Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sermon for Trinity 14 September 9, 2012

Trinity 14        Luke 17:11-19             September 8-9, 2012

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

There are Ten Commandments in the Holy Law of God; ten rules for life that we fail to keep. Their simplicity is as sharp as polished steel. It cuts to expose our cancerous souls. We are not good. We are not right. We are not healthy. Ten commandments, ten rules for life, ten guides for our behavior, ten policies of self-control and decency, ten obviously correct ideals that we know we should be, all of which, without fail, we fail to keep. Ten little lines: a full and perfect Law.

Is it so hard? Not really. Honor your father and mother? We can do that. Love your wife? Of course, that makes sense. Tell the truth? Yes, that is good. That is right. That is what we want. And even believe in God? Absolutely. These rules are not unreasonable. They are not unobtainable. They are not impossible. At our best, we do all of these, in part, part of the time. Why not always? Why not fully? Why not even mostly or most of the time? Are we so shallow, so temperamental, so afraid, so self-serving as all of that? Yes. The brutal Law leaves no escape. There is no excuse.

There are reasons. We are weak. We are stupid. We are evil. We abide in the inheritance of the first and fallen Adam. But there is no excuse, no justification for our selfishness and hurtful indulgences. There is nothing, no extenuating circumstances, no once-in-a-lifetime  vents that makes our lies, violence, lust, and greed okay. Let me ask you this: After  suffering a hang-over and the shame of behaving like a raving lunatic why would someone go and get drunk again? Why would he do that to himself? Is he that weak, that foolish, that self-destructive? Yes. He is. I am. You are. With foreknowledge and with malice you have stepped into your sin hoping to somehow escape your boring existence. You have catered an intoxication of the soul wanting to forget who you were, wanting to forget both your failures and your obligations. You have lashed out like a drowning man at any half-promise of a moment’s pleasure, seeking to steal from God what He would have gladly given. And all you have to show for it is pain, sorrow, and shame; a lifetime full of poor choices; a raging debt that haunts your nights; a handful of fickle friends who would sell you for a dollar.

Repent. There is no excuse. Your posturing and vain spinning of the stories from your life, your imagined headlines and fame, your sick fantasies and delusional speeches, must be left behind. Your pride must wither and die. The Truth of the Law must have its way. It must cut off every retreat, every escape, every excuse. It must force you to your knees, to confession, to death. For ten full commandments have we, all of which, we have failed to keep. For which we deserve, quite fairly, quite reasonably, to die eternally.

Our plea to heaven then cannot be for justice, for equity, for fair treatment by the Law for that is simply to ask for Hell. Our cry must be a plea for mercy, for undeserved pardon, for redemption with Someone Else’s Blood. Let us learn from the lepers who stood far off and cried to God in the Flesh, the Son of Mary adopted by Joseph, whom they would nail to the cross for Blasphemy He did not commit and who would raise Himself up again, for mercy. For mercy. Ah, sweet mercy from the Almighty! Was there ever Love like this? Was there ever reprieve so sweet for criminals so steeped in guilt? Was there ever a God who joined His rebellious creation and let them kill Him for their own sins so that they would go free, clean, and whole? Yes! Mercy is what the lepers requested. Mercy is what He gave.

But they didn’t know it right away. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. It was as they were going, with chunks of rotten skin falling off along the way, that all of the sudden they discovered they were healed. Then they knew His mercy. But before they knew with arms and hands and eyes, they went at His Word. They went at His Word, without proof or evidence. And His Word turned out to be all that it took to rid them of the decaying flesh that rendered them unclean and left them dying in their skin. Let us learn from those ten to cry for mercy and to take Jesus at His Word, seeking no proof or evidence, but living by faith. All ten received mercy, a full and perfect reprieve from the guilt of their sin, a fresh washing in Grace they did not earn, a healing rescue from certain death. All ten, one for each holy commandment of the Law, received mercy.

But only one, and he, a foreigner, returned to praise God in the Flesh. He did not simply offer a silent tribute in his mind to a far away God for the good things he now knew. But he went to where he had found mercy. He went to God in the Flesh! When he cried for mercy he was unclean. He did it from a distance. But then, having been cleansed, having received mercy, he was bold to approach this enfleshed God soon to be crucified. He came and worshiped Jesus, praising Him for the life He had restored in him, glorifying Him for the mercy He had bestowed. And he received in turn praise from God of his own.

Let us learn from the one what faith is and what faith does. Faith receives God’s grace and comes back for more! It cannot get enough. It is not simply thankful, though it is that. But it is also, and more markedly, hungry! It desires the One thing needful, the One thing that satisfies, the One thing that justifies, not our sins, not our many misdeeds, but justifies mankind by declaring you righteous for the sake of the brutal death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in your stead. Faith wants what God gives: new life, rest, hope, love, peace - all for free.

Ten were cleansed, given back life and limb. One returned to worship. He did not come to give Jesus something, to bring His offering envelope or His praise. He did not come to feed Jesus or to learn how to be a healer for others. He came back to get something, to be fed, to be nourished, to be healed some more. That is what worship is. It is what faith does.  Jesus needs nothing from us. We need everything from Him. He did not come to be served, to put us to work. That is not the goal of the Gospel. He came to serve, to work for us, to buy us back out of death, to restore us to health that we might stand in His presence as His beloved, immaculate Bride. That is the goal of the Gospel: that we would be His and live with Him in bliss forever.

The fire from those holy ten commandments has been quenched. The demands of every single one has been met. There is nothing more. Justice has been served, satisfied. You are forgiven, clean, whole, loved. Arise, you have come to the right place, to the place of mercy where God in the Flesh is served in Bread for the eater and men are made His. Come, at His Word.

Receive what He gives.

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

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