiritual disease has destroyed their bodies and now they cry from the ground of what is left to them. For them, Jesus’ Word and Spirit alone are enough. Go shew yourselves unto the priests is trusted inwardly and followed outwardly. Thus, we read, that as they went, they were cleansed. (St. Luke xvii 14) Notice that nothing more was needed for one kind of healing in this case. The men were physically healed and so they continued on towards the temple. But is this the end of the matter? Is this miracle about healing the physical disease of leprosy only? Does this miracle teach us that faith and obedience, going to the temple to show ourselves to the priest is the end of Christ’s desire for them and us?
No. What is clear from the miracle that we read about this morning is that this process of healing that Jesus inaugurates is indeed about much more than the healing of the body. We read of one man who alone turns back to lead us into the truth. He is the one whose cure has startled his conscience and shaken his heart. Far from experiencing only the effects of a new lease on living, this man perceives that a power of paranormal proficiency has touched his soul. For it was there that he felt most deeply the pain of alienation and separation from other men, and thus from that place that Jesus has reached him. There in his soul he had felt the pain and from the depths of his sorrow he had longed for a friend. So, it is there that he finds a love that he has never known. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. (St. Luke xvii 15,16) This man was a Samaritan, an outsider, and alien to Israel’s promises. He alone turns back to the source of his healing and health. He not only turns back, but he glorifies God; he not only praises God, but he falls down at the feet of the One through whom God was at work. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. (St. Luke xvii 17,18) This Samaritan is a stranger to God and his promises. But this stranger perceives and knows Jesus most truly. His faith and obedience had grown into healing. His healing has risen from his heart in spiritual thanksgiving. His heart is enlarged and his soul now fills with thanks for the love and power of the Giver. His healing moves up from his body to his soul. Jesus perceives his transformation and with not a little mirth says Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. (St. Luke xvii 19) This man alone, amongst the ten, has been healed inwardly and spiritually.
The question that we ask ourselves this morning, is, where do I find myself in this morning’s Gospel miracle? Have I begun to sense that I am one of the ten lepers? The ten lepers are really an image of a chosen generation or those marked out specially for God’s healing in Jesus Christ. The lepers are also called to be members of a royal priesthood. Only those who have been healed by Jesus can make a sacred offering to God the Father in thanksgiving for the salvation that Jesus brings. Jesus intends that the lepers should form a holy nation of new citizens for God’s Kingdom. Am I a member of a leper colony that needs the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ each and every day? Having received the promise of Jesus, and trusting in His word, does our community then image the response of the nine who proceed to move on, or does it rather imitate the turning back of the one who alone will give thanks? In other words, having taken Jesus at His word, what effect do His promises have upon our lives? Are we here for the outward and visible show alone? Or are we here to be healed also in deed and in truth? Are we turning and thanking God for the good work that he has begun in us already as a community, desiring from our hearts its completion, individually, in the inner man? For if we desire more than a superficial show of sanctity, we had better return to the source of our health and new life. In so doing, with the Samaritan in this morning’s Gospel, we shall have allowed the Lord to touch us where we were most in need of healing. And there, beginning to feel and know the power of God, we shall love and thank him all the more. Then and there, with the alien and outcast, the Samaritan, and with St. Peter – a leprous sinner also, we shall begin to become a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people;…showing forth the praises of God who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light…Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons