Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 23, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (Why Our LHM Trips Must Be More Than Just Tours!) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Luke 17:11-19
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and because He lives, grace and mercy is possible for you today too. Amen.
Mercy, now there is an action and attitude that is needed more than ever today. Merciful, kind, considerate, encouragement; wouldn't it be great if we could count on that from one another, from ourselves, and even more importantly, from God Himself.
The Bible gives us numerous occasions to observe God's mercy in action as people came to Jesus in deep distress. Then like today, people were afflicted with problems of every kind, including illnesses of many kinds. For those of us who've been very sick or have had friends and family face, or even succumb, to sicknesses, it's no surprise that people came to Jesus desperately seeking relief from their physical ailments. So as Jesus traveled and proclaimed the coming of God's kingdom, as He corrected false teachings and false perceptions about Himself, and even as He carried out His salvation mission to make us right with God, Jesus demonstrated God's power and carried out God's mercy by healing many people.
One day as Jesus was walking with His disciples to Jerusalem; He came upon ten people sick with leprosy, a contagious, skin disease which at the time could not be cured. As they called out to Jesus for mercy, He heard their need and He answered their call. Beyond their bodily sickness, Jesus knew that there was a deeper problem that came with this disease. Part of the suffering caused by contagious diseases, such as leprosy, is a deep isolation that occurs as the infirm face the fear of disease and the very real problem presented by the possibility of its spread.
For example, SaaSabas, from southern Guinea, knows exactly what this is like. He contracted the Ebola virus while taking care of his father. His father had been ill with nausea and vomiting and by the time anyone realized that his father had Ebola, it was too late. Saa had been exposed. Soon his father succumbed to the disease and the doctors were concerned for Saa. Before long he too showed symptoms of Ebola and now his life was on the line. After weeks of treatment and isolation Saa pulled through. He survived the sickness! When the doctors felt sure he was cured, and they assessed him three separate times to make triply sure that the virus was no longer in him, they took steps to restore him to his home village. Knowing the fear that people have of the disease, Saa's doctors gave him a certificate of discharge as proof that he was well and safe. Before returning to the village, the doctors went ahead of him to assure the residents in person that Saa was safe.
Now, he describes the difficulty, then, of reconnecting with his community saying, "[the doctors] visited my family, the leaders, and the elders of my community to inform them that I had recovered. I was no longer contagious, but despite this, I was stigmatized. Some people avoided me in the beginning but now, over time, they have learned to accept me. Now they call me "anti-Ebola.""
Like Saa, the ten lepers that Jesus met needed more than just healing for their body. They needed healing, yes, but also restoration to God and to their communities. The skin disease had made them sick, but it had also made them ceremonially unclean. They could not enter God's temple, and anyone who came in contact with them while they were sick would also become unclean. The law's prescription, probably a protection for the community from the peril of the disease, was for them to remain outside the city walls until a priest might certify that their disease was healed and they were clean. The priest would be the one who would risk his personal well-being, to help reconcile the healed leper back to the community, their life with God among family, friends, and neighbors, the life in community that we were all meant to share as created, social beings. So, while healing them, Jesus also had in mind to restore them to society and to restore them to God. Jesus sent them to the temple priests so that the priests would authenticate their healing and certify them to be ceremonially clean. They would be restored physically, socially, and spiritually. But in doing so, it would also declare to all who would listen, just who this Jesus is for them and for all.
And that's the point of all these Old Testament ceremonial laws. They were laws that would define Israel as a special people with a special mission. The customs of the nation of Israel, as God's chosen people to prepare the way for the Messiah; it's designations of clean and unclean had a purpose; to prepare people to understand Christ's accomplishments on our behalf on the cross and to enable God's close engagement in people's lives in the meantime.
These laws were a constant reminder that things in this world had deviated from God's perfect intention and conditions and were not inherently right between God and His creation. As such, sickness was one outward reminder of the separation between humanity and the Holiness of God's own nature and the perfection of His design and intention for us as His people. Sickness, illness, death itself, all remind us that salvation is going to take effort and not just the best effort of sinners but the effort of the Holy, Righteous God on our behalf.
These laws, then, with their numerous requirements, cleansings, and sacrifices were a temporary fix that pointed to God's long term, eternal solution.
Think about it this way; if today we had a beloved child, let's say a one-year-old toddler with big beautiful eyes, running up to us wanting a big hug, we'd be thrilled to lift her up and hold her close. But if our child had a cold and was coughing and sneezing, our feelings would be a bit different. (Now, be honest out there, you can still love your child even if you don't want to squeeze them tightly all the time. I know many of you have been there!)
So, like any loving parent with their children, we want the hug. We want to give the hug, we enjoy the hug; but oh, we don't want the ooze, the sneeze, and all that the cold brings, we don't want that all over us, we don't want that all over our clothes. In fact, if you're honest, the nicer your clothes are at the moment, the less likely that cold infested child is going to get that tight, full frontal hug. They need a wet wipe washing for a nice, tight hug.
Ceremonial law and the practices of the temple was like a wet wipe relationship with God and His beloved in lieu of the washing, and cleansing, and healing that would come in the person and work of Jesus as the world's Savior. It was necessary because God was faithful to a sin-sick society, but even the best of our own standards would be like a gooey embrace to a perfect God. The sneezy yuck of sin has no place in His perfect glory. To be in God's presence required a washing.
But such washings gave way to the ultimate cleansing in Jesus Christ. In fact, through Christ's work, God the Father put away the wet wipe of temporary washings and covered all of us with His righteousness, His holiness, His wholeness as a gift of grace.
And that's what the one, healed leper discovered that day. Yes, all ten were healed. Yes, all ten received a wet wipe of restoration of their lives to their families and friends, but one realized that a greater gift was given to him. He realized that God's Son, the Savior of the world was in His midst with a healing and forgiveness for eternal life, not just a healing for the moment!
God's Son came to fulfill all righteousness, to overcome all sinfulness to make the ceremonial wet wipe unnecessary, because the fullness of grace was now in the world, for the world!
What joy! What joy! Cleansed, not just from the illness of leprosy, but from the muck of sin and guilt, that's a healing that joins us to the living Christ, restores us to fellowship with our Creator, no matter whether sick or well in this world. That's the healing this one man received that day; that's the source of thanksgiving for his life, and that's the source of thanksgiving for our life now and forever! And that's why Jesus says to the one who fell before Him with thanksgiving for his healing, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
This week in the United States we celebrate a day of thanksgiving. Like the man who returned to Christ in gratitude, God's people give thanks to Him for all the blessings He has given and all the ways He has blessed others through us even amidst our various struggles and weaknesses.
Thanksgiving began early this year for one of our brothers in Christ. Perhaps you remember the story on the news earlier this year as the fight against the Ebola virus began to fill our broadcasts. Dr. Kent Brantly was one of the American missionaries who contracted the Ebola virus while caring for the sick in Liberia. He had traveled to Liberia with his family to serve the Lord as a doctor, providing care in the community that had great need for medical services. When Ebola broke out, he decided not to flee. The rest of his family returned to the U.S. and shortly after that, while caring for Ebola patients; he contracted Ebola in spite of his many precautions. Dr. Brantly lay in bed in Liberia for nine days, getting sicker and weaker each day, he prayed that God would help him to be faithful even in his illness, whether in his life or in his death, he wished that God would be glorified. He learned that there were thousands, maybe even millions, of people around the world praying for him throughout the week, and even still today; and how his story impacted so many. And he said this, "I cannot thank you enough for your prayers and your support. But what I can tell you is that I serve a faithful God who answers prayers."
Thanksgiving is not just a made up holiday, it's an attitude that is the key to living life. To be thankful to God who created and redeemed you, that's the core for everything that is good in your life, in this world, and in the life to come. To miss that is to take the wet wipe, when God meant for you to have the whole cleansing!
But, maybe some of you listening today are sick with one or more of the ailments God never intended His children to endure and no temporary healing seems on the horizon. In that reality, "Thank you!" may feel far from your lips and far from your heart as the pain of your body wears down your joy. Hope for a miracle or even the taste of relief may be overwhelming; any gratitude for a healing won on the cross that seems so far away and untouchable.
But, to you, Jesus' word is even more clear. He says, "In this world, you may have trouble, but I," Jesus says, "have overcome the world." Jesus subjected Himself to all that is against you; sin, sickness, loneliness, grief and He took them to a cross for their defeat, and He overcame death in His resurrection to give you the promise of life in Him forever.
God hasn't forgotten you. In fact, God has done miraculous things on your behalf, for your life and salvation. In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul reminds us that when we are washed in His Name, Baptism, that's no mere wet wipe for the moment, but is God Himself connecting you to His work on the cross, in the resurrection all on your behalf. He puts His Name on you, He calls you His own, He knows you by name, He knows the pain and separation that disease and injury inflicts. It was for this that Jesus came for you, for all.
There are wet wipe blessings still in the world. All ten lepers were healed and I'm sure that all had a version of how or why. Even today, sometimes God's temporal healings happen many different ways. Sometimes healing and recovery come through the talents and medicines of doctors and medical care providers, and when this happens, we thank them and the Lord. Sometimes they happen just because our bodies were created so wonderfully to have its own ways to fight off illness and get back to health. But all of these things merely make us yearn for the day when we will be healed completely, eternally in body, mind, and spirit. That too, God promises as the Bible says about Christ's return in glory, "we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body put on immortality" (1 Cor. 15:52-54).
And that's the thing to keep in mind today. There are troubles in this world, but they are overcome in Christ and that reality is true for us right now by faith, even in the midst of sickness, disease, and death. In fact, when you know that heaven awaits you in Jesus, it begins to change the way you look at life here and now. As believers, we're not looking at our physical well-being or our bank account as proof of God's love. No, we see it clearly, His love, in the cross; we receive it fully through His Word, the washing of His Baptism, His Supper. With life secure in Him, it makes us willing to cross, then, the boundaries of safety, and enter into people's lives that are full of hurts, full of troubles, and full of dangers; not just with a wet wipe of temporary blessing, but with the sure and certain promise of life and salvation in Jesus forever.
That's Christian hope; knowing God's certain help for us, but being empowered also by God to enter into harm's way for the sake of others.
That's why people like Dr. Kent Brantly would be willing to venture to Liberia to help out when it is such a great personal risk. That's why Christian spouses sacrifice for their mates or parents sacrifice for their children. That's why believers seek to love others, no matter who they are or where they've come from. Why, because that's just a glimpse of the love that we all have received from Jesus our Savior. That's what a Samaritan leper learned one day. That's what you can know by faith in Jesus today too.
That's a thanksgiving blessing worth remembering today, one which empowers you to keep moving forward in life knowing that your life is sure forever in Him. Look forward with hope in the Lord, He has put the wet wipes of temporal solutions aside and made eternal life and salvation possible for all who believe. Let that be your strength today as you live in the hope we have even in the midst of affliction, trusting in the God who heals body and soul forever.
God bless you. Amen!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 23, 2014 Topic: Why Our LHM Trips Must Be More Than Just Tours!
ANNOUNCER: What's the difference between a tour and a pilgrimage? I'm Mark Eischer, here once again with Pastor Gregory Seltz. Today we focus once again on your recent trip to Germany and the idea that it be more of a pilgrimage than a tour. What do you mean by that?
SELTZ: Great to be with you again, Mark. Like we said before, these journeys must be more than just enjoyable travel because our goal with them is to deepen one's personal faith. That's a value added experience of traveling with us. We don't just want our people to see these incredible places. We want them to experience them as places where God did incredible work through His Son Jesus Christ and even through faithful messengers and witnesses like St. Paul and Martin Luther.
ANNOUNCER: And that's not necessarily a perspective that a travel company might share or even understand.
SELTZ: Indeed. Now we truly enjoyed our time with Trans World Travel, great people. And of course, our work with Educational Opportunities people has been wonderful too. But we at Lutheran Hour, we feel that we have a responsibility to add to their great work.
SELTZ: They take us to these great places. They get knowledgeable, local guides, but they can't always know how personally connected we are as Lutheran Christians to these sites. That's my job along with all of us here at the Lutheran Hour to bring out those highlights.
ANNOUNCER: A good example being our recently finished sermon series on the Footsteps of Paul and the Footprints of God's Grace.
SELTZ: Exactly, Pauline, New Testament Theology is a key component of the Reformation and therefore it's especially meaningful to us. It reiterates the uniqueness of the Gospel that comes in the flesh so that there might be real good news for real, common people. That was something that ignited Luther's rediscovery of the Gospel and that's something you see in our pilgrimage even in the places of St. Paul.
ANNOUNCER: And those themes certainly came out in those unique lectures and videos that were part of that tour.
SELTZ: They did. And the other important thing that we take seriously is this potential challenge to faith that sometimes these trips might engender too.
ANNOUNCER: What do you mean by that?
SELTZ: There are always themes going on all around us. For example, when we journeyed to Jerusalem, you're always aware that there's a political context to these Holy Places and so we've got to prepare our people to see it, and in some sense, to see past it to make sure that they experience afresh the uniqueness of the Gospel of Jesus and not some watered down political message that's everywhere in all these places.
ANNOUNCER: Did you also find that in Luther Land?
SELTZ: Oh, it's there for sure. In fact, remember, this is the 500th anniversary of Luther in Germany and there are a whole lot of opinions as to what Luther's significance still is. For some, he was the cultural unifier of Germany with his New Testament translation. For others, he was the rebel, the author of the cultural freedom movements that followed him.
ANNOUNCER: But our spiritual connection to Luther is much more than that.
SELTZ: That's for sure. That's another reason that we not only arranged to journey to some of these unique places in Germany on our tours, but also to try to fill in the blanks concerning that spiritual legacy. In fact, for Luther, the spiritual freedom that we have in Jesus Christ, with God by grace; to Luther that is the key to all those other freedoms and responsibilities. He would say, "If you miss that, you miss them all."
ANNOUNCER: And some who celebrate Luther today wouldn't even agree with Luther's own assessment of that, would they?
SELTZ: No they wouldn't, but we do and our journey there, then, is a very moving experience; not just of Luther, his times and his work, but of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its continuing significance for the times in which we live. Preaching in Berlin, with all our people gathered in the church of Bonhoeffer, in view of the stories of Pastor Niemoller in the concentration camps; those were incredible experiences of that reality.
ANNOUNCER: I recall you even had some questions about the Passion Play in Oberammergau.
SELTZ: Questions? Yes, more like things to be aware of.
ANNOUNCER: Such as?
SELTZ: Our guide talked about how the play was a community event, and as such, it faces challenges to contextualize the message of the Passion of Jesus to modern people. By and large the event reflects the New Testament pretty well, but when we go in 2020, I'd like to see what they do with the physical resurrection of Jesus, since that is the key to the Lordship of Jesus even for today. The pageantry is amazing, and with the right frame of mind, I know we'll be blessed either way, especially as we celebrate the fullness of the message of Jesus, in the faithful witnesses of Paul and Luther.
ANNOUNCER: Certainly travel experiences that can bless and enrich one's faith! Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Sing to the Lord of Harvest" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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