Monday, September 19, 2011

Sermon for Trinity 14 September 24-25, 2011

Trinity 14        September 24-25, 2011           Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Faith alone.” “Faith saves.” These are slogans of the Reformation. Surely, they are true. But they are surely abused as well.

The point of “faith alone” is not that faith is alone, but simply that faith saves without works. Works are a side-effect of faith, not the cause. Love doesn’t form faith. Faith forms love. The thankful leper returns in love. But the Lord does not say to him, “Your love has made you well.” His faith saved him, nonetheless, having faith, he could not have opted out of love. Because faith always loves. Faith is never alone. His love was evidence of the faith that caused it, the response, the joyful action that filled him because he was saved..

Thus faith made him well and we rightly say, “faith saves.” But that, alone, can also mislead. Because faith in itself is nothing. Saying “faith saves” is like saying “forks feed.” That is true only insofar as forks delivers food. Faith saves only if faith communicates Christ. Faith is the vehicle for God’s grace.

We sometimes speak of the Holy Communion as a means of grace. We’d must speak of the Holy Communion, the Lord’s Body and Blood given for sinners, as grace itself. Faith is the means by which the grace of the Supper is beneficial to the recipient. Faith is the means of grace.

In any case, faith is not a work. It is not intellect or understanding. It is not conscious though, a setting of the will, or a decision. Nor is faith an emotion, a vague feeling that there is a God, some sort of intuition. Faith is the trust which God creates with His grace for His grace. He gives the fork along with the food. Likewise, in Holy Baptism He creates faith in the Person as He bestows His grace and forgiveness and the faith He creates receives what He gives.

The nine lepers who were cleansed, but did not return, did not believe. They had no faith. What that meant, practically, for them, was that they did not recognize Jesus Christ as God in the flesh come to make them well. They might have thought that being cleansed of leprosy was all He could do or all they needed. Most likely they didn’t think He had actually cleansed them. They probably thought that they had somehow cleansed themselves. Even His involvement, it was because they were smart enough to ask or some such nonsense. This is not so strange. It is the common thinking of the rich. And all over the world this day people will be fed by the providence of God, with food and forks that He gives. But few of them will recognize the source of their sustenance. Few will give Him thanks. Many are called, but few are chosen. Only one leper returns.

The leper who returned did so because He recognized that Jesus is God. He came back to worship Him. That is what faith does. Faith comes back for more. That is what faith always wants. It is nothing in itself. So it seeks ever to be filled with Jesus, with His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy. Faith is sustained and remains by Jesus. Not worshiping is no more optional than not loving.

But we should also notice this. The ten lepers stood afar off and asked Our Lord for mercy. I do not know what they thought He would do. Some of them might have thought that He was the Messiah. That is the best case. But most likely, at least some of them, were simply looking for bread, some company, or some relief in their suffering. They probably didn’t think anything more of Jesus than they would have thought of anyone who walked by. They just wanted help. They were beggars. They were  not choosy. They would beg from anyone. Whatever it was they wanted, and whatever it was they meant when they asked for mercy, even if what they wanted Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, it must have been a disappointment when His response was, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

What kind of mercy is that? What kind of an answer? If you’re well-steeped in Levitical law you might well imagine some ways that this was indeed mercy, that He sent them where God is present in mercy, and the like. But even so, when do we ever pray for God to provide for us through means, over time? When we stand at the bedside of a loved one and ask for healing, do we not hope that He will deliver it immediately? When did we ever pray, “O Lord, grant me patience by putting me through long, hard years,” or “Make me wise at the end of my life by lots of sufferings and poverty?” When we pray for money we don’t really want to hear: “Go to work.” When we pray for healing, we don’t want to hear: “Go to the doctor.”  For food, go to the grocery store, and so forth. We are hoping, even if we’re too pessimistic to really expect it, for a miracle. Poof! And there is money, food, health, success, all our dreams come true in an instant.

I expect it was much the same of the lepers. They wanted something immediately. But He sent them to the priests. Is it any wonder that it was hard for them to believe that He was the one who healed them?

This is the way Our Lord works. He is the Lord of creation. He works in and through creation. He has come in the flesh to restore it not overthrow it. Faith alone is able to recognize that the Lord is the actor, the provider, the giver, the healer, through all these means. Everyone who eats this day does so through the providence of God. Who will recognize it as such and receive it with thanksgiving?

This faith saves. It comes not by our efforts but from above. It comes by hearing. It is spoken into us through the Word of God in the waters of Holy Baptism. What God reveals that He is our God, for us.  He is good and has paid the price of our rebellion in His Son to make us clean and to make us well. He will bring us home. That recognition, that faith, that God is pleased with us despite our sins for the sake of the Son, that He is not angry, that we will have peace, healing, joy, that faith saves. Because it receives the grace of God in Jesus Christ to sinful men. That is to say, it receives what God wants to give: the forgiveness of sins and the restoration of communion with God. Faith hears: “You are Mine. You are Holy. You are blessed.”

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Daily Readings for September 25-October 1, 2011


1 Kings 17:8–16, Galatians 5:25—6:10, Matthew 6:24–34

 Anxious Bondage vs. Confident Trust
 “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24–34), for they require two contrary forms of service. Worry is the worship given to the false god of mammon, an unbelieving anxiousness and focus on the things of this world. Faith is the worship of the true God, a confident trust that He is a loving Father who will care for all of our needs in both body and soul. The widow of Zarephath served God— that is, she believed the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah that the bin of flour would not be used up nor would the jar of oil run dry (1 Kings 17:8–16). He who feeds the birds and clothes the flowers will certainly provide for our daily needs. For He has already provided for our eternal needs, clothing us with Christ’s righteousness in Baptism and feeding us His body and blood for our forgiveness. With such confidence we are liberated from worry and freed to do good with our material resources, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 5:25–6:10).

Daily Readings

September 25th, 2011 Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity
Malachi 1:1-14, Matthew3:1-17

September 26th, 2011
Malachi 2:1-3:5, Matthew 4:1-11

September 27th, 2011

Malachi 3:6-4:6, Matthew 4:12-25


September 28th, 2011

Deuteronomy 1:1-18, Matthew 5:1-20


September 29th, 2011 St. Michael And All The Angels

Deuteronomy 1:19-36, Matthew 5:21-48


September 30th, 2011 Jerome, Translator Of Holy Scripture

Deuteronomy 1:37-2:15, Matthew 6:1-15


October 1st, 2011
Looking Forward to Sundays Lessons:  1 Kings 17:8–16, Galatians 5:25—6:10, Matthew 6:24–34