Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

2 September 2018

by the Rev. Mr. Shannon Clark

From its very beginning the Church, and Jesus Christ himself, used militant language to describe the way that Christian live should be conducted here on earth.  Jesus says, “I came not to bring peace but a sword.”

He also demands absolute fidelity and obedience from his followers when he says that if anyone loves mother or father or sister or brother more than me, then he cannot be my disciple.  The apostles pick up this way of understanding the Christian life, especially St. Paul with his well-known description of the Christian’s warfare in 2 Corinthians 10 and Ephesians 6.

Surely in this world, if we live according to the Spirit and desire to live godly lives, we will suffer persecution.  We will be misunderstood.  We will be the butt of many jokes.  Or perhaps, what is worst of all, we will simply be ignored.

But what does all this have to do with the lessons this morning?  What does this idea of Christian warfare have to do with a leper, who is on his face at the feet of Jesus?  Well, in short, it has everything to do with it because Christian warfare is of a totally different nature than what we usually understand by the term “warfare.”  The enemies are different.  The weapons are different.  The goals and objectives are as different as night and day.

The collect for this morning makes mention of what has come to be known as the theological virtues.  They are theological because their source is in God the Holy Ghost.  They are virtues, or dispositions of the soul, that are essential to our lives here in this world in which we work out our salvation moment by moment.

A Christian is to be faithful to God.  A Christian is to be hopeful in God.  And a Christian is to be full of charity, or love, toward God and neighbor.

So we ask for God to assist us in obtaining his promises by asking him to make us love what he commands – and does that not tell us something about ourselves?  We have a notoriously hard time as fallen human beings trying to figure out what we are to do and what we are to love.  We need God’s assistance, God’s help, to create in us new hearts that love his commands.

And that brings us to the Epistle.  You see, the last two weeks the Epistles have been telling us what the Law can do and what it cannot do.  Listen to what one writer has said:

“In the Epistles for the last two Sundays, it has been pointed out that the Law was powerless to make man righteous.  Though obedience to the Law could preserve [us] from committing [some of the] grosser sins, it could not produce in and of itself those interior ‘fruits of the spirit,’ such as love and joy and peace, and so forth.  Law cannot deal with such things.  They are spiritual.  The law may prevent me from murdering my neighbor, but it cannot make me love my neighbor.  Only the Spirit of Christ [can bring this about].”

The strange thing about Christian warfare is that the soldiers do not look like what we normally expect.  The greatest Christian soldiers of all time were filled with the love, joy, and peace of God.  They despised the world, the flesh, and the devil, not by any kind of active hostility and violence, but by ignoring them for something greater.  For when we set our minds on one thing it cannot be distracted by another.  This is one of the great psychological and spiritual insights of St. Paul.  How do you overcome sin?  Is it by focusing all our attention on “not committing sin?”

I’m not going to get angry at the kids anymore.

            I’m not going to waste my time on that anymore.

No, he tells us in the second lesson from Morning Prayer “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things, and the God of peace shall be with you.”

The Christian fights to keep nothing before his mind except those things which are true, honest, pure, lovely, and virtuous.  You see, we become like what we think about.  This is similar to that chilling passage in Psalm 115 where it speaks about those who make idols and worship them actually become like them.  We become like what we worship.  For better or for worse.  And this brings us to the Gospel lesson.

There are many historical and spiritual lessons to be learned from this account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers.  Jesus is going to Jerusalem and he is passing through Samaria and Galilee.  He enters a village of meets 10 lepers who are standing far away.  They ask Jesus to have mercy on them, from a long distance.  He tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, which is in accordance with Mosaic Law and is there to ensure the healing so that they may officially be restored to relationship within the community.  So they go on their way to the priests, and while they are walking they notice that they have been cleansed from the disease of leprosy.

The rest go on their way – where, we do not know, to the priest, maybe, to their family, maybe, we do not know – however, there was one who when he saw that he was healed turned back, gave glory to God, fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, and thanked him.  He understood.  He remembered.  His mind was enlightened in a way that the others were not.

The nine lepers were glad that they were healed and totally focused their attention on the physical healing that they had received.  Now, new opportunities would open up for them.  They could be restored to normal life.  They could work, eat, drink, and have special gatherings and parties.  Oh, the things that they could do now!  But that newly healed skin certainly would rot off their bones one day, so what would be the point?

The point is to remember Jesus.  Remember his blessings, his healings, his miracles in your life.  Remember, and give thanks to Him.  Thank Him.  The word that the leper used for thanking Jesus is eucharistone, the word from which we get “Eucharist.” The primary service and sacrament of the Church itself.  The word means “to give thanks” or “thanksgiving.”  Therefore, this issue of thanking Jesus is essential to the Christian faith.

In light of this, I want you to do the following devotion this week:

First, get a stop watch, find a quiet place, and get a prayer book.

Second, read the general thanksgiving (p. 19, BCP) very slowly and ponder its meaning for 10 minutes.

Third, ask the Holy Spirit to show you personally how he has worked in your life.  Sit quietly for 10 minutes.  And listen.

It does not matter what time you do this.  The main thing is that you do it.  This is a vast part of our spiritual training as Christian soldiers.  Be disciplined.  Let us pick a time and do it.  Let us bring those things that the Spirit will show us to worship next week.  And offer them as spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  As we begin to think more about the things of God we will grow more and more into his likeness the same way that a son has the same looks and mannerisms as his father.  This way of spiritual discipline and grace is the only way to heaven.  The fight is very real.

Therefore, especially men, our response to the battle must be real.  Our Christianity will not be flashy.  It will not be pleasing to physical senses.  It cannot be sold, advertised, or peddled out at the lowest cost.  It will not lose itself in the heresy of activism.  In fact, it will appear very boring and useless to those who are not filled with faith, hope, and love toward God.  Our Christianity is one that is prayerful, sacramental, faithful to Christ.

I leave you with the words of the gradual hymn (No. 560, 1940 Hymnal):

Fight the good fight with all thy might, Christ is thy strength and Christ is thy right; Lay hold on life and it shall be Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace, Life up thine eyes and seek his face; Life with its way before us lies, Christ is the path and Christ the prize.

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