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The Courts of the Lord (St. Luke 17.11-19)

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

“The Courts of the Lord”

St. Luke 17.11-19; Introit Psalm 84

02 September 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

+ In the Name of Jesus +

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84.10)

So says our Introit this morning. The soul is to long for – yes, faint for – those courts of the Lord. Blessed are those who dwell in His house, ever singing His praise. It’s better, the Psalmist cries out, to just be the doorkeeper in the house of God – better certainly than dwelling in the tents of wickedness. A day in the Lord’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.

Yet, for two Sundays now in a row, we are confronted with the Samaritan, who could not at all spend a day in the Lord’s courts in Jerusalem, not even be the doorkeeper, no matter how much his soul longed for the Lord’s house. As a matter of fact, the Samaritans tried to have their own copy of the temple in their own home area that laid sandwiched between Judea proper and Galilee.

Thus it is a surprise in Jesus’ parable last Sunday, when the Good Samaritan comes out of nowhere on the road down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and saves the life of the beat up man by the side of the road, doing the Godly, righteous thing for his neighbor that the two doorkeepers of the Lord’s house, the priest and the Levite, would not do.

This week, the ten lepers, all excluded from the Lord’s house and their own communities and families by their walking-dead zombie-like skin disease, are cleansed by the mercy of Jesus. Nine go on their way to show their cleansed state to the priest and so be admitted back to participating in Israel’s religious life. But one man turns back to show himself to the God who healed him. One man turns back to worship God at His feet. One man has saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, declared from the mouth of Jesus. And that one man is a Samaritan. Again, the unexpected man.

The Samaritans are not really Jews. Before the conquest and exile of the northern tribes of Israel in the Old Testament by Assyria, there was in that area a city called Samaria. Most of the people of these northern tribes were taken away in slavery to Assyria, never to be heard from again. Assyria, Babylon, and the Persians all go on to control this area of Israel, and at various times populate Samaria with foreign immigrants, who worshipped their foreign idol gods. However, over many years, these immigrants were intermarried with Jews in the area, and the people come to worship the true God.

So the Samaritans came to develop their own system of Old Testament religion, centered on Mount Gerazim near the old city of Samaria. The Samaritans even built their own Temple there, their own courts of the Lord’s house and their own doorkeepers, redacting the Old Testament down to the five books of Moses, so they could claim their “temple” more legit than the one in Jerusalem. Some say the Samaritans had just as strict a practice of Moses’ law at Mount Gerazim as the Jews did at Jerusalem.

Because of their foreign influenced bloodlines, and for despising the Jerusalem temple, the time up to the life of Jesus is littered with fights and skirmishes, and a few years after Jesus’ birth, some Samaritans even desecrated the Jerusalem Temple area with dead human bones in a nighttime raid.

There was a genuine reciprocated hatred. The Samaritans are like the crazy cousins no one wants to come over to visit. The Jews and Samaritans harassed each other for many years.

But like politics, struggling with leprosy made strange bedfellows. The Samaritan leper was going to slowly die just as painful and lingering a living death as the nine Jewish lepers were. In their common struggle to cope, they stood together.

But at Jesus’ Word, according to His mercy, the ten lepers are healed. And once this cleansing takes place, the old dividing lines take their place – the enmity, rivalries, dissentions, and divisions characteristic of the works of the flesh rear their ugly head.

The nine cleansed Jews go to their priests – maybe to the nearest town, eventually to Jerusalem. They head to the longed for courts of the Lord, no longer dwellers in the tents of leprosy, they could at last be ceremonially clean and meet the doorkeeper in the house of God. But they want inclusion into the community of the law, the old Israel. These nine were satisfied with their outward beauty, and their outward works of the flesh. They never desired a beautiful and righteous soul, heart, and mind that loves God and neighbor, that bears the beautiful fruit of the Holy Spirit. Having first been loved so much and shown such wondrous mercy, they did not bother to return to the One who truly gave them this love and mercy. So many receive the Gospel, so many reject it, spurn it, take it for granted!

The Samaritan upon hearing the healing Word of Christ does not return to Mount Gerizim in Samaria. He has a deeper beauty that could not be seen in his restored flesh. He returned and thanked Christ for his inclusion into the community of those saved by mercy, those who would be a part of a new Israel, the members of which are so by faith in Christ, having been given the beautiful, clean, and holy raiment of being one with Jesus in His Body, at His Word.

Jesus Christ, who healed Him, is true Temple, great High Priest, and Israel all in one. The Samaritan realized that he was already in the courts of the Lord’s house, already in the presence of the priest, already worshipping the true God in spirit and in truth. He was already spending his day there in the lovely dwelling place of the Lord of hosts. The courts of the Lord’s house are wherever Jesus is. The Samaritan’s faith truly healed him – saved Him – he returned to Jesus, with genuine fruits of faith: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Blessed is that man, dwelling at his Lord’s feet, ever singing His praise!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.

What excludes you from the courts of the Lord’s house? Are you dwelling in the tents of wickedness – do you keep falling for the same old temptations, the same old pet sins, gratifying the desires of the flesh that are against the Holy Spirit?

From the small sins of the inner heart and eye to the great and terrible sins that actually hurt or harm our neighbor in his or her body, reputation, or vocation as God has ordered things, all are dangerous to us in body and soul. From sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, to enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, to envy, drunkenness, orgies and all things like these – these must not be named among you. Those who hold on to the deadly leprosy of such sin will not inherit the kingdom of God; you will be shown no mercy. Renounce and repent of these things.

Face it – you are as ugly and marred a person by sin as those lepers, without Jesus Christ and His mercy and grace. Without the new Temple, the new Priest, and the new Israel, the new Body that is whole and undefiled, you are in this body of death living to die the wages of sin.

Thus it was necessary that the Son of God made man came among us, into our world, and walked the dusty trail between Samaria and Galilee, in the same flesh you walk this world in, yet without the leprosy, without sin, without judgment, with purity and holiness. In that perfect body He bore freely and willingly all the works of the flesh, all the thankless and terrible thoughts, words, and deeds, bore all the sadness, grief, loneliness, exclusion, and let it all be nailed in His holy body on the blessed tree, to take upon Himself the wrath of the Father over sin, and take it to the death. The Temple of His Holy Body, the Holy Priest, Israel itself, was destroyed and cast into the ground.

Yet He raised Himself up in three days as He promised, that blessed Temple was rebuilt in glory, and now there is no more punishment owed for sin, there is no more ceremonially clean and unclean, there is no more Jew, Samaritan, Gentile, for there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You sinner-lepers were ugly, you were unclean, you were outcast, and you were in judgment. Yet the Lord changed things, from death and decay to life and hope, from sickness to health, from grief and loneliness and division, to a sure hope, a lasting joy, and an unbreakable unity with Him and every Christian.

By His grace, Christ embraces you and seeks you out and gathers you into the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the life everlasting, makes you a part of His Body, yourselves living Temples of the Holy Spirit, and builds you into a house of living stones joined together by Him and His Spirit through Word and Sacrament, that will find its final glory at the resurrection of the dead and the final entrance into His heavenly, eternal kingdom. There, we will know and see clearly once and for all what the Psalmist means:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!

My soul longs, yes faints for the courts of the Lord.

Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere!

+ In the Name of the Father, and to the + Son, and to the Holy Spirit +

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