Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Gospel of ‘Success’

St. Michael and All Angels
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 29, 2013
Do you know what an outlier is? An outlier is someone who is at the edge. In the middle you have the masses. At the extremes are the outliers. Today we’re talking about the ones who are at the high end of the scale. The ones who have achieved success. The cream of the crop.

In many ways our country is built on the idea of success. Making your way to the top is viewed as laudable. Those who excel in their field are extolled. Someone who has achieved what no one else has is revered. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with any of this. Striving to be the best you can be is a good thing. Looking up to those who are at the pinnacle of success can be a great motivation for achieving success yourself.

The thing about success, though, is that we tend to look at the outliers for how we view success. When a person is a true outlier, not in the middle like most of us; truly great at what they do, not just good like most of us; at the top, not somewhere down here like most of us, we tend to look at who the outlier is and what he has done to achieve his success. We tend not to factor in all that is completely out of the control of the outlier. We tend to think that the person who is successful is successful because of what she has done, not because there were a whole series of events or factors that fell into place for them.

If you take two people of equal intelligence or ability and put one in a situation where there is ample opportunity for the person to hone his skills and put the other one in a situation where there is not opportunity for that at all, which one is likely to succeed? Even though those who are successful generally have achieved a lot through their hard work, dedication, and accomplishments, it is equally true that there have been a lot of people and other factors that have played a role in that person’s success.

Our culture prizes individual success. Perhaps we need to recognize more the role we all play in others’ lives. Think of all the factors involved in the star athlete’s success. The head coach, the assistant coaches, the teammates, the parents, the athletic facilities the athlete makes use of, the money spent in providing for all the resources at his disposal, and on and on. If he achieves success, it is by no means because he has done it on his own.

Even more so in our culture, this is what we ought to learn in the Church. Who we are, what we have, what we look to, is anything but what we alone can achieve. In the Church, success is even more important than it is in society, although this success is very different from what we normally think of as success. Too often we think of success in the Church in the same way we do in society. And this is not a new thing either. And it’s not even something that is exclusive to our American society.

This is the question the disciples ask Jesus in today’s Gospel reading: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Top CEOs would love this kind of initiative. If I can find out who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, then I can set out to overtake him. I can learn how to be like him and be succcessful myself. Who is the greatest in God’s Kingdom? When you find out, you can look to that person, who she is, what kind of person she is, what she has done, and then you know what it takes to be the greatest. Guess where all the focus in this is? On the individual.

This question by the disciples is a devastating commentary on us as Christians. We are to be humble. We are to serve. We are not to see ourselves as better than others. We are to be lowly. But the disciples show their true colors. Will you and I be able to see our true colors? Will we be able to see ourselves for what we are, that we want to achieve our success and we want it to be due to us? That, far from being content with how God places us in His Kingdom, we want to achieve a higher status, be ranked as greater in the Kingdom of God than others?

To the question the disciples asked, there was an answer. To put Jesus’ answer in terms of our opening illustration, in the way the world views things, we are to be outliers. Not so much in the sense that we as Christians are to be the cream of the crop, reaching the pinnacle of success, but rather in the sense of being at the edge. Whereas the world is a mass of humanity in the middle, we Christians are to be out of the norm. We are to be outliers.

As an exhibit Jesus puts before the disciples a child. Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? The one who is as a child. The one who is not a self-made person, but rather is entrusted solely to the care of his parents. The one who doesn’t seek success of her own power or desire, but rather rejoices in the success she has been given through many factors that are out of her control.

This gives us perspective to understand the meaning of this day, the festival of St. Michael and All Angels. We don’t talk about angels much. We don’t think about them much. This is not really a bad thing. Angels are far more important than we probably realize. But there are many things we don’t think about or talk about much that are really important. Often these things are what keep us going so that we can simply live and carry out the work God has called us to do. Your heart is essential to your life and yet you don’t think about it all the time. The engine of your car is vital to getting you where you need to go, but you don’t spend all your time thinking about it. The life you have and living it out is what you ought to be focusing on, not your heart pumping out blood to your veins. Using your car to get you where you need to be is more important than pondering the importance of your car’s engine.

Angels fit into this category. They are spiritual beings, so you can’t see them. They operate outside of time and space, so you’re not aware of their workings. Perhaps most important, they are servants of God, so they don’t really want you focusing on them. Their job is to protect you. Their job is to use the Gospel to defeat your enemy, Satan. Their work is to serve you so that you may be the recipient of what God has accomplished in the Gospel.

The disciples’ question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is lacking in something. It is lacking in the true greatness of God. When we think of success, we think of being the best, or at least being better than most. We think of success as achieving something or accomplishing something. With God it’s just the opposite. There is no success we can achieve. Born into sin, we are already defeated. Living in this fallen world, we are constantly attacked by Satan, our sworn enemy. The reading from Revelation warns us of him: “the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, you have no chance in this fight. You are born in sin and attacked mercilessly by the devil. You continue in your sin every day. You will achieve nothing but the condemnation you deserve.

But St. Michael the archangel has shown you the way out. It is by the blood of the Lamb. It is by the word of the testimony. Michael conquered Satan, as the reading from Revelation shows. He did it not by his own power, but by the blood of the Lamb. He did it by the word of the testimony. That word is the Gospel. There is only one testimony given in the New Testament, and it is the testimony that the one who shed His blood is the one who rose from the grave. What Jesus accomplished on the cross is what brought Satan his defeat.

Michael is an archangel. He is powerful. But he didn’t fight against Satan of his own power. He used a little thing called the Gospel. And this brings us back full circle to Jesus’ answer to the disciples. What is it about the child that He said to the disciples, you must become as a child in order to be great? What it is about the child is that the child is dependent. The child must be entrusted completely to his parents. A child simply trusts his parents and knows they will take care of him.

God in fact brings you success. It is not of this world. You may never be rich or powerful. You may never gain fame or honor. But God is successful. He achieved salvation for you on Calvary. He gained the victory by conquering the grave. He sent Michael to cast out Satan, by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of the testimony. This is truly the Gospel of success, what God has accomplished for you so that you may live as His child, and in humility and joy carry out what He has called you to be and do. Amen.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

God Has Visited His People

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 15, 2013
Where do you start? With life? Or death? Do you start where God started it all, with life? Or with where we’re at, with death? If you start with where it all started, with life, you see very clearly that you are not where you started, with life. Because death is the norm. You were born into this world, given life, but you are going to die. You are born into this world, but you are born of this world, and that means you are born into sin and you are spiritually dead. Even if you start with life, you can’t really grasp what it is. You can’t know what it truly means to be alive; to have life as God intended for you to have it. Without sin. Without imperfection. Without sorrow or trouble.

So start with death. Start where it was with the woman in the Gospel reading. She lost her husband. Now she lost her only son. We meet her where she was at. In death. She was alive but staring straight into the face of death. This is where it started with her. If you are to see what it means that God has saved you, you must start where you’re at. With death. You are staring it straight in the face, because you are no different than that woman. She was alive, but her life was consumed by death. Her husband, now her son. At some point she too would die, and even so, certainly was sad to live the rest of her days without her husband and now her son.

So yes, this is the place to start. This is where we’re at. And this is where Jesus starts. He meets the woman in her sorrow. His beginning with her is in her experiencing death. And the people who witnessed His raising this young man from his death got it right: “God has visited his people!” In our current state, we were in death. But God visited His people. God came to us in our death. He who began with life came to us in our death. So that’s where we should begin. With death. We should begin with where we’re at. We’re born into death, we’re living in death. We are going to die.

Now coming to church is supposed to be uplifting, so we certainly don’t want to talk about death the whole time. But would our time here in God’s House truly be uplifting if we ignored the clear state we are in? Would it really help to ignore the fact that we are wrapped in sinful flesh and that our life thus ultimately ends in death? It wouldn’t do us any good. It rather would end up harming us.

Even so, we don’t focus only on death. After all, when Jesus came to the woman where she was at, in the midst of death, He did bring life. He truly brought her out of her sorrow. He physically brought her son back to life. Just because we start with death doesn’t mean we continue in it. But as they say, naming the thing you’re battling is half the battle. So let’s name it. It’s death. You and I are spiritually dead. Of our own sinful nature we are rotting corpses that ultimately will burn eternally in the lake of fire. And it is a fire that will never be quenched. Ignore this to your peril.

There’s another plain fact, though. You’re here. You’re exactly where you need to be to face this death head-on. If you are critically ill, you need to be rushed to the hospital. Otherwise death will overtake you. You will succumb to it. The man in the Gospel reading didn’t even outlive his mother. On a very basic level, this place, the House of God, is a hospital. Here you are healed. You come here so that you may receive the medicine you need to keep you from dying eternally. Here you are given the spiritual care for your soul so that you may not die but live forever. This is how meeting the problem head-on actually is uplifting. When you see what you’re facing you can then see how to face it.

The woman was given grace to see this. In her grief, God visited her. Jesus came to her in her need. God saw that her problem was death. She could not escape it. But He began everything with life. Even though our experience begins with death; even though He meets us where we’re at, in our living with death; He brings into the midst of it life.

How does He do this? By coming to us. God has visited His people. God has come to us where we’re at. He has brought life into our death. The one thing that the entire Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, hones in on is that thing. God has come to us where we’re at. He has brought His life to us in our death in the person of Jesus. God has visited His people. The one who brought life into existence is the God who brings dead people back to life. He does it by Jesus coming to us right where we’re at. And we’ve already established where we’re at, we’re in death. There’s no sense in ignoring it. It’s to our ultimate ruin if we do.

But if we boldly face it, well, then we’re in a position to be brought back to life! That’s what Jesus does. He brings back to life. So you and I are here today for just that purpose. You and I are waking up each day to a day in which we are spiritually dying; our sinful flesh bringing us to our ultimate ruin. It is only by the act of God visiting us, coming to us in this death we have, that we are able to be raised up to new life. In Baptism God visited you, His son, His daughter. In Baptism He touched the coffin of your sinful flesh and spoke to you to get up. And you did. Because He raises from the dead. He brings people to life. As He spoke creation into existence, He speaks new life into you by His Gospel; by absolving you of your sins; by giving to you His body and blood, saying, “Take and eat, this is My body, for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, for you.”

He doesn’t do this to you and for you because you’re alive, but because you’re dead. On your own, you’re dead. But when He raises you to life, well then you have life! Only then are you able to live; and live eternally!

Our problem is that we want to think that on our own we’re alive when we’re really dead. We want to think things are okay when they’re really not. We want to ignore what we need to face head on. When we come here, into the House of God, into this place, and are diagnosed with our sickness, namely, death, then we’re able to see clearly that we need to be treated. We’re also in the place where God does what He does, and that is bring dead people back to life! Ignoring that you are dead and need to be brought back to life by God is ignoring Jesus and Him dying on the cross for the sin of the world. Jesus would not have suffered for the sin of the world if it were not needed. If you aren’t spiritually dead then Jesus wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of dying for you.

Our problem is that we don’t want to deal with our problem. We want to be uplifted without facing what stands in our way. But the good news is that God visits His people. He comes to us right where we’re at, even if we’re not hot on seeing that we’re dead. We need help. We need to be revived. We need to be brought back to life.

So turn things around. Instead of thinking of heading your problem straight on as a discouraging thing, that you’re spiritually dead, realize that this is a blessing from God. He is working for you just as the doctor would in telling you that are critically ill and need to be treated. Your doctor is acting for your good. Your doctor is doing what you need.

This is why God came in the flesh. It is why the entire Scriptures point to Christ and are centered in Him. You are dead and you need to be brought back to life. He is how it happens. You can’t do it on your own. That woman wasn’t able to bring her husband and son back to life. Her son certainly wasn’t able to raise himself back to life! He was dead and only Jesus could bring him back to life. And He did! The woman was experiencing the effects of death and only Jesus could bring life to her, and He did!

This is what He does for you. He died so that you may live. He rose so that you may rise with Him. He Baptized you so that you could die with Him and rise with Him. He gives you His body and blood in His precious Supper so that you may partake of the God who visits His people. So that you may eat and drink of the very flesh and blood of the one who came in the flesh and shed His blood on the cross for all of your sin. So that in partaking of His body and blood you may be brought back to life. So that you may have life and have it in abundance.

Going back to the start, where we debated how to start, whether with life or with death, there is one answer. Christ. You start with Christ. In Him you have both life and death. In His life you have life, in His death you have life, in His resurrection you have life. In Baptism God comes to His people because you are united with Christ in His death and resurrection. In your Baptism you have death and life. The putting to death of your sinful nature and the rising to life of your new Man, your new and eternal life in Christ.

You don’t need to wonder if you should start with death or life. Start with Christ. Because it ends with Him. But even so, it doesn’t so much end with Him as it continues with Him. Forever. Amen.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Will Worry Kill You Off, or Something Else?

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 8, 2013
I love church bulletin bloopers. One bulletin had this advice to give: “Don’t let worry kill you off—let the Church help!” Well, most bloopers are just good old-fashioned mistakes. They’re good for a laugh but you know that they’re wrong because of a typo. As funny as this one is, though, I think it’s right just the way it is. Yes, worry will eventually kill you off. And since that is so, you ought to let the Church just go ahead and finish the job.

That is, after all, how you first became a Christian. By being killed off. Drowned, crucified, put in a grave. In Baptism you were overwhelmed by water that drowned that sinful nature of yours, your Old Adam, so that you could be in the position to be raised to new life. Think of it, Jesus did not rise from the grave until He had been put in it. You became a Christian when you were first joined to Christ in His death and resurrection. You were killed off by the Church. Some of the most joyous times in the life of the Holy Christian Church are when sinners are killed off by the Church in Holy Baptism.

So don’t let worry kill you off. Let the Church help you, literally. That’s what the Church does. It kills in order to make alive. It destroys in order to raise up. You are just such a person of the Church of God. You who were born a sinner. One who is firmly enslaved to the god of this world. It comes in many forms, but it mostly manifests itself in the form of money. After all, without money you can’t get all those things you want. You can’t get all those things you need. You can’t get all those things that, if you don’t have them, then how will you survive? This is what you are born into. You are born into this anxiety. This seeking after the things of this world. And it’s not so much that you like them or enjoy them. It’s not so much that you know that without food on the table and clothes on your back you literally won’t be able to survive.

It’s that you’re beholden to these things. You are their slave. They are your Master. You serve them and what you don’t see is that therefore you cannot serve God. Because you cannot serve two masters. If you attempt to serve God then your Master—money, the things of this world, whatever it may be—will not be pleased. These things are jealous gods and they will woo you back. They will entice you. They will hijack your thoughts and your feelings and your compulsions. And you will be back in no time serving those false gods. It’s not too much to say that this is idolatry. It is a sin against the First Commandment, which is very short and to the point: You shall have no other gods. The apostle Paul says that covetousness is idolatry. From the beginning of the Ten Commandments to the end you have this primary sin of having other gods. Placing something else before the true God. Looking to something else for what you need other than God alone.

God doesn’t desire halfway trust. He demands full trust. It’s trust in Him alone and nothing else. So what does this make of money and the things of this world? Are they of no value? Are they to be rejected? Are they evil? Should we not use them or enjoy them? What Jesus is teaching us in the Gospel reading is not that these things are bad or of no value. He’s not saying we shouldn’t use them or enjoy them. He’s saying we should not put our trust in them. When we worry about not having what we need we have ceased trusting in God alone and have gone to serve another Master. There is only one Master and He is God. Your Heavenly Father, as Jesus says, knows what you need and will give you what you need. He loves you and keeps you in His care.

He does not exercise His Lordship over you as a dictatorial master. He exercises His Lordship over you in mercy and grace. In love He gives you what you need. After all, has He not given you His Son? And if He has given you His Son, will He not also give you all things? If He has clothed the flowers of the field in splendor beyond what Solomon in all his glory had, will He not also clothe you? If He feeds the birds will He not also give you enough to eat? The flowers and the birds don’t worry. They just live. They just exist as God has called them to exist. They are taken care of by the Heavenly Father.

When you worry you are consumed with thoughts that are thoughts of this world, not thoughts of God. When you are anxious you are enslaved to the things God has given to you for your benefit. You are turning things around. He has given you these things for your benefit and yet you are slaves of them. They have become your new Master. But they will never give you what you truly need. There is no everlasting fulfillment in the things of this world. As Jesus says, is not life more than clothing and food?

When you entrust yourself to God then you have what you truly need. He will give you His blessings for this life in His right timing. There are times when you must pray to Him for patience because you are tempted to worry and be anxious. There are times you need to pray for strength because your physical needs are not being met as it appears you need. There are times you need to pray for humility because you do not have what you think you ought to have.

This is to say, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” When you worry, when you sit at the feet of your Master—Money, the Things of this World—then you seek something other than the Kingdom of God. You desire something other than His righteousness. And you miss out on an entire other world that is right before you but you never see. Because you are bowing before the god of the things of this world.

This other world that is right before your eyes is the Church. It is the Kingdom of God. It is the righteousness of God. If you have God and His Kingdom, if you have God and His righteousness, if you have God the Father and His only-begotten Son, what more do you need? Well, the answer is, nothing! You need nothing more because you have everything in Him. The amazing thing is, He adds all these other things to you as well. He gives you everything and then He gives you even more.

But it’s through Him. It’s not through the money, or the things of this world, or whatever else you desire. It’s through Him and His Kingdom and His righteousness. He is your Master, and He is a gracious and merciful Master. He gives you His Son. Think for a moment what you have in Him, in Jesus Christ. You have the one who has everything, because He is true God of true God, and yet gave up everything. He is Lord and yet became a slave. He is righteous, without sin or guilt, and yet the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him. He is Lord and ruler of the universe and yet said of Himself, “The foxes have holes, the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

You see, this is how you have everything. You have everything because you have been given Him. In Baptism. You were drowned in Baptism. That sinful nature of yours that needs to worry and be anxious was drowned, killed off in Baptism. Joined with Him in His death so that you may be raised with Him in His resurrection. When the iniquity of all was laid upon Him He was not worrying or anxious. His heart was heavy because the sin and guilt of all was on Him. But His heart went out to every sinner. It was every sinner He was dying for. It was you and me He was going to His grave for so that you and I could live.

Really live! Not worried about where the next paycheck is going to come from. Not worried about if there’s enough to eat, or if there’s enough to pay for the kids’ needs, or enough to be able to retire, or to pay the medical bills. Not anxious about things that are not the substance of life. He died so that we might live. He gave His life so that we might have life.

And true life is life that is lived in Him. Not in the things of this world. In Him. His Kingdom. His Righteousness. His Son. He gives us abilities to be able to work, to provide for our family. He gives us opportunities to earn money for the things we need. When we run into roadblocks the answer is not to turn to those things but to God. If He has given us His Son, how will He not also give us all things! To truly trust Him is to truly reject any trust in the things of this world. The things of this world are things God gives us. They are gifts. He will provide for us. And if in His wisdom He has us go without those things we need, then we trust Him all the more. We seek Him and His Kingdom and He will add all the more abundantly what we truly need.

He will add also what we would never see on our own. That whole other life we would never know. A life of serving Him as our true Master is not some pious notion. It is a life of faith that exhibits itself in action. This is how. He is the Lord of the universe, the Creator of all there is. I don’t think we’re going to exhaust all the time we have in coming up with something He needs. There’s nothing we can do to serve Him that will satisfy any need He has. The life He gives us in Baptism is life exhibited in love toward others. We serve God by serving others. The way the Epistle reading says it is that we bear one another’s burdens. If you are worried or anxious, one thing you need is your brothers and sisters in Christ to serve you. To love you, to help you, to bear your burdens.

You and I need to stop worrying about what we need and start looking at how we can bear one another’s burdens. If we are concerned about what we need, how will we able to see how to help others in their needs? We have been called to new life. In Baptism, thankfully, the Church did a tremendous service to us in killing us off. We are dead to sin. Dead to worry and anxiety. Alive to God in Christ Jesus! Amen.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Jesus, the Master Teacher

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of Joshua
Rally Sunday
September 1, 2013
Today is our Rally Sunday. It is the day we begin a new Sunday School year and make a special observance of the opportunity we have as Christians in our congregation to grow in the Word of God. Since we commonly call this Christian Education in our congregation, and that’s a common way for many congregations to refer to this, it’s worth noting that this is all because of Jesus. This is the case in other things. If we were to say, for example, what is the sole reason for our salvation, we would answer immediately, Jesus. Or for example, what or who is the center of who we are as a Christian congregation and the people of God, we would point once again to Christ, the Son of God.

So if we are going to make a big deal about Christian education in our congregation, and we are, or at least we should, then it’s worth understanding the reason for it. And that reason is Jesus. Not only is He is the source of salvation and new and eternal life for us, He is the reason we have Sunday School and Bible Class, that we read and study the Bible, that we engage in personal and family devotions. If it’s not for Him, then all we are doing is learning information. You could just as well go to a community college for that, or take an online course, or just sit down and read a book, or even watch an educational program on TV. Learning is good, but our Christian education in this congregation goes far beyond that.

To see this, we look to Jesus. Jesus is Lord. He is the Savior. He is true God and true man. He is also the Master Teacher. Now today’s Gospel reading isn’t one of those where He is teaching or responding to someone’s question. But it is Jesus our Lord and Savior teaching in all His glory. For only He can do what He did in the Gospel reading before us.

What happened? We know the story well. The ten lepers. They want to be healed. They cry to Jesus for mercy. He heals them. He sends them to the priests. They go. One returns and profusely gives thanks. It’s all pretty familiar and straightforward.

But then something strange happens. The man who returns, a Samaritan, is ecstatic that he has been cleansed of his leprosy. He returns to Jesus for the purpose of thanking Him. And there is no mistaking it. Luke describes it this way: “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.” He was really grateful! He was truly humbled and thankful. He probably felt that there was nothing he could to do to thank Jesus that would compare with the gift he received from Jesus. So he showed as best he could how grateful he was.

Now here’s what’s strange. Did Jesus say, “You’re welcome!” Or, “Dear Friend, it was My pleasure.” Or even what has become very common in our culture, “No problem.” Perhaps He could have responded along the lines of what we would expect from the religious figure He was, especially being God Himself, and say something like, “God bless you My son.”

What we have is the Samaritan returning and thanking Jesus profusely and then this: “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” This was Jesus’ reaction when the guy returned to give thanks. This was the way Jesus responded when this man who came back to simply say, “Thank you Jesus. I was deeply in need and You helped me out more than I could have ever imagined. You have given me a new lease on life! Thank you.” This is met with a series of questions from Jesus blasting out the other guys.

Now it’s true that after that Jesus closes with His customary “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” And while we shouldn’t discount that, but in fact, latch on to that, it’s worth considering what exactly Jesus was doing in responding the way He did.

One thing that keeps becoming clearer when you look at who Jesus is and what He does is that He is the Master Teacher. He is always teaching. He is always guiding us in the truth and in the way of truth. He doesn’t have to be in official teacher-mode to be teaching. In a similar way, we teach others all the time in various ways. By our actions, by showing, by explaining, and of course by the traditional mode of a teacher teaching a student.

One method teachers use to teach is asking questions. It goes without saying that those learning will ask questions. They don’t understand certain things and so they ask and the teacher answers. But teachers also ask questions. Especially the good ones. They ask not in order to learn or gain information, but to get the student to learn and grow. If the teacher states the information straight out and the student takes the information in, learning has taken place. Sometimes learning and growing take place when it’s turned around. The teacher asks a question and the student has to think. The student has to struggle to get a handle on it. The student has to grow beyond just gaining some information, but also to begin to understand it, and see how it applies to life, and what value there is in it.

If I tell you the right thing and you take that in, you have learned. If I model the right thing and you take that to heart, you have learned as well as grown. Asking questions is a way to show. So what was it Jesus was teaching in asking those questions? What was He showing?

We see the Samaritan returning to glorify God and give thanks to Jesus and Jesus responding with His questions. As the Master Teacher, He doesn’t respond immediately to the man, addressing him personally. Rather, Jesus responds rhetorically. He responds generally. He is taking the moment and using it as what teachers call a ‘teaching moment’. Taking the Samaritan’s profuse action of worship and thanks as an opportunity to make a valuable point, Jesus says generally, for the crowds who were there, His questions.

The way it is written it invites us to listen in. The one guy came back, but not the others. The one guy’s response was dead-on, the others’ were dead wrong. The one guy responded in faith and humility, the others responded in selfishness and apathy. What are we to learn from this? How can we learn from Jesus in our own lives? How can we learn from this to respond to Jesus faithfully? These are the questions Jesus is inviting us to ask when He asks His questions.

The irony in all this is that the other nine did exactly as Jesus had told them and the Samaritan did not. Yet, the other nine were judged by Jesus for their response and the Samaritan was affirmed for his response. Jesus’ questions lead us to see that it is never in the fulfilling of the Law in which our response to God consists. Rather it is in the complete resting in the Person God has made Himself known in. That, of course, is Jesus Christ. It is the one who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. It is the one who is fully God and yet became flesh. It is the one who has power to heal but has so much more to give than simply physical healing.

That is why He then turns to the man directly and speaks to him directly. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” This is Him saying that what He gives is so much more than what we think we need on the surface. Now, if you had leprosy, you sure would want to be healed of that. And the man was. But what was he truly grateful for? Was praising God for being cleansed of his skin malady all there was going on with this man? When Jesus says the man had faith, what does that tell us about the man and why gave thanks and praised God?

What it says is that what Jesus has come to do is to restore, to make whole. All ten received cleansing from leprosy. All ten were now restored back into the community, having been cut off from the community because of their leprosy. But only one was, as Jesus says, “made well.” The Samaritan received a gift by faith. He received more than just cleansing from leprosy, he received wholeness and restoration from God. And he received it from God in the person of Jesus Christ. There was now no need to be declared clean by the priests. The very God of the universe was standing before this man declaring him cleansed, whole, restored.

This is what Jesus was teaching on that day. It is what He continues to teach us today. That is why we too respond to Him in thanks and praise. It is why we cry out for mercy to Him in faith, and not selfishness. Rather, we place our own wants and desires aside and cry out to our Lord for mercy. Praying He give us what He knows we need.

But most importantly, why we do this is because on that day Jesus was not simply teaching. He was giving. What we mostly learn from Jesus the Master Teacher is that He is the one who gives. He gives healing, He gives hope, He gives help. He does it by giving Himself. He does it by His own cry of agony, where on the cross His cry went up to His Heavenly Father, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” His cry lifted up where He was forsaken so that we may be taken in. So that we may be restored, renewed, made well, saved, forgiven, lifted up, made whole.

He would indeed be the worst teacher in the world if for everything He has done was simply to teach us. He is the Master Teacher, but what we learn is that He is the Master, the Lord, who gives of Himself. Who brought us into His eternal life through death and resurrection in Baptism. He gives Himself to us, His very body, His very blood, to us in His precious and marvelous Supper which He invites us to partake of and makes us whole here in our needs and there in eternity. Amen.