Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pentecost 22 Sermon -- Luke 18:9-17 (LSB Proper 25C)

October 24, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Pharisee and Tax Collector: these two characters of the parable are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Pharisee is well respected, known for all his good works, for his upstanding life, for his devotion and piety to the Torah and all its requirements. But the tax collector is in the lowest caste: he is reviled and hated for his cheating and stealing, known for his lack of morals and his sycophantic loyalty and dedication to Israel’s foreign oppressors. These two characters truly are the high and low of Jesus’ society.

But that is why He tells “this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” That people wantonly looked down upon other individuals and believed that they were better had to be addressed. Why could the rest of Israelite society treat the tax collectors with contempt? The Israelites believed that tax collectors were unrighteous, but that they were all right with God. People believed that their record of life granted them a better status than the tax collectors and other sinners had. If they were righteous in themselves, then they have every right to treat others not so with contempt.

What Jesus puts into the mouth of the Pharisee is believable, and not only from a Pharisee: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” He could have gone further: “I have committed all your words to memory. I am an expert in your covenantal text. I have a distinguished record of good works and have separated myself from all the unrighteousness that is tainting your world.” Perhaps not all of it spoken in one prayer, but it was all there to be said.

But note well what the Pharisee’s prayer does and what it does not. It is full of thanksgiving, but the reason for thanksgiving is not what the Pharisee has received. No, his thanksgiving offered is based in what he has done! He thanks God for being himself. There is no mention of what God has given him. His prayer is full of great arrogance, pride in personal accomplishments and deeds. And yet, that isn’t the worst part of the Pharisee’s prayer.

Note again where this prayer is given: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The setting should indicate what is to take place. What is supposed to happen in the Temple? The people of God who have committed sin, who are unclean in spirit, who are in need of divine action are present to get what God has promised to give through His established ways. They are to go and offer their sacrifices and get the atonement for their sins that the Lord has made available at the Temple. But no thought of that is found in the Pharisee’s prayer. There is no language of sin to be atoned for. There are no words that express the Pharisee’s record of sins that must be expunged. There is no statement of trust in what the Lord wants to provide to His people. Instead, there is only trust in the Pharisee’s own actions; the only sins mentioned are those attributed to others. He has totally missed the point of the Temple’s existence, why he was to be there in the first place.

But that purpose is not missed by the Tax Collector. He gets it. He knows what he has done, what he truly is. That fact is expressed in his actions, including the words of his prayer: “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” The posture, the positioning, the prayer: they all indicate nothing of pride in the Tax Collector. He knows why he is present in the Temple: to receive the atonement that the Lord has for his sins, for every single bit of error and trespass that he has committed. He knows the merciful purpose for which the Lord has instituted the Temple and the sacrifices to be done in it. And making no demand, offering no boast, the Tax Collector simply and humbly asks that what the Lord promised be done: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

So what does the Lord do for this sinner? He justifies him, just as He promised. That is seen in Jesus’ words: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” And there is good reason for why that justification is given to the Tax Collector and not to the Pharisee: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The Lord’s mercy is frequently shown; He gives it as He has promised. But it is only given to those who believe in what He says, both about sin and about salvation. And to believe in what the Lord says requires humility.

Why does belief in what the Lord promises require humility? Because it requires that a person accepts the fact that he must be dependent upon another. What is spoken by the Lord? Both Law that condemns sin and Gospel that shows salvation. That Law removes all reason for boasting. It puts one in jeopardy of eternal death. It measures the curriculum vitae of an individual and finds it wanting. Think on the words of today’s psalm: “For You are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” That is the righteous divine attitude toward all who sin. There is no room for boasting; there is only room for fright and terror. “Evil may not dwell with You.” Such a statement puts all people in their rightful low place.

But there is a remedy for the problem that the Lord has provided. And yet, to receive that salvation, one must admit total dependence on another. The sinner cannot put his record of accomplishment before the Lord and demand good recompense. That would be a dangerous act. Such a person would go down to his house condemned, not justified. Putting forward a life record and claiming that it is without flaw, that it should attain access to Paradise, would be the greatest of frauds. You heard what the Lord thinks of that: “You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” Salvation is given, but only in the way that the Lord has instituted: through sacrifice that atones for sin. That is what He has located in His Temple, what is found on His mercy seat. It requires humility and dependence upon His goodness, the humility and dependence shown by the Tax Collector.

What the Tax Collector seeks is what you must have. You also need what the Lord has located in His Temple and placed on His mercy seat. That is what Jesus Christ provides, what He has given for you to find here. You must come with the attitude of the Tax Collector and the Psalmist, not claiming anything good within you, but trusting that everything good for you is found in the Lord. You must believe what the psalmist prayed: “I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You.” The words must come from your mouths: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” These are the words of humility based in full knowledge of what you truly are: poor, miserable sinners, who have sinned in thought, word, and deed by your fault, your own fault, your own most grievous fault. These are the words that the Lord has promised to hear from the humble ones whom He will lift up and exalt.

That is what you speak in the Church, this house of the Lord. Such is the language of the Church’s Divine Service. You do not come here trusting in yourselves. No, you openly and honestly admit what is lacking and deficient in you, exposing your failures and frailties. You admit for all to hear: “I am by nature sinful and unclean. I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone.” That is not the prayer of the Pharisee. There is no recitation of how good you are, how you are not like other men, how great your accomplishments are. Instead, there is confession of what plagues you. And in that confession, you speak the prayer of the Tax Collector: “For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Forgive me, renew me, and lead me, so that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of Your holy name.”

Why do you make such confession? Because it is true. Because you believe in what the Lord says. You acknowledge that His Law is just and right, that it applies to you who have not kept it. But you also believe that His Gospel is gracious and merciful, that it is meant for you who cannot demand it, but who have been privileged to receive it. You believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior. You believe that He is the Divine Temple, where the Lord is present among His people to bring them salvation. You believe that Jesus’ cross is God’s mercy seat, where sins have been atoned for. And you believe that wherever Jesus has placed His merits—everything that He has earned for you by His perfect life and work—there your salvation is found. So you come to be baptized, to hear absolution, to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins.

All of this is the practice of humility. You put your record of life in front of the Lord, saying that it is terrible and rightfully condemned. This is not done looking up to heaven, but staring down at the ground while beating your breast. You put your plight in the Lord’s hands, saying that you trust in His promises, though you deserve nothing good. So the Lord exalts you, calls you His children, extends His mercy and grace to you, welcomes you into His kingdom, and allows you to come near. Boasting will not get you there, but divine action will.

If that is what you do, then there is no room for trusting in yourselves or treating others with contempt, saying: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” Instead, there is only room for trusting that Jesus Christ has been righteous for you and that His being treated with contempt is how you have been made great. As you trust in what has been done for you, the psalm describes your changed fate: “But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may exult in You.” Humbled by your sin and exalted by forgiveness, go down to your homes justified exulting in what the Lord has done for you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pentecost 21 Sermon -- Luke 18:1-8 (LSB Proper 24C)

October 17, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

“And the Lord said: ‘Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’”

“Will [the Son of Man] find faith on earth?” Now there’s a pointed question! When Jesus returns, will there be people believing in Him? Jesus’ question is an exhortation to faith, a call for renewal of allegiances, a rekindling of hearts and souls. Why is such a question given? Because it has everything to with salvation. Belief, hope, and trust in Jesus’ identity and His words and works brings that salvation for human beings. Those who have such faith will be delivered to everlasting life on the Last Day. The opposite awaits those who lack it.

So Jesus asks the question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” But before that question is asked, Jesus illustrates what faith looks like. That is seen in the Parable of the Unjust Judge and the Persistent Widow. The Evangelist introduces that parable: “Jesus told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Prayer and perseverance are symptomatic of faith. Those who fear, love, and trust in God above all things will indeed call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Those who have been called by the Gospel, enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts, sanctified and kept in the one true faith will persevere to the blessed end of living with their Lord in His everlasting Kingdom.

The Persistent Widow in the parable demonstrates the prayer and perseverance that Jesus desires to find in His people. In Jesus’ story, the city where the widow lived was governed by an Unjust Judge. Remember how he is described: “[He] neither feared God nor respected man.” This judge had no scruples, nothing virtuous about him. And yet, what does the widow do? “There was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary!” Though the judge refused to answer her plea for justice, the widow kept coming. She did not give up. She kept offering the same demand for what was right.

So what does the Unjust Judge do? “For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” Though the widow was refused time after time, she kept coming to the Unjust Judge because she knew that only he had the power and authority to give what she needed to receive. Finally, the Unjust Judge answers the widow’s plea for justice. He does so to get rid of the nuisance. He is only concerned about himself, but that self-interest leads him to act on behalf of another. But in the end, the Persistent Widow gets what she needs from that Unjust Judge.

Jesus uses that story to show what He is like. Like the Unjust Judge, Jesus is the only source of what mankind needs: justice against their adversaries of sin, death, and Satan. Only Jesus can deliver mankind from such opposition. Only Jesus can speak to the cosmic forces of evil, saying: “Leave My people alone! To eternal fire and judgment with you!” But unlike the Unjust Judge, Jesus neither lacks scruples nor has anything unvirtuous about Him. He is not driven by self-interest, but compassion instead. He actually desires to answer the cries of His people, as you heard in today’s collect: “You have commanded us to pray and have promised to hear us.” So Jesus testifies in His statement: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.”

As Jesus’ followers, you are to see the trustworthiness of the Lord in this parable. His desire is to have you constantly coming to Him with your pleas for help. He wants to always hear the words from your lips: “Lord, have mercy on us!” Think how often you speak that petition in the Divine Service. It comes from the Church’s mouth because all who belong to it need that assistance from Him. Such a request is offered in belief that it will be answered. It will be the prayer of Christ’s people from the present until the Last Day.

That is why Jesus concludes His teaching with the question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” The question is not rhetorical. It is meant to elicit a response. His inquiry deals with real topics: the perseverance of the saints during their earthly lives, the endurance of the Church, the effects of persecution and affliction, patience to await the Lord’s actions. All of these face Christ’s followers in the present day, just as they did when He first spoke those words.

Remember what Jesus promised His people: “And will not God give justice to His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will give justice to them speedily.” The promise is great: divine action for God’s people, action that will come quickly. But where have you seen that? When have you seen direct action from heaven for you, the chosen and elect people of God? You can look around yourselves, and it sure seems that there isn’t much justice out there. See how poorly Christians are treated, from the disdain that the teachings of Jesus receive in western society to the physical assault and murder of His followers in parts of Africa and Asia. These people cry out: “Lord, have mercy on us!” And yet, they seem to get the cold shoulder like the Unjust Judge gave the widow.

But the lack of divine action doesn’t always have to descend to such gruesome depths. No, it is what faces individual Christians in other ways. The life-long believer is stricken with a terminal disease. Husbands and wives who pledged their love in Christ and seek to bring new life into the world endure the death of their unborn children. Lighting strikes a church and burns it to the ground. Even faithful ministers suffer false accusations about their teaching or conduct. The list could go on and on. But in each of these situations the questions come: “Where is that justice promised for me, one of God’s elect who cried to God day and night? How long must I wait? Just where is God?” As all of Jesus’ disciples face such afflictions, it is hard to answer Jesus’ question affirmatively: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Despair and despondence seem much more likely than faith!

But that is what Jesus knows. His apostle Paul saw it. It’s why he wrote to Timothy: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The apostle isn’t only describing people sampling the religious marketplace of his own day. No, he speaks of people, even now, who hear Jesus’ teachings but do not believe. They may hear the promises made by Jesus. But when they do not see them come to fruition as they expect, they wander off after other teachings, chasing other promises.

Not only Timothy had to deal with such situations. Paul had to respond to it in the Corinthian and Thessalonian churches. Peter encountered the same phenomenon among his scattered flocks: “[Scoffers] will say, ‘Where is the promise of His coming?’. . . But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The threat of just packing it in and abandoning the faith is not new. It has existed since the Lord first spoke to humanity and the question arose: “Did God really say?” For faith is not reliance in what is concrete and empirical; rather, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

So Jesus asks: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” Yes, He will find faith on earth. But it won’t be a majority who believe. And those who do believe will not do so because of human effort. No, it will be found in those who are worked in by the Holy Spirit, who are called by the Gospel and kept in the faith. It is the result of hearing the Word of God, “the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” These are not dead letters on a page: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” So the solemn charge is given: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

In the face of all opposition, the promises of God are spoken to you. But there is more than just the repetition of sayings; there is the recalling of what has been done. You have God’s track record to look at. Jacob received the blessing, as the Lord fulfilled His promises and allowed Jacob to struggle with Him and prevail. You also have the works of Jesus to remember. The Lord made good on His Covenant because of His faithfulness, not because of pestering or out of self-interest. Jesus’ works are sacrificial, graciously done for your benefit: He dies so that you may be freed of the curse of death; He rises to life again so that you may live eternally.

So you have those works of Jesus—what He did to your adversaries of sin, death, and Satan—put in front of you. His words bring justice against your adversaries, forgiving your sins, bringing you life, and freeing you from Satan. Those words of action and promise are attached to real things for you to receive: people, water, bread and wine. The Word of Christ is spoken from the mouths of those who follow Him. It is no ordinary word, but it carries the Holy Spirit who kindles and sustains faith in you, even in the midst of afflictions. Only by participating in these things, can you answer Jesus’ question affirmatively: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” But answering affirmatively you will, for you are His persistent elect and the Lord does much better than any Unjust Judge.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pentecost 20 Sermon -- Luke 17:11-19 (LSB Proper 23)

October 10, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

As Jesus entered a village, ten lepers approached Him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

The Lord travels between Galilee and Samaria. As Jesus walks the dusty roads of Palestine, He encounters a group of lepers. These ten diseased men stand at the distance prescribed by the Law. They cannot get any closer, for they are ostracized, quarantined and cut off from society. These ten dare not approach any closer. Their disease separates them, marks them as unwanted. Though they once were loved, once were accepted, now they are driven away. Now they are the walking dead, disease-ridden outcasts.

Thankfully, we don’t encounter much leprosy in our day. In days past, even not so long ago, it was a terminal disease for most who contracted it. It eats away at the healthy flesh, disfiguring the body. The symptoms were unmistakable. The book of Leviticus has whole chapters describing the disease: how to treat it, how to quarantine those who have it, how to determine if someone is cured from it. The severe lepers could always be recognized by their deformities, the disgusting sores, the stench of death and decay. They knew the hopelessness of their condition. No matter what they tried, the disease still lingered. It was their curse for life; their fate was sealed.

So it was with these ten lepers whom Jesus meets. They stand away from Him, calling out: “Unclean, unclean!” as Christ and the Twelve walk by. They know their condition, the way it always kept them at a distance. But they also know the identity of this Man who walks the dusty road to Jerusalem. They know His reputation, His record of activities. The ten cry out to Jesus, calling Him “Master,” speaking to Him the title that indicates complete subjection. They recognize that Jesus has power and authority. But the lepers also know that they have no standing to demand anything from Jesus. Instead, they are at His total mercy.

And yet, faith motivates them to speak. The ten cry out for pity: “Have mercy on us!” They cannot demand anything from Jesus. But out of their desperation they appeal to Christ’s heart and soul. Death is looming, nearer to some than others. All avenues of aid have been closed off. They have nothing else they can do. There are no more arrows in the quiver, no more rolls of the dice left. The ten diseased men have no one to turn to for aid—save for this traveling Man from Galilee. So they beg, pleading for Him to do something out of graciousness and generosity. They are led to such action because of what they believe about Jesus.

And the lepers’ faith is correct! This Man traveling past the lepers is not a cold-hearted person, but a caring God. He is not blind to the needs of His creation, but is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” He sends the lepers to the temple, cleansing them of their disease as they go. Their plague is gone, removed by a God who desires to bless and heal His people. He does what they cannot. He achieves what was impossible for humanity to accomplish. He restores health and wholeness where sin and disease had caused destruction and loss. Because He acts, the lepers are saved and restored.

Yet, only one of the ten truly realizes what has happened. Only one fully recognizes who the Man from Galilee is. Only one believes the somewhat secret truth about Jesus—that He is not just a miracle worker, not just a source of healing, but is God Himself. This sole leper sees that he has been healed, that his fate has been changed, that he has been saved from death. And so, he “praises God with a loud voice.” But where does he go to do so? Where will his worship take place? Not in the Temple, but at the feet of the Traveler on the road. Before Christ’s action, the leper could not approach any fellow man, but now he approaches the presence of God Almighty, where He has chosen to be found.

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” This Samaritan leper, the outsider of outsiders, gives thanks at the feet of Jesus, bowing before Him, showing complete humiliation and servitude. It is the only reaction that he can give. What else is there to do but bow down and worship the God who manifested His grace and power by healing him? The leper has been restored by Christ’s gracious will. Doesn’t that deserve thanksgiving?

But is that the reaction that you give? Do you fall down at Christ’s feet for what He has done on your behalf? Or do you run off down the road, not recognizing the source of your gifts? What is your response to the healing that Christ has given to you?

This morning, you are again recipients of the same gracious acts of God who heals the leprosy of both body and soul. The Lord Jesus Christ has made you whole, saving you from the eternal death that was looming. The incurable disease of sin and imperfection eats away at you. Like the lepers on Galilee’s road, you cry out for God to do something out of His grace and mercy, saying: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You cry out for forgiveness of your sins of thought, word, and deed—of what you have done and what you have left undone. You cry out for healing from the inherited condition of imperfection that plagues all mankind. You are powerless to help yourselves, but Christ demonstrates His graciousness and might again. His saving act of baptism heals spiritual lepers. Christ’s words of forgiveness heal your sin-ridden souls. Your Lord’s Body and Blood cleanse the truly terminal disease. You are reminded of what He has done for each of you and the world by His death and resurrection.

Once again, your Lord visits the land of outcasts. He comes to a world plagued with sin and makes its victims whole again. Though you all have the disgusting sores of your misdeeds and iniquities, your Lord comes near. Though you give off the offending odor of hatred, envy, blasphemy, adultery, your Lord dares to approach. He gets His hands dirty with your sin to remove its curse. And Jesus shows His mercy to those who cry out to Him for it.

Yet, how many have received this cleansing? On the road in Palestine, there were ten. And yet only one returned. Here in this place, certainly more then ten have received Christ’s forgiveness. Yet, how many do you regularly see approaching the feet of Jesus in thanksgiving? How many do you see returning for the healing that all constantly need? Yes, how many times have you yourselves acted like the other nine lepers who simply went on their way with no return in thanksgiving?

Jesus could say: “Weren’t there two hundred healed at Calvary, Mechanicsburg? Where are the other hundred-[fifty]?” How often do church members enjoy the goodness that Christ has shown, but fail to recognize Him as the source! Or even if it is understood that spiritual healing is from God Himself, how often is it just taken for granted, as something that will simply be there whenever they get around to it. The actions of the nine are repeated over and over by you and others. It is easy to quickly run and see yourselves as clean, but neglect to realize that even running your way, there is more out there to stain you again. Everyone has the desire to do their own thing, but they forget that Christ’s command is first: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” In order to rise, all people must first kneel before Jesus, falling at His feet in thanksgiving for the mercy that He has given.

To kneel before Jesus is nothing else than a confession of faith that He is your Master, that He has had mercy on you, that He has healed you. It is to acknowledge that you were in a hopeless state from which you could not escape, but your Lord has freed you. And since He has saved you from your terminal disease, you are free to go your way. But that way is not of your own choosing. No, it is the way that Jesus has laid out for you, the new life He given you to lead. It is just as Luther explained the Creed’s statements about the effects of your Lord’s work: “I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”

You are called to act like that Samaritan leper. Praise God with a loud voice. Fall on your face at Jesus’ feet. Give Him thanks. Make your life one of thanksgiving for what God has done for you. Recognize and see how you were ill, how sin plagued your soul. Remember how Jesus had mercy on you. Feel again the waters of baptism that cleansed you. See how your Lord became an outcast to save those who were separated from Him. But also understand what Jesus provides isn’t a one time event, but is given all the days of your lives. It is a constantly available cure that your Lord provides here in His house of healing, even as the taint of sin and imperfection in our daily lives constantly haunts all His people in this earthly life.

That realization should lead you to thanksgiving. As Jesus continues to aid you, you are called to give a continual thanksgiving from the heart and soul, a thanksgiving that is shown in word and deed. With thankful hearts, you may again praise God with a loud voice in your worship here. But your thanksgiving and worship isn’t just limited to some seventy-five minutes in the pews, it includes how you live Monday through Saturday, too. Going your way in the faith that has saved you, you may praise and glorify God by reflecting the love that He gave you to others. As you go from here in the way that Jesus has given you, you become living sacrifices of thanksgiving for all He has done.

The thankful Samaritan leper stands as an example for you. His story is yours; the pattern is the same. You have cried out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” You were ill, so Jesus has healed you. And so you have returned again, praising God in a loud voice and kneeling at your Lord’s feet. Jesus again says to you on this day: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” May you always heed your Lord’s command, showing such gratitude and praise by living in His kingdom and serving Him in the righteousness that He has given you by healing your bodies and souls.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 1, 2010

October 2010 Parish Letter

“Almighty God, our Father, Your blessed Son called Luke the physician to be an evangelist and physician of the soul. Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for St. Luke]

October 18 marks the date for the Festival of St. Luke, the Evangelist. Unlike the other three Gospel Writers, Luke was not intimately connected with the first generation of the Church in Jerusalem. He was not one of the original Twelve Apostles, like Matthew and John. He was not related to Peter, like Mark. Instead, Luke was an outsider brought into fellowship with Christ through the work of the Church. Though some believe that Luke was a member of the Seventy-Two whom Jesus sent out during His earthly ministry, most scholars—ancient and modern alike—record that Luke was a Syrian from Antioch, the first major city touched by the Apostolic Mission.

Because of the work that the Church did, this Gentile god-fearer was brought into fellowship with Christ. He became a disciple, part of the Church. But not only was he made an heir of righteousness through faith in Christ’s words and works, Luke was pressed into service for the Lord’s Church. This service is alluded to in the Acts of the Apostles, the companion book to the Third Gospel. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Gentile physician is befriended by a Pharisee-turned-apostle named Paul. This unlikely pair traveled journeyed in the Mediterranean Region, through thick and thin, to bring the message of Christ to new audiences.

Luke’s connection to Paul is mentioned in the Epistle Reading for his festival day. Giving instructions for Timothy to come to him in Rome, Paul mentions the desperate situation: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.”(2Tim 4:9-12) Though the apostle was imprisoned, his assistant was still there. Luke was present to help in that time of need.

Perhaps Luke’s background as a Gentile brought to faith is why the Church chose the other readings for his festival day. In the Gospel Reading, Jesus speaks about His mission: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of Him, two by two, into every town and place where He Himself was about to go. And He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’”(Lk 10:1-2) Jesus’ description of the harvest included Luke and all the Gentiles who would be brought to faith.

The Old Testament Reading also includes a description of the Christ’s mission: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”(Isa 35:5-8) There would be a way for the Lord’s people to follow. No unclean people would be on it. And yet, even in Antioch, where “the disciples were first called Christians,”(Ac 11:26c) the Gentiles would become part of the Way, for even the unclean nations were made clean through the Christ’s sacrificial death. A change takes place through His work: the sinful character of people is forgiven; life is created in the souls that once were dead in sinfulness and ignorance.

What happened to the people of Antioch, including Luke, defines what takes place in the present day. The harvest is plentiful, for there are many who have not heard of the work of Christ. The Christ’s mission of healing continues, for there are countless numbers of people who suffer from sin and all its negative effects, including temporal and everlasting death. Sin is a great disease that cannot be remedied by therapy or drugs or a health vacation. No, it must be eradicated by the greatest of medicines: the words of Christ that absolve and heal both body and soul.

You have had need of that healing, for you have been plagued by sin. It blinds you from seeing God’s righteousness. It plugs your ears, keeping them from hearing His guidance. Sin cripples you, so that you walk in the crooked ways instead of the straight and narrow. You are unable to speak what is good and right, but have mouths full of cursing and blasphemy. That is the condition into which sin places all people, even from their birth. But that is the exact condition that the Great Physician has come to remedy. He comes with healing in His wings to revive, restore, and repair.

How does Jesus heal you? He sends His laborers into His harvest. He gives them the medicine bag full of His Gospel meant for the ears, mouths, and minds of sinners. It is the prescription that Luke wrote for the people of the Mediterranean and for you. For you have his record of what Christ did and said for your salvation. That is what the Church honors on October 18. You have “an orderly account . . . that you may have certainty concerning the things that you have been taught.”(Lk 1:3b-4) It is what you and all Christ’s people continually ask to receive: “Grant that the healing medicine of the Gospel and the Sacraments may put to flight the diseases of our souls that with willing hearts we may ever love and serve You.” And it is what the Church prays to be delivered to others, as our Lord directs: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”(Lk 10:2)