Saturday, November 29, 2008

Luke.17.11-19; Thanksgiving Evening; November 26, 2008;

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 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. 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?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“And as he entered a village, [Jesus] was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance” they were unclean, it was all they could do… stand at a distance. No one would tolerate their presence any other way. The disease that plagued them, leprosy, was plain for all to see. You could only cover up so much… but, hands showed, and faces… you couldn’t hide the white glossy skin or the black rotting spots, you couldn’t hide the missing fingers and swollen feet. Leprosy was obvious, and it made them unclean. All they could do was stand at a distance and shout hoping that Jesus would hear them. All they could do was believe that if he heard them he would do what he had done for others. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us! Heal us. Take away these awful spots… remove this uncleanness.” Jesus had done it before. He could do it again.

Annabelle felt dirty, and nothing seemed to take it away. She showered five or six times a day, but nothing helped. In her mind she knew that it wasn’t her fault, she had been careful, she had followed all the rules… she never walked at night alone, she avoided dark places, she was always alert to the danger, but it caught her by surprise. It was a public place, but still no one seemed to notice. No one came to help her. The rape made her feel dirty. And even now, months later it made here feel sick. She just couldn’t get over the shameful feelings that overwhelmed her. Her attacker had been caught, he was convicted, he was guilty not her. She knew it. “So why do I feel guilty?” she asked herself. “Other people must feel it, too.” She saw how friends avoided her. Somehow she was ‘tainted.’ They never knew what to say, it was easier to just keep a distance. It just felt better that way. Annabelle felt abandoned, outcast and alone. And she called out to God too, from a distance. How could he love her? How could she come into his presence? She was dirty. She was unclean.

We know what it means to be unclean. It is a violation of what should be. We are repulsed by rotten food, blood, and skin diseases. All we want to do is turn away from it and put as much distance as possible between ourselves and the ‘unclean’ thing.

These feelings are only a small window into the uncleanness that all people have in God’s sight. You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV) “Be perfectly clean, without spot or blemish!” It’s a demand we can’t abide. We know the uncleanness that plagues all people. We know dirt, and filth. We know we are tainted, unclean, and polluted; we’ve seen it in others… “He sure got his hands dirty on that deal.” We say about a shady business. We see it in ourselves. It is there just below the surface; lurking about… thoughts of selfishness, greed, and desire. We know ‘unclean’ and we know we are it.

God is holy and perfect. If we are not perfectly perfect, completely clean, we are offensive to him. If we are unclean He cannot tolerate our presence. We cannot have access to him; he will not come near us, as long as we remain contaminated. We cannot scrub ourselves clean. Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord God. (Jeremiah 2:22, ESV) Our uncleanness leaves us abandoned, outcast and alone.

But, God has come near to us. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" the Lepers shouted. Jesus saw them, and he healed them. He made them clean. He removed their disease and he sent them to the priests to have them declared ‘clean.’ They would offer a sacrifice to God. A blood offering, to announce that they were free from the disease, they were clean. Jesus drew near to them by healing them.

Jesus drew near to us when He entered our contaminated world. He came to us, perfectly clean, perfectly holy, perfectly human, perfectly God. And he came to wash us clean. He didn’t come only to clean diseases of the skin he came to clean the disease of the heart. The inner uncleanness that lies just below the surface. The dirt that we can’t clean, he washes clean by shedding his holy and precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. His blood does what we cannot. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” (Psalm 52:2,7, ESV) We cry for mercy. “Oh Lord, have mercy… I am unclean… I have sinned against you, in thought word and deed.” He answers our prayers. “I forgive you. I make you clean. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7, ESV) God no longer recoils from us. He comes near to us. Where two or three are gathered in my name, I promise you my presence. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:13, ESV)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, (Ephesians 5:25-26, ESV) This was the verse Annabelle clung to. “… washing with water through the word.” Whenever, she felt dirty and defiled, she turned to what God had done for her in Baptism. God had cleaned her, he had accepted her, and he had drawn near to her. “…wash me and I will be clean.” She would say to herself as she made the sign of the cross. She remembered that she had been saved by the blood of Christ, and washed clean, even if she didn’t always feel clean. She knew it was true because God had promised it. “Thank you Jesus for making me clean.” She prayed. “Rise and go, your faith has made you clean.” God says to her.

As the ten men walked down the road toward the temple the suddenly began to realize that each one of them had been healed. Gone were the sores. Gone were the dark rotting spots… they were clean, totally, utterly clean. The looked at one another in amazement, and they began to run… to the temple… to the presence of God. But one of them stopped, “to the presence of God?!?” He said. He knew were God was. He knew who had cleansed him. He knew where he had to go. He turned around and ran even faster. “Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!” he said with each step louder and louder as he approached the presence of Jesus. He threw himself at Jesus feet, wrapped his arms around him. “Thank you! Jesus. Praise God!” he shouted. “I’m clean!” “Arise and go, your faith has made you clean.” Jesus said to him.

The leper was made clean. Annabelle was made clean. We have been made clean. No longer are we abandoned, outcast and alone. No longer do we shrink from God’s presence, nor does he recoil at ours. He came to us in Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sins. He comes to us with his presence as we gather here in this place. “Thank you Jesus for making us clean.” We say. Amen.

The peace that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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