Luke 17 – A Sermon for a Bach Chorale Vespers (BWV 78)

Sin is leprosy of the soul, a spiritual leprosy. It is a deep contamination, a systemic corruption of our humanity that affects everything we think, do, or say. It renders us unclean before God. It isolates and divides us from our fellow man. It flares and spreads like wildfire, a latent and lurking disease, a spiritual retrovirus that can lie dormant and then flare up in an instant when brought in contact with the Law. The Law amplifies Sin. It doesn’t cure it. It amplifies it, causing Sin to be utterly sinful beyond measure.

We are all born with this leprosy of the soul. We inherited it from our parents and humanity’s first parents. Like David we are conceived and born in Sin. There is no avoiding it. The tiny baby, the helpless newborn, may be for the moment symptom free, but not without Sin. The disease is there latently lurking, waiting opportunistically for that first defiant “No!,” that temper tantrum, that outburst of tears not out of hunger or thirst or need but just to see that he or she is the center of the universe.

If we say we have no Sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. We’re in denial. If we say we have not sinned, we defy the diagnosis of the Divine Physician whose Law calls us “sinner.” Should you have any doubt over whether you are infected by this spiritual leprosy, here are some of the symptoms: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, envy, drunkenness, orgies. Any questions? Anyone left out? We could go on with greed, gossip, division, strife, lust, pride, coveting, neglect of prayer, neglect of the Word, neglect of the neighbor. The symptom list is long. You have the disease. You know it. You are as unclean as those ten lepers on the road between Samaria and Galilee.

Sin has isolated us. It has driven a wedge between us and God. Do you feel it at times? That distance of God, that sense of alienation, of not knowing, of wondering my God, why have you forsaken me? Sin has done that. It has driven a wedge between us and those around us, between husband and wife, parent and child, neighbor and neighbor, congregation members, citizens, humanity.

There is no cure in this world. Oh, you may by your efforts mask the symptoms, some better than others, but there is no cure. And the disease is fatal. The wages of Sin is death. This leprosy not only disfigures our humanity but destroys it.

There is One who has the cure. He is the Cure. He is the One to whom the lepers cried out from a distance, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” And He did. From a distance without even a touch, just His Word. “Go and show yourselves to the priests….And as they went they were cleansed.” Cleansed by nothing more than the words from the lips of Jesus, cleansing words that are spirit and life, words imbued with His blood that He would shed as He became Sin for us on the cross. He becomes infected with our disease and by His wounds we are healed. Those ten lepers caught a foretaste of that healing to come on the road between Samaria and Galilee.

They were, of course, ecstatically happy. Who wouldn’t be? They could return home to friend and family and congregation no longer having to cry out “unclean, unclean” for the Word of Jesus made them clean. The priest would verify it. The town would rejoice. There would be parties and dancing and food and drink. A celebration!

One stopped on the road and turned back. He ran up to Jesus and fell down on His face at Jesus’ feet to give Him thanks. He was a Samaritan. Ten out of ten are healed, one out of ten has faith. The foreigner, the outsider, the one who didn’t belong with the other nine except in the bonds of their leprosy.

Jesus commends his faith. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Your faith has saved you. Now this Samaritan would know whom to trust whenever he got sick with a cold, the flu, a cancer, and when he died. This Jesus who cleansed his leprosy with nothing more than a Word is the source of every healing, every cleansing, and life. “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Eternal life overflowing.

The leprosy of Sin will one day have its way with you. But Jesus always gets the last Word. His Word is the same Word that washed you in your Baptism, that justified and sanctified you in His Name, that gave you His Spirit, that forgives you. That same Word of Jesus will raise you on His day, the last day, when He will come to you and say, “Rise, my brother, my sister, rise and come to me, your faith has made you well, your Jesus has saved you.”

Jesus, with might you have rescued my soul
through your bitter death
From the devil’s dark lair
And from heavy anguish
And you have made this known to me
through your Word received.
Be now, O God, my refuge!

Thanks to you, O Jesus, it is well with my soul; it is well with my soul.

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