Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, 9/18/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity14 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
The word of the day is “flesh.” In the Old Testament lesson, it is בָּשָׂר (basar), as in “flesh of my flesh,” the body in its fulness. Flesh is spoken of here as a good thing, even as it needs healing and care.
In the Epistle, the word is used pejoratively. When Paul says that by walking in the Spirit, you will not gratify the desires of the flesh, he uses the word σαρκὸς. Think of the sarcophagus, the “flesh box” you saw on your field trip to the museum.
By this he doesn’t mean that you won’t give your body food or water, when that is what your body needs. “Flesh” in the Epistle can expressed as an equation: You minus Jesus. More on that later.
The final appearance of flesh is just that: it’s an appearance; not as a word, but as a condition. Leprosy meant that the flesh of these men was dying – bit by bit. They were considered to be unclean, because they were considered to be dead. And coming into contact with them would defile someone.
Rabbis at that time posited that no one who was morally upright could get leprosy. They might have been wrong about that, but they were onto something. Namely, that what we suffer in our bodies can reflect the condition of our souls; but not always, as the Wisdom of Solomon teaches. So while we can recognize that these ten lepers are sinners, let us remember that so is everyone else in the text who doesn’t have leprosy.
Thus, their first ask is not for forgiveness of sins. Literally, their petition is simply: “Jesus, Master, mercy us!” It’s no different from when you hear some terrible news, and exclaim “Lord, have mercy!” Or, it is like in church on Sunday, in the Kyrie. We ask: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Jesus, Master, mercy us!” Having been absolved moments before, this plea is different. It includes all our temporal needs and godly desires: clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, health and well-being.
They’re saying, “Lord, take the leprosy away. Let us be alive and whole.” They know Jesus as a miracle worker; a miracle is what they want; and a miracle is what they get. Jesus speaks them to life, and bids them to enjoy their life.
Of course, they’re thrilled. They get a new lease on life. We don’t have leprosy anymore that I’m aware of – at least not in America; but you might imagine someone who was completely cured of cancer, or someone who survived a quadruple bypass and is on the mend. Consider the joy with which they embrace this new life, and how well they will follow the doctor’s orders.
So, there was nothing wrong with their obedience to Jesus, and going to the priests. Would that we all, with a single word from our Lord, willingly obey Him. What is lacking in the nine is that they do not return to Jesus. They got what they asked for but did not desire anything more our Lord.
Having the brilliant revelation of God in the Old Testament Scriptures, having the benefit of an education in the Bible and a heritage as God’s people, the nine Jewish lepers should have known how to regard this healing and this Healer; but they did not. And this is what is most praiseworthy in the Samaritan.
He returned to raise up his voice again, only this time in praise to God and thanks to Jesus, His Son.
The others nine, being cleansed, may return to their old lives if that is what they desire. But the Samaritan recognizes he has new life and new freedom, which is in Jesus.
We don’t know exactly what happens next for him. As it is, Jesus sends him away again. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” He may have then gone and shown himself to the priests in Samaria. He may have just moved along with his life. Either way, he is now Jesus’ disciple and a student of Wisdom.
Wisdom, the Word of God, as we heard in the reading from Proverbs, “Is life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” The Word of God, revealed to this Samaritan, is Wisdom and Life. The Word of God is healing for his flesh, as he disciplines his flesh – i.e. as he walks by the Spirit.
Because this Samaritan belongs to Jesus, because he’s a Christian, he walks by the Spirit. So, when Jesus says to “Go your way.” What way is that? What does his path look like? What does his life look like as a disciple of Jesus?
Is it a life marked by the many and various vices that Paul describes? Is it a life of sexual immorality, anger, and drunkenness – to name a few?
This list of sinful vices is not meant to be complete, by the way. And so, there’s nothing wrong with us adding contemporary ones.
Lying, chronic complaining, viewing pornography, laziness, consulting Ouija boards and horoscopes, abusing alcohol, abusing your body… Is this what it means to walk by the Spirit? Because Paul warns that if you refuse to live as a Christian, if you insist on willfully rejecting the Holy Spirit and His work in you, you will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
As those who know that you are justified before God by grace through faith, does this make you squirm? Does it sound confusing? It might, especially as you consider that Paul’s reason for writing the Galatians was to clarify that we are saved by grace through faith and not by keeping the Law.
It’s a delusion that faith, and the righteousness and salvation you have received, cannot be lost through willful and intentional sins and wickedness. It’s simply not true that you will retain faith, grace, righteousness, and salvation by indulging your flesh without fear or shame, resisting the Holy Spirit, and purposefully engaging in sin, even against the protest of your conscience. SD IV, Good Works, 31-36
Thus, Paul warns us:
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers…will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
If you live according to the flesh you will die. Romans 8:13
On account of these [sins] the wrath of God is coming [upon the children of disobedience. Colossians 3:6
These things seriously endanger the faith, life, and salvation you’ve received. It’s not a strong enough analogy, but it is like that man who got the quadruple bypass. If his new lease on life means binging on Netflix, 5Guys burgers, and beer, he puts himself and his surgeon in a precarious position.
The Law cannot be performed unless the Holy Spirit is first received by faith. (AC IV) Thus, faith alone justifies men before God on account of Christ. And while one is justified by faith alone, faith is never alone. Love and good works (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit) do follow faith, though they are excluded when talking about how God makes us righteous.
Jesus has accomplished your salvation. He allowed Himself to be put to death, that you would be made alive. He has given you the gift of faith and His Holy Spirit in Baptism, He has proclaimed and decreed that you are righteous, clean, healed, and forgiven; and that promise has been received through faith in Him.
You are now truly free to live in love and joy, peace and kindness, goodness and faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Not as ones who are scrounging to gain favor with God, but those who have been granted His favor on account of Christ.
Go your way today in peace and with a clean conscience, walking by the Spirit, in His Wisdom and under His care.