Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity 9/5/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9:30am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, 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.
In chapter five of his letter to the church in Galatia, St. Paul offers a simple teaching and invitation:
Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. verse 16
That word, flesh (σαρκὸς), isn’t a strict reference to your body per se. It’s not the same as what we think we mean when we say “instincts” or “nature.” In Paul’s usage, we can understand it like a simple equation. Most of you are nimble with the more complicated variety, but this one is easy: because this letter is addressed to Christians who have been united to Christ in Baptism, “flesh” is like saying [you minus Jesus]. And as long as we are in this world, there is some flesh left in us.
You can call it the Old Adam, as we do in the Small Catechism. You can be diagnostic and refer to it as concupiscence, i.e., the inclination to sin. But the bottom line is that the Christian is at war within himself. We refer to this as the “simul” – short for simul sanctus et pecattor – always holy and sinner.
It’s a doctrine that’s all over Scripture, but neatly bundled up there in verse 17: part of you wants to sin. Paul doesn’t mean that part of you might accidentally fall into it the way you trip on a sidewalk. He means that part of you wants it and desires it. “It” being that uncomfortable list of sins that Paul lays out.
But you are Christians, after all. And so, you are also sanctus – holy, justified, even saintly. You are led by the Holy Spirit into a war against your flesh because they are at enmity. They are opposed to one another.
There’s little need for illustration or forceful language to describe what the war is like. You feel it in your own mind and body. When you fix your eyes on that person God has not given you to be your spouse, and imagine all the ways it could go; when you want and are convinced you need what has not been given to you by God; when you want one more drink even though you’ve already had one too many; when you try to control or manipulate God to make His divine will align with your flesh; whenever you are angry. Yes. Whenever you are angry.
These are works of the flesh. They are contrary to God’s Law, and concerning them, God’s Law rightly accuses you.
But you are not given over to the works of the flesh. You are free and enabled to struggle against your flesh. You really do know better, and you don’t have to obey it. You don’t have to follow through with it. Even more, you don’t even have to entertain the thought of it.
Christ has set you free from that obligation, that slavery to the flesh. By His life, death, and resurrection, Christ has satisfied the demands of the Law. And by baptizing you into that life, death, and resurrection, He has set you free from the Law. That’s how chapter five began. You are free indeed, and the Holy Spirit leads you to use your freedom well.
We see how it goes in today’s very familiar Gospel text from St. Luke. Familiar as it is, though, it does us good to re-examine some particulars.
Firstly, the lepers can hardly be too far away. Distance, especially for a leper, might mean more of what we mean today by “social distance.” They’re close enough to recognize Jesus. He can hear them, and they can hear him.
We usually imagine that they all turned around to go to Jerusalem, as Jesus said; and that when they were some distance away, they realized they were healed. That fits within what Luke describes, but he doesn’t actually give us any of those details.
It’s also possible that Jesus’ command to go and show themselves to the priests wasn’t the answer they were hoping for. They could have heard this the way that Christoph hears my response to his request for a treat. I know how it works by now, so I’ll tell him to ask his mom. And if mom already told him “No,” then I’m of no real help. My answer is just a big disappointment.
The lepers already know what the priests at the Temple have to say. They would tell them that their disease was their own fault, and that they deserved it. I heard a version of this on TV, when a well-known commentator suggested that unvaccinated adults shouldn’t go to the hospital if they come down with Covid. The message being that it’s all your own fault, and you should deal with it yourself. It’s wicked, unfair, unmerciful, and wrong.
And there’s a good-enough chance that this is what the lepers were hearing. They were asking for mercy, and it seemed that Jesus was saying “No.” First get clearance from the priests, and then He’ll see what He can do. Christoph doesn’t want to go ask mom again, and the leper doesn’t want to be sent back to the Temple unless he’s got a golden ticket.
The nine lepers don’t expect God to be good to them. They need Jesus, but they don’t trust Jesus. They were not hopeful. Their healing came as a surprise. It was welcome, of course; but it was just a return to the way things were before.
Maybe they went to the Temple, and maybe they didn’t. Luke only says that they departed. What’s more important is what they departed with. Their flesh. Of course, they departed with their flesh in the literal sense of their restored bodies. But more importantly they departed with their flesh in the spiritual sense: i.e. minus Jesus.
They don’t have faith. They are healed of their leprosy, but not of their sins.
It goes differently for the Samaritan. By the Holy Spirit, he does trust in Christ. He returns to give thanks to God because he has been set free, liberated from leprosy and sin.
Jesus doesn’t send him to the temple. He has faith and he is well. He is led by the Spirit, and so he is free from the law. To him, Jesus says, “Rise and go your way…” Be resurrected and go your way.
Led by the Holy Spirit, the Samaritan departs as a person made whole, and as a whole person. He departs [plus Jesus]. He is not under the Law, but under grace. His freedom bears fruit in Love, Joy and Peace, Patience and Kindness, Goodness and Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
You who belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. It’s a daily struggle, and on this side of heaven you will always be fighting it. This was the case for the Samaritan former leper. This was the case for St. Paul. And you are no exception.
But you are not alone, and you are not without comfort. You have flesh, but you also have the Holy Spirit, Christ’s healing Word, and His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. And so, you are well.