Home > Sermons > Beggars Don’t Make Deals. Trinity 14 Sermon.

Beggars Don’t Make Deals. Trinity 14 Sermon.


 

Fun at last years’ church picnic

I had to edit this sermon on the fly because it was too long.  I’ve been trying to write them out again so I can get back to preaching around 10 minutes or 15 minutes.  But it’s not working because now I just write longer sermons.  The first version was about 500 words longer. 

A 24 year old man visiting the church told me, “I felt like you were talking directly to me.  And I like how you connect the preaching to real life.”  I put this down not to brag but because I’ve had so many other people tell me something like, “You have to stop preaching like you’re in the 16th century.  The young people aren’t interested in that.”  In fact  I just heard that from some people who transferred to another church a few weeks ago. 

I got all upset about that.  I don’t take the compliments to heart as much as the criticism.  But really preachers shouldn’t take either to heart.  If someone feels like I was speaking to them, and it was the Lord’s message, thanks be to God that He was able to hear Jesus who loves His lost sheep, and thanks be to God that I got to deliver the message from my Lord. 

14th Sunday after Trinity (Church Picnic)

St. Peter Lutheran Church/ Hamel Woods

St. Luke 17:11-17

September 9, 2012

“Beggars Don’t Make Deals”

INI

Dear Christians:

 

You’re in trouble, and you’re desperate to get out of it.  Have you ever been there?  You’re in trouble.  It was a test you didn’t study for, or you’re getting pulled over, or the teacher caught you and you’re sweating through the rest of the day wondering whether she’s going to tell your parents.  Or your spouse caught you again.  Or you’re late again.  Or your child or your mother is in danger. Or it’s you; you might die.

 

Now you start praying frantically, “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God, please don’t let it happen.”  But the normal praying to God doesn’t seem to be enough this time, because sometimes God says no.  So you start trying to make a deal with God.  “Oh God, please help me out of this, and I promise I’ll go back to church.”  “Oh God save me and I’ll start living right.”  “Oh God, just let this not happen and I’ll never ask You for another thing.”  “Oh God, make this go away and you can have my whole life.  Take everything!  Just save me from this.”

 

Have you ever prayed a prayer like that?  Once, twice, a hundred times?  But then how many times after the danger had passed did you forget what you promised, or did you say to yourself, “Ah, I got all excited about nothing”? 

 

God is full of mercy, and He graciously turns danger away from us many times when we pray like that, even many times when He knows that we won’t keep our promises.  But the danger that we won’t keep our promises is less of an issue than the fact that we think, somewhere deep down in our hearts, that God needs to be bribed into giving a gracious hearing to our prayers.  Or that we have bargaining chips that we can use on God. 

 

God wants us to ask Him for help, for good things.  He commands us to ask Him.  It is a good thing when in times of great distress we humble ourselves before God.  Fasting and mourning during tragedies and  seeking God in prayer is something that people do in the Bible frequently.  Lutherans used to observe “Days of Humiliation and Prayer,” particularly when some great trouble was facing the church or the community or nation.  But although God does not despise a broken and contrite heart, we don’t force His hand.  We are beggars, and beggars don’t make deals.  We ask God to show us mercy.

 

 The life of faith is lived out in prayer.  It begins with the beggar’s cry for mercy, it fights unbelief and keeps its confidence that Christ will give what He has promised, and it perseveres until, having received what is promised, it gives thanks to God.

God doesn’t need to be bribed.  He wants to be gracious to us and answer our prayers for the sake of Jesus.  The thing is that we just don’t ask Him very much.  We don’t ask very much because we don’t like coming to Him as beggars who depend completely upon mercy.  We ask with our lips, but our hearts are not in it,  not with the sincerity and urgency of beggars. 

 

When I lived in Seattle, there was a man who used to sit on the sidewalk asking for spare change.  Yet he wore Oakley sunglasses and a designer puffy coat.  He didn’t even try to hide that he wasn’t really in need.  And when he asked for help he said, “Spare change?” in such a half-hearted way it made me kind of angry.  A person who really needed help would probably look the part, but he certainly wouldn’t ask for help as though he could take it or leave it!

 

Yet that is very often how we pray.  Not like people who really need it.  Not like beggars.  We still have a lot of pride, and we often think we can make a deal with God.  That kind of prayer is more likely to test God’s patience than to get a favorable hearing.

 

2. Have mercy. 

For instance, each week in the Divine Service or Matins we sing “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.”  The greek words for this are Kyrie Eleison, “Lord, have mercy”, and so that part of the service is called the Kyrie.  Yet so often while singing those words, and then later in the week as we work, and deal with our families and with one another at church, we act like we need mercy about as much as the guy with designer sunglasses in Seattle.  Our hearts are not crying out for mercy from Jesus, even though our lips may say it.

 

Contrast that with the ten lepers in the Gospel appointed for today.  Leprosy meant a disgusting skin disease.  It could have meant fingers and toes and noses and lips that had fallen off—horrible disfigurement.  It meant being cut off from the people of Israel and cut off from the presence of God in the temple.

 

Were they half hearted about gathering together and calling to Jesus for help?  No.  St. Luke tells us they lifted up their voices and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  They gathered together in a group in all their wretchedness.  They didn’t try to hide their shame or desperation.

 

Leprosy, despite the fact that its results are horrible to look at, is not a painful disease.  The skin disease that we usually call leprosy causes numbness.  People lose fingers and toes because they no longer feel pain in those parts of the body.  So their bodies get mangled, and their extremities fall off, but they don’t feel it.

 

We have a disease just like that.  However, we don’t feel it, even though it disfigures us, cuts us off from God, isolates us from other people, and impoverishes us.  It is a disease of spiritual deadness called original sin.  It’s easy to ignore this disease because we don’t feel it.  These lepers were disfigured and ugly by their disease, and they could see and feel their outcast status.  But we don’t feel or see the effects of original sin at work within us.  We don’t, by nature, feel how we are cut off from God.

 

Usually it’s some other kind of desperation that begins to bring us to God.  Only then do we begin to hear the Word of the Lord in His law that exposes the gruesome damage original sin has done to our soul.  We recognize through the Law that we constantly transgress God’s will in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  Only then do we begin to recognize our spiritual leprosy and how it makes us repulsive in God’s sight, brings His wrath upon us.  Then we begin to recognize how bad our situation is and how desperately we need God’s help.

 

3.  Prayer and faith

But true prayer doesn’t come simply from beginning to recognize our desperation.  That is more likely to drive you away from praying.  The lepers weren’t supposed to come very near to Jesus.  The law of God demanded that they stay away from people who were clean.  Yet they drew near to Jesus and raised their voices to Him.  They did this because in spite of their sickness, and in spite of God’s law which made them outcasts, they believed in Jesus.  They had confidence in Him.  They had heard about Him—that He healed the sick, and that He had compassion on those who came to Him for help.  They came knowing the depth of their sickness, but faith in the Word about Jesus made them able to come near and ask for His help.

 

That’s the way it is with our prayers.  True faith in Christ gives birth to prayer.  True faith dwells in the hearts of sinners who recognize their unworthiness to speak to Jesus.  But they come with confidence that Jesus will hear them because they have learned from the Gospel that Jesus is not only able to help sinners, but loves them and wants to save them and help them. 

 

When you have a good conscience like that, you can pray.  You are sure that Jesus will hear you graciously and will grant you your request, or, if not that, then something better.  But without knowledge of sin there is no prayer, because there is no recognition of who we are and who God is.  Only beggars can properly pray and ask for mercy. 

 

With a bad conscience, there is no courage or motivation to pray.  Just think of how we have prayed in times of crisis!  Think of how many times you’ve prayed in trouble and doubted that God would listen to you because of your sins.  Think of how often you’ve become sluggish about praying at all, especially when you get depressed or the devil and the flesh remind you of the greatness of your sins.  It’s easy to talk about the greatness of our faith, but so often when trouble comes what we really want to be able to find something in ourselves that will give us assurance that God will hear us.

But true faith recognizes that there is nothing in us like that.  It trusts only in Jesus and His mercy and promises.  It says, “I am a beggar, I am aware that I deserve nothing but punishment.  But Jesus is able to help me with my spiritual leprosy as well as my earthly suffering.  And He wants to help me, because He came to earth to ransom those who are nothing but beggars, just like me.  He came to save sinners, so He will receive me and hear my prayer, because I am a sinner.  Even though I am unworthy to come near Him, He will not cast me away.

 

That is how true faith is.  It is not lazy and just vaguely hopes everything will turn out.  It is confidence about God’s mercy toward us in Christ—that God is gracious to us for Christ’s sake.  And so true faith boldly comes to God with its requests, with confidence that God will receive our prayer.  Lord have mercy.   I have no bargaining chips, only sin.  Yet He will not cast me out, because He is merciful and has come to take away my sins.

 

4.  Most fall away

Here is where the really sad part of the story comes in.  Jesus told them to show themselves to the priests.  That was what lepers did when they thought that they were healed of leprosy.  Then the priest would certify before God that they were truly cleansed, and they would be received back into fellowship with the people of Israel. 

 

When Jesus told them to go to the priests, He was telling them to behave as if they were already cleansed. 

However, He did not give them a promise that they would be cleansed.  He just told them to go.  Now at this point the lepers could have become angry and said, “He let us down!  We heard that He cleansed and healed people who came to Him!  Now he’s sending us to the priests!  The priests already know that we have leprosy.”

 

But the lepers didn’t do that.  They trusted Jesus.  This is how faith works.  It trusts Jesus to be gracious to us even when it isn’t obvious that He is being gracious.  Unbelief would see this command of Jesus as incomprehensible and would begin to doubt His goodness.  But the lepers went believing that they would be healed, or if they weren’t healed, that Jesus would be giving them something even better.

There is no need for us to make deals with God, even if we could.  We are beggars asking for His mercy.  But we are assured of His mercy, that He will give us far above and beyond what we would even think to ask.  Because of this the peace of God reigns in our hearts and we are not enslaved by worry.  When we are anxious, it is due to our unbelief that God hears us and will always do good for us.  But don’t doubt that!  He has promised you His grace in Christ.

 

But something strange happened to the lepers.  Either on the road or in Jerusalem, 9 of them, despite the faith that brought them to Jesus and which led them to follow His instructions and go to the priests as if they were already cleansed—9 of them fell away. 

 

It’s hard to say with certainty why.  One explanation is that when they got to Jerusalem the chief priests convinced them that it was actually God working through the priesthood that healed the lepers.  The priests were not fans of Jesus.  His teaching and authority and popularity threatened their power.  But the priests had their authority from the Scripture.  In the Old Testament God appointed the sons of Aaron as priests who would enter into His presence on behalf of the Israelites.  Maybe the lepers were convinced by the priests that Jesus was a false prophet, and so they lost their faith in Him.  Their condemnation of Jesus would have had great weight, because it would have meant that if these lepers continued to confess Jesus as the one who healed them, they would have remained excommunicated from the people of Israel and the temple.  The priests could have also had them killed if they accused the lepers of blasphemy.

 

But the temptation they faced is one that we face too.  Oftentimes through one suffering or another people come to Jesus and they are truly broken and empty beggars.  They come to Jesus for healing and deliverance from a bad conscience or poverty or some other tribulation.  But when they get what they asked for from Jesus, they forget about Him.  Why?

 

Because we don’t want to be beggars.  We want to stand on our own two feet.  And Jesus takes away our ability to brag that we stand on our own two feet.  To be a Christian is to depend on Jesus only.  We have nothing but Jesus.  No matter how long we are Christians, no matter how many good works we have done, our righteousness and our trust is always only Jesus.

 

So when the priests said, “Jesus didn’t actually heal you.  It was the God of Israel in this temple, working through us—“ that was a powerful temptation.  It was a temptation that said, “Now you can be like everyone else.  Now you no longer have to be an outcast.” 

 

These lepers still had something in themselves that they could hang on to.  They were Israelites.  They had the DNA of God’s chosen people.  If they stuck with Jesus they would lose all that.

 

Because Jesus was an outcast.  The leaders of God’s people rejected Him.  He was cast out as one who was unclean.  Later He was put to death on a cross—the death of a man cursed by God.  Just like a leper—since leprosy was usually viewed as a divine curse and punishment.  The 9 Jewish lepers didn’t want to go back to being an outcast.  That meant they stayed at the temple and didn’t go back to Jesus.

 

One leper did go back.  Only one fell at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks to Him.  He gave thanks to God not at the splendid temple in Jerusalem, but at the lowly feet of Jesus, at the temple of Jesus’ human flesh, which would soon be pierced, nailed to the cross as a castaway, as one cursed by God.

 

This man was a Samaritan.  Samaritans were as hated by the Jews as Christians would later hate heretics.  This heretic was the only one who did not fall away, who stayed with Jesus not only for physical healing, but returned to give thanks to Him, and thus received not just bodily blessings but the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

 

Some people teach that Christians, once they become Christians, can never fall away.  That is not true.  People often begin with faith in Jesus but are later turned aside from Him.  Like a dog that returns to its vomit, oftentimes we are laid low and come to Christ, but later we get on our feet again and no longer want to stick with Him through shame, and rejection, and persecution.

 

The one who persevered did not have the gifts that the others had.  He was not a Jew by birth.  They had been taught the word of God since they were little.  The Jews had God’s presence in the temple.  The Samaritans did not. They were not God’s chosen people.  Yet the leaders of the people of God, and all the lepers were all rejected by God.  They fell away.  Only this Samaritan knew where God’s grace was truly to be found—in the lowly temple of Jesus’ flesh. 

 

Jesus’ mother sang a song when He was born called the magnificat.  In that song she sang these words: “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty.”

 

Our flesh hates being a beggar.  But beggars are the only  ones who receive Christ’s mercy and stay in it—poor, wretched sinners who have nothing to rely on except Christ and His pure mercy, which moved Him to die for sinners.

 

5.  We should give thanks to You…

The life of faith perseveres until it receives what is promised and gives thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is the completion of the life of faith.  When we come to our rest at the right hand of God it will be endless thanksgiving.  It will be the thanksgiving of beggars who have received salvation.

But thanksgiving begins now.  Faith in Christ does not only result in earthly blessings; faith in Christ takes hold of something much greater than that.  It claims cleansing and forgiveness of sins.  It claims Jesus Christ as its own.  Jesus Christ, dead for our sins on the cross, risen from the dead, sitting at the right hand of the Father.  Ours.  Now.

“It is truly good, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord…” 

 

Why should we give thanks to God in every circumstance, whether it is pleasant or not—whether we have earthly blessings or suffering? 

 

Because Jesus gives us His body and blood.  And having that, we have everything.  If we have Jesus’ body and blood given for us, we are saved and nothing can hurt us—no suffering can rob us of everlasting life.

 

We have the victory no matter what.

 

Christian faith does not merely seek and receive blessing from Christ.  It also continues and bears the fruit of thanksgiving.  Faith perseveres and proves itself by giving thanks to Jesus.  And that means not merely with our lips, but also with our bodies and lives.  Faith in Christ results in thanksgiving, where we offer ourselves and all we have and are back to Christ in joy and gratitude, since He has saved us.

 

That is our holy work, our holy sacrifice, as Christ’s royal priesthood.  Paul says in Romans 12: Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.  This is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

 

The 9 lepers who fell away were conformed to the world.  They went back to relying on themselves.

 

But the Samaritan was transformed.  Not only was he healed physically, but He began to see where the healing from the uncleanness of original sin is found.

 

It is found in the body of Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ body is where our cleansing from sin has been completed.  He was without sin, yet He died as an unclean thing under the wrath of God. 

 

We come to Him by faith.  We believe that His body and blood were given and shed for us.  We eat and drink His body at the altar and by faith receive assurance that our sins are forgiven, destroyed, and that we have life, even though we still see the uncleanness of original sin, spiritual leprosy, at work in us.

 

Yes, your sins are destroyed in jesus’ death, and life and purification and holiness are yours in His resurrection.  You share in all of this because He has said it is yours in Your baptism.

 

And so by faith we fall at His feet and give our whole selves to Him, because nothing can harm us if we have purification from this spiritual leprosy.

 

We can’t see Jesus today, so how can we fall at His feet and thank Him?

 

First of all, come receive His body and blood, and hold fast to His promise that your sins are forgiven and cleansed by it.

 

Secondly, give thanks to Him and call on Him in every trouble.

 

Third, offer your body up to Him.  Let Him have your money, time, heart.  Serve His body, the church, particularly on sinful Christians.  Show mercy to the poor, give yourself in service to those Christ would have you serve in your calling.  If you want to give all of yourself to Christ in thanksgiving for Him giving all to you that is where He sends you.

 

Be comforted O Christians by Jesus’ body and blood which is the cure for your spiritual leprosy!  Then you will bear the fruit of thanksgiving and love.  This is the work that Christ is building His church among us to do.  He gives You His gifts so that we may not go back and stand on our own two feet, but stay with Him who was made an outcast for us.  And with Him we become servants of the outcasts and unclean.

 

Amen.

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