Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
“You’ve Come to the Right Place”
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
St. Luke 17.11-19
13 September 2020
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The ten lepers encounter Jesus, who is taking the road passing along between Samaria and Galilee, heading to His passion and death in Jerusalem. The lepers ask Jesus to show them mercy.
What did they mean? Did they think Jesus could heal them? Maybe they hoped for that but sort of knew better. Perhaps they were hungry – the leper had to rely on others for sustenance. In whatever form, they ask for “mercy”.
Mercy, in good measure, heaped up and overflowing – is what they’ll get, beyond their imagination. Go show yourselves to the priests, Jesus says to them. Go prove you are cleansed of this disease. And as they went, they were cleansed. They’ve were at the right place, with the right man, and at the right time.
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?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (St. Luke 17.15-19; ESV)
Twice in the text today, Jesus gives a command to “go” – as it is in our English version. “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus says to the ten. The second “go” is to the adoring and thankful Samaritan – “Rise and go your way…”
But the ten men had already come to the right place. Where did they need to go? The Old Testament says to go to the temple in Jerusalem – to show one has been cleansed and purified of leprosy, to make a sacrifice, to ritually be reset into the community of Israel. Jesus meant that, but He also means more than that.
The biblical Greek verb for “go” is ambiguous for us in English. It can mean “go” away, it can also mean “come” here, there is no way to distinguish but to know the context in which the word is used. The joke in summer Greek class at Seminary is that Greek is a language that doesn’t know if it is coming or going. The word is used in Scripture for “go, proceed, travel” in some contexts, or “to conduct oneself, to live, to walk” the walk of being a disciple; or it is even a euphemism for going to one’s death, Jesus Himself saying in the upper room on the night of His betrayal at Luke 22.22, “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” St. Peter will answer Jesus, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Ready to go to the cross.
And that is the place where Jesus is going. To the cross at Jerusalem, to make the ultimate sacrifice for sin, the cleansing, purifying sacrifice that will conquer not just the leprosy that was such a common, horrific, painful, and deadly disease at the time of Jesus, but to purify men of the even deadlier inward, spiritual malady that afflicts every man, woman, and child ever conceived and born since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – the leprosy of sin.
Jesus commanded the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priests – maybe it is more invitation! I’m going to Jerusalem, so Jesus is saying, “come along with me,” “come, O cleansed sinners, now shown mercy from heaven, come with me to Jerusalem to the priests, where I will sacrifice for you as the greatest priest, to make you a part of God’s Kingdom eternally, for your eternal good.”
Do you struggle with leprosy? You may not have an ancient disease that ruins your nerve endings and cuts off circulation so your limbs gradually crumble away. It’s treated today by antibiotics and is rare today. But we do struggle with other effects of sin that ravage the body in this temporal life. We will all die to this life, by accident, disaster, disease, old age. Covid-19 has separated us from the Word and Sacrament ministry of the Gospel at times, and still does for all too many, and the devil uses it to keep us from loving and trusting God fully and loving and trusting the people around us. People struggle with their mental health in these dark days. Cancer is a struggle for some of you and for many of your relatives. Bodies and minds weaken and decay as one becomes more elderly. We pray like the ten lepers for mercy from Jesus – every Sunday, “Lord, have mercy upon us, Christ, have mercy upon us, Lord, have mercy upon us.”
But as deadly and scary as it is to contemplate death and disease, you all have an even greater problem. You have that inward, spiritual kind of leprosy. Even baby Nyla Joelle, innocent and cuddly and dependent upon everyone as she appears, has the leprosy of sin, a sinful condition that she can do nothing on her own to get rid of. In sin did my mother conceive me, says the Psalmist. And the wages that must come due because of that leprosy is not just temporal death, but eternal death, separation from God for all eternity, to be given over to eternal damnation in hell with the devil and his demons. One Lutheran poet of the 1700’s stated the problem with these vivid words:
The whole world is nothing but a hospital
where in numbers too great to count people
and even children in their cradles
lie down in pain and sickness.
One person is tortured in his breast
by a fierce fever of vicious desire;
another lies sick from the detestable stench of his own honor;
a third wastes away through his obsession with money
and before his time is thrown into the grave.
The first fall has stained everyone
and infected them with the leprosy of sin.
Ah, this poison rages through my limbs!
Where in my wretchedness may I find a cure?
Who stands by me in my misery?
Where is my doctor, who can help me again? (Bach Cantata BWV 25, movement 2; translation found at www.bach-cantatas.com)
The sicknesses the poet describes are the sexual immorality, jealousy, enmity, idolatry, fits of anger, divisions, envy, drunkenness, and things like these the Apostle Paul lists in today’s epistle reading. These are all the bad fruits of gratifying the desires of our leprous, sinful flesh. There is a big problem with the leprosy of sin. It is dangerous to deny this is a problem for you – more dangerous by far than the current pandemic everyone frets over. One common sin infects us all, from one to all the curse descends, and over all God’s wrath impends.
Where do you go for help, for mercy? Where is my doctor, who can help me again, who stands by me in my misery? Has anyone done anything about this leprosy of sin? Where may I find a cure?
“Come along, and show yourself to the priest,” says Jesus. Being here, Jesus says, you’ve come to the right place. You’ve come to the right man, and at the right time.
Not me personally. I’m the ambassador for Jesus, the proclaimer of His Word, one called to publicly tell you this good news. But the same Lord Jesus is here today, the true and eternal priest, coming with an earthly glimpse of the new and heavenly Jerusalem from on high, brought humbly in Word and Sacrament down to earth in this wonderful gathering of cleansed, healed, and restored lepers – Jesus’ one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church, of all times and places, a significant and blessed group of which meets right here every Sunday at 10:30 AM Eastern time, here on Poplar Street near downtown Terre Haute, Indiana. Here there is hope for tomorrow, cleansing for what has happened yesterday, for what we go through today, a real God with real compassion, with a real cure for sin and eternal and temporal death, who cares and loves you and desires to show you the same mercy given those lepers so long ago so that your tomorrows are eternally joyful.
Nyla Joelle came to the right place, to the right man, at the right time. At the invitation of the Holy Spirit, she indeed came and showed herself to the priest, presented herself by God’s power and grace to receive mercy from the hand of Jesus. In the waters of Holy Baptism, she found mercy today, cleansing from all her sins, for Jesus drowned that leprosy in the font, to see His dear child come up out of water alive, holy, restored – given the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, the pure light of His saving Word, the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide her, the very gift of heaven itself come down through God’s Word of promise attached to the water.
Those great gifts of mercy are here because God’s Son answered the call of His Father in heaven to willingly and gladly make the one and all-availing sacrifice to rid all men of the leprosy of sin, to pay on your behalf, freely, innocently, and for all time the wages for sin, suffering hell and damnation from His Father on the cross in your place. He came to be the right man, at the right place, at the right time.
His glorious resurrection from the dead on the third day tells the world that Jesus has indeed conquered the leprosy, the Covid, the cancer, the aging, the death and dying, the sin and all its bad fruits. Despite all earthly appearances, behold, though your sins were as scarlet, yet, they are whiter than snow on account of the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross, resurrected on Easter Day.
You therefore have nothing to fear. When you’ve come to the right man, at the right place, at the right time, like the ten lepers, seeking mercy and relief, purity and holiness – you find it here, in the Gospel preached to you, in gathering with the fellow Baptized, confessing your sins before God and hearing His Word of forgiveness, and receiving here the medicine of immortality, the crucified and resurrected flesh and blood of Jesus Christ under bread and wine, given and shed for your forgiveness, to preserve and strengthen you unto everlasting life.
The thankful Samaritan leper came and knelt before the forever and eternal priest of them all, to the man who gave him undeserved mercy, cleansing, and forgiveness. He recognized he was in the right place, with the right man, at the right time. The thankful and adoring Samaritan represents you, the believing Christian: despite every adversity, hardship, even facing sicknesses and plagues and pestilences, and death itself – given mercy from on high, by God’s grace and power you constantly return to Christ, seeking more and more of His cleansing and healing, thanking and praising Him for His marvelous work in your life. That happens here. Not at home, not in bed, not behind the television screen. It happens here in this Christian church, with this gathering of God’s elect saints.
To you, Jesus says, “Rise and come with me, dear child of God. Come with me now to Jerusalem to see your very salvation enacted for you as you hear preached to you the works and deeds of love I’ve done for you week after week, year after year. Come with me, and receive as one of my disciples more and more of the salvation and forgiveness I desire to give to you.” And then one day, at the end of time, the Savior will say to you, “Rise from your grave, and come with me into the new Jerusalem, your faith in me has made you well of the leprosy of sin, your faith in me and my promises has indeed saved you.”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +