Monday, October 11, 2010

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19, for the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Preschool Sunday, "Have Mercy on us!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Welcome again to Emmanuel, and thanks to our preschoolers for their memory work and song, and for parents and family supporting your children as they worship God. Today’s sermon is from the story of the ten leprous men who were healed, and the one who returned to give thanks to Jesus. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Although it’s a few thousand years from the time of Jesus, and many thousands of miles from Israel to Hawaii, the circumstances of ten leprous men aren’t so distant and unfamiliar to us here in Hawaii. The leper colony at Kalaupapa is part of the recent memory of Hawaii, although in Bible times the word leprosy included a much broader range of skin diseases and rashes than what we now call Hansen’s disease. For about 100 years, people suffering from Hansen’s were banished to an existence of poverty and isolation. One woman exiled to Kalaupapa wrote about how she was eventually healed of the disease, and wanted to come home, even if just to see her birthplace. But her own mother wouldn’t allow her to come home, telling her to stay in Kalaupapa. Like in ancient times, people feared the spread of this disfiguring disease, and didn’t even want to look upon such suffering. Before a modern cure was developed, no one knew how to stop its spread, except through quarantine. The law in the Old Testament was that people with leprosy had to live outside the community and wear torn clothes, cover their face and cry out, “Unclean, Unclean!” to those who would approach them (Lev. 13:45-46). In both ancient and modern times, they bore the stigma of being an outcast in addition to their quarantine for reasons of both health and fear.

While we can probably understand the fear and unwillingness to see suffering, we recognize that it’s inhumane; incompatible with compassion. It’s common and easy for us to turn away from suffering. Not to look at or think about the fate of the weak and vulnerable, the poor, the starving, the unborn, or the terminally ill. But compassion doesn’t hide its eyes from suffering, but instead wakes up the heart to show mercy. What is compassion? What is mercy? It’s undeserved kindness. It’s love in action, helping to relieve the situation of one who’s in need. If we cannot provide physical relief to a person who is ill, we can at least give them comfort and spiritual relief through love and prayer. When the ten leprous men cried out in a loud voice, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us!” Jesus immediately acted with compassion. Their cries for mercy didn’t go unanswered. How often had they cried for help, and received only silence or felt the stigma of being outcasts?

While the cry of “Lord have mercy!” seems natural for someone who has leprosy, perhaps we don’t realize how those words belong on our lips as well. That even if most of us are healthy and whole in our bodies, we stand before God just as much needing mercy. Some of us may cry out for physical healing, others may have emotional wounds and guilt that we bear, we may be poor or lonely or outsiders, but we all have a far worse condition that requires God’s mercy. We all must cry out to Jesus for mercy from our sins. Whatever other things there may be in our life that cause us to cry out to God for mercy, the one thing that we all share in common is our sinfulness and the need to be forgiven. We sin daily as we confessed today at the beginning of service. We have sinned in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. We have sinned by doing what we know is wrong, and we have sinned by failing to do good when we should have. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. For all this we deserve God’s punishment now and forever. But God is faithful and just to forgive us if we confess.

The leprosy of sin is the one sickness that has a 100% fatality rate. Sin cannot be healed with medicines or rituals, it cannot be lifted like a social stigma. Sin is the most deeply rooted infection of the soul. Sin always leads to death, and Jesus’ forgiveness is the only cure. So we’re right to cry together with the ten men, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” We can be just as confident that He does love us and desires for us to be healed. What’s the cure and the healing from sin? It’s the death of Jesus on the cross, where He suffered and became the outcast, bearing all our diseases and guilt, so that by His death He would destroy them. By His death He destroyed the power that sin holds over our lives, and by His resurrection He opened the way for our bodies to be raised up and restored to new life in the final resurrection on the Last Day.

When Jesus sent the ten leprous men on their way to the priests, it was to obey the Law and show themselves to the priests who’d see if they were healed. If they were clean from their leprosy, they would make offerings to God, and could be welcomed back into the congregation or the gathering of Jewish worshippers. This would mark their full entrance back into the community, their freedom from the disease and stigma of being outcasts, and a return to normalcy. But one of the ten could not return to the congregation of believers, because he bore the double stigma of being a leper and a Samaritan. While he could be declared clean by the priest, Samaritans were unwelcome in the Jewish community. Who were the Samaritans? They were the mixed-blood ancestors of the Israelites, and there was basically a long standing history of hatred between the two. The Samaritans had mixed the worship of idols together with the worship of the True God. Samaritans and Jews had fought and mistreated each other. The Samaritans were despised by the Jews, and were unwelcome.

But the surprise of the story is that this foreigner, this outsider who was doubly stigmatized as a leper and a Samaritan, was the only one who truly recognized who Jesus really was—the Son of God, the Savior. We’d expect that the nine Jewish lepers, of all people, would know to return and give thanks to God for their healing. Yet they forgot to even give thanks. But here, a Samaritan man, was so filled with joy, so ecstatic about being healed, that he came back praising God with a loud voice. He wasn’t ashamed to sing it out loud with joy for what God had done for him, and he fell at the feet of Jesus and worshipped Him. His joyful and thankful response for his healing is like the words of the Psalmist who wrote in praise to God: “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again…My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Ps. 71:20, 23). Truly the Samaritan had seen much trouble and despair in his life, but Jesus brought him to life and hope, so the Samaritan truly had reason to shout for joy and sing praises to Jesus for what He had done.

So also we should follow the Samaritan’s example in falling at the feet of Jesus and praising and thanking Him for what He has done for us. Jesus is truly deserving of our worship as He is the Son of God, and had the miraculous power to heal diseases at the very power of His Word. May we never be ungrateful or ashamed of the great wonders that Jesus has done for us, by bringing us healing from the power of sin, and raising us to new life. Just as the Psalmist sang, “My soul also you have redeemed,” so the Samaritan received more than physical healing that day. He was joyful because of his instant recovery from the terrible disease of leprosy, but when he came back to Jesus, we find that there was even more to his healing. Jesus praised this outsider, this Samaritan for returning and giving thanks to God, saying, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

If you look in the footnotes of most Bibles, it will show you that it literally says in the original language, “Your faith has saved you.” Your faith has saved you. His faith did more than just heal him, as the other nine were also cleansed. But the Samaritan alone had faith, and so received the gift of salvation. What do I mean by faith? That he trusted and knew Jesus as the One who could heal him, and recognized Him as the Son of God by worshipping Him. More important to him than rushing to the priest to be declared clean, was to give thanks to God who had healed him. He believed in Jesus, his merciful master. As I said before, being saved from our sins is the greater miracle, and the one that is offered to every one of us here today. When we cry out, “Master, have mercy on us,” Jesus is eager to answer and show undeserved kindness to us, whoever we are and whatever stigmas or sins we bear.

The healing miracles of Jesus are a sign for us that He truly was God and held power over life and death. Even more than that they show how Jesus takes all of our uncleanness on Himself. One of the required rituals of cleansing for a person who had been healed of leprosy was to discard any infected garments and burn them, or thoroughly wash what was dirty. When they were cleansed in their body, they were also clothed again with clean clothes. In a similar way, the New Testament describes Baptism as our washing and cleansing. In baptism Jesus cleanses us and forgives us from our sin. He did not look away from us, but had compassion and cleansed us of the impurity of sin. He removes all the dirty garments of our sin, and in His death for us on the cross, He wore all those rags Himself. Not literal clothes, but our sins. Jesus became the very person of an outsider, left rejected, stigmatized, and alone, to die outside the city, just like the lepers were banished outside the camp. Treated like someone unclean and contaminated. But He became sin so that in our baptism He could clothe us afresh with the clean and holy garments of His innocence. That as we’re cleansed in conscience and soul from our sin, so also we can be clothed with His holiness and innocence, restored, forgiven and whole.

The cleansing of the leprous man was also a picture of baptism in that in baptism we’re born again. The lepers went from having a body that was in an advanced stage of disease and decay, to a body that was restored with clean and healthy skin, almost like a newborn. They experienced a rebirth. In baptism, Jesus says we’re born again. Not in a physical way, but in the washing of the water and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who gives us faith, by which we’re saved. So also in our baptism we’re born again from the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we’re a new creation. We’re lifted up with joy and thanksgiving to return our thanks and praise to God for what He has done, and also to have hearts of compassion alive within us, that also look to the needs and hurts of others. Our eyes cannot remain closed to suffering, but just as Jesus has done for us, so will we be moved to show mercy. And there’s no greater relief that we can give than to point a hurt and lost soul to Jesus Christ, the Master whose grace shows no boundaries, who does not hide His eyes from our suffering, and has mercy on all who cry out to Him by faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What do you know about the experience of people with leprosy in recent times, such as those on Kalaupapa? How was it similar or different from Bible times?

2. What did the law of Moses require for lepers, in terms of their isolation? Leviticus 13, esp. vs. 45-46. Their cleansing and return to the community? Leviticus 14. How were the priests involved?

3. Contrast inhumane and compassionate ways of dealing with those who suffer serious illnesses or are outcasts. What are some ways that people try to hide suffering from their eyes today? How does compassion shape our response to suffering? Matthew 5:7

4. Who should cry out “Lord have mercy?” and why? Matthew 9:27; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mark 10:47-48; Luke 18:13. Romans 11:30-36. What sins have you committed, in thought, word, or deed? What wrong have you done? What good have you left undone? What is the fatality rate for sin?

5. Why would the Samaritan not have been welcomed into the worshipping Jewish community, even though he was healed? How should we show kindness and welcome to even those who seem as “outsiders”? Where did he find acceptance instead? Reread Luke 17:15-19.

6. What was the response of the Samaritan at being healed? How is this an example for us to follow? Psalm 71:20-23. More than just bodily healing, what else did he receive by faith? Luke 17:19.

7. How is this physical & spiritual cleansing a picture of baptism? How are we “reclothed” in baptism? Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:9-10. How are we reborn? John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5-7. Whose innocence do we now wear?

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