That I May Leave You Never

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Date: Pentecost XXI (Proper 23) + 10/13/13

Blessed is the King: the Son of David—the son of Jesse, the grandson of Obed, the great-grandson of Ruth; blessed because God gathers for Himself the Church even from among the heathen. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” was the cry of the crowds on that first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. It is the cry of faith of all the world over who are His disciples. It is the cry of the whole Church, but sometimes of just a single voice. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” cried ten Samaritan lepers. But only one saw that Jesus was more than merely some miracle-working “master,” but that He was indeed the King Himself. When the ten were told to go and show themselves to the priests, only this one was given the grace to discover that this Jesus is The Priest to whom is given all power, worship, adoration and thanksgiving.

The lepers were Samaritans. The lepers were foreigners. Ruth was a Moabitess. Ruth was a foreigner. You and I and all people are sinners born into this world as foreigners, aliens to the kingdom of God. We didn’t belong to the kingdom of God. Oh, this world was created by God. Even you were created by God. But because of age-old sin it is as if we have become free loaders, deadbeats, debtors to God. Worse, we act, as someone said, as if we don’t have a belly button, that is as if we came into this world miraculously, autonomously, our own creation owing nothing to anyone but self.

Our separation from our true Creator and even from our earthly mother and father is more like Naomi of Bethlehem. It was because of evil death, the death of her husband and of her two sons that she was left alone in the foreign land of Moab. All have sinned and the wages of sin is death. It is sin and it is death that has separated us from God, from His world and even from our own life, and we are, finally, alone.

But then, we are told, Naomi heard “that the Lord had visited his people…in the land of Judah.” And solely upon hearing that news she decided to return with her daughters-in-law to her true homeland, to Bethlehem. There, a number of generations later, by means of her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth, was born the Lord, the King, the Son of David, the Son of God. In Jesus, in human form, God has visited His people.

The poor lepers heard about Him. And, as Jesus was passing by on His way to Jerusalem, solely upon what they had heard about Him, the lepers lifted up their raspy voices and cried out His name: “Jesus.” Then they called Him “Master.” They begged, “Have mercy on us.”

What gave them the right to ask anything of Jesus? They were foreigners. Jesus said once in answer to another foreigner, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24). Furthermore He lived perfectly according to God’s Law. Yet these were unclean lepers. To touch one was to render yourself unclean and maybe even contract the disease. The Pharisees condemned Jesus for speaking, even eating with the unclean, with lepers, with Samaritans, with Gentiles, with women and the despised.

The recent issue of Lutheran Witness is all about marriage and the current serious challenges being put before us in the Church, including sex outside of marriage and same-sex attraction. We are called to love the sinner but to hate sin. We are not called simply to judge or especially to despise or shun anyone but to speak the truth to one another in love. God brings people to repentance, forgiveness and faith through His Word. God gathers for Himself the Church even from among sinners and unbelievers.

“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” “When [Jesus] saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” And with that mighty command they began to go to the nearest Missouri Synod Lutheran parish. You know, here is where we keep saying you can meet, hear and be with Jesus, through the means of grace, His Word and sacraments!

But wait! Who needs Word or sacraments? Who needs vicarious means when He, Jesus, is right here? “Show yourselves to the priests,” He said. Our New Testament scriptures say, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). One did. So, “when he saw that he was healed, [one of them] turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at God’s feet, at the feet of “The Priest:” Jesus. You see, the point of this text today is not just a little reminder to say thank you to God. It is, rather, to know to whom thanksgiving is due for everything. And that means knowing, learning, recognizing, believing that Jesus is the Creating, forgiving, healing, saving God Himself!

What is more amazing? That this one discovered Jesus is Lord “on [His] way to Jerusalem,” or that we discover Jesus is Lord after His way, His offering, His sacrifice in Jerusalem? For there He took on the sin of the world and everything that sin does to us. He took on leprosy, cancer, robbery, dishonesty, racketeering and extortion, quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit and disorder (2 Cor 12:20), even sexual sins including adultery, homosexuality, all sin; all of it. He absorbed it into His flesh, and it killed Him, as it tries to kill us. Our death is feeble, weak. But His death was powerful. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:10-14).

In the moment that the one leper discovered that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, he presented himself as a renewed person, dead to sin and alive to God, presented as one who has been brought from death to life. This Gospel today calls to you. It calls to you first to recognize who Jesus is, and that He is here, today, passing along your way, no longer on the way to Jerusalem but as the Victor of Jerusalem, the compassionate Savior who welcomes and saves all who call upon His name.

Today, to all repentant hearts he says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”