09 October 2016

The Lord God Draws Near to You in the Flesh

Jesus is making His way to Jerusalem, making His way to the Cross on which He will lay down His life as the Propitiation for your sins, and not for your sins only, but for the sins of the world.  He goes to sacrifice Himself as the Sacrifice of Atonement.

He makes His way to the Cross gathering up the sins of everyone He meets, Jews and Gentiles alike, the rich and poor, publicans, prostitutes, and Pharisees.  He comes to them and enters into their various circumstances of sin and death, in order to save them.  So does He also come to you, right where you are in the midst of sin and death, deep darkness, and utter despair.  He comes to share your life under the curse and consequences of sin.  He comes to share your death.

All of your burdens of sin and death have otherwise separated you from God and from His life, and they separate you from each other, as well.  Your sin itself is a rejection of the Lord your God and a running away from Him, further and further into disaster.  So, too, His righteous wrath and judgment against sin, the commands and prohibitions, threats and punishments of His Law, drive you down the road, away from Him and always closer to the death and damnation you deserve.

In fact, there are countless ways in which you are cut off from God by your sin, and countless ways in which you are driven apart from your neighbor.  Perhaps it is famine and hunger, such as Naomi and her family faced, or a lack of money.  Or maybe it is a disease, a contagious disease, which puts you on the outskirts.  If not a deadly illness, then perhaps you wear the symptoms of mortal frailty in the blemishes and flaws, the wrinkles, bulges, and scars of your body and flesh.

There are all manner of things that separate you from God and from each other in this body and life.  Then death confronts you with the ultimate separation.  That is how sin gets its final word.

Sin and death separate you from the true and living God, who is Life Itself, and, consequently, death now invades even the most intimate of human relationships.  It robs a husband of his wife, and a wife of her husband.  It takes away parents from children, and sometimes it takes children from their parents.  It separates siblings and the best of friends.  And you are powerless to stop it.

But the Lord Jesus has come to meet you even there.  He has gone into the depths of Sheol, so that even there you are not apart from Him.  He has gone through the valley of the shadow of death, even to His death on the Cross, so that you are not left alone, and you are not cut off from God.

He has not only come near to you in the Flesh, to share your life on earth, but He has also made your death and your grave His own.  Hence, there is no longer anything that can separate you from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus, your Lord.  Not even death at its worst can do that.

And so it is that, from wherever you are, your cry to the Lord is heard and answered.

Those ten leprous men are likewise at a distance.  They raise their voices because, by law, they’re not allowed to get close to Jesus.  They’re not allowed to get close to anyone.  They are outcast.  They are ostracized.  They have no part in the community of healthy people.  They cannot even go to church.  It is forbidden.  They are kept at a distance.  And yet, they meet Jesus with their cries for mercy.  And they are heard, as you are heard, because Jesus has drawn near to them in love.

Even the silent groan of your heart is heard by the One who draws near to you.  Your shouts do not have to scale the heights of heaven, because even a whisper is heard in the ears of your dear Father, who has adopted you to be His dear child in this Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to lepers and outcasts and sinners like you.  He comes to them, and He sees them with compassion.

Jesus sees you.  He knows your hurts, because He has made them His own.  And He knows your sins because He has made them His own, not by committing them, but bearing them in His Body.

Have you murdered?  He has made Himself the Murderer.  Have you committed adultery?  He has made Himself the Adulterer.  Have you robbed and stolen?  He has made Himself the Thief, who is numbered and crucified among thieves.  Whatever your sins, He has made them His own sins by taking responsibility for them and suffering all of the consequences and punishment for them.

So it is that He sees you, and He knows you, inside and out.  And yet, He loves you, anyway.  So He draws near to you, and He speaks to you.  Such a wondrous gift this is, that God the Father speaks to you by His Son, the Word of God made Flesh who tabernacles with you here on earth.

He spoke to those ten leprous men, and He sent them to the priest for the cleansing rites and ceremonies specified in the Law of Moses.  He sent them to the Liturgy.  He sent them to their pastor.  He sent them to pray according to the Word of God, to offer sacrifice according to the Word of God, and to make use of the Means of Grace according to the Word and promises of God.

And in their going, they were healed.  For the Word of God in Christ is living and life-giving.

Now, then, the cleansing was something different than the healing.  The Law of Moses clarifies that point.  If a leper perceived himself to be healed of his leprosy, then he would go to the priest, and there was a whole series of things that would happen.  It could take a couple of weeks.  The priest would first examine him, and then wait, and then examine him again.  If the leprosy was really gone, then the priest would administer the rites and ceremonies by which the former leper was cleansed, that is, readmitted to the communion of Israel, readmitted to the life of the Church.  Not only healed of his disease, but cleansed of his sin and reconciled to God and His people.

As for the Samaritan, no doubt he did go with the other nine lepers to the priest, as Jesus had said, in order to be declared “clean” within the social and political context.  But being a Samaritan, he was still not allowed to participate in the actual communion of Israel.  He was still not allowed to go to Church!  He still had no pastor among the Jews.  He was hated as much for being a Samaritan as he ever was for his leprosy.  He was just as much an outcast and ostracized.

But when he sees that he has been healed, and he’s been given a “clean” bill of health, he does return to Jesus, and he worships God by worshiping this Man, Jesus, in the Flesh.  He prostrates himself on the ground before Jesus.  He gives thanks to God and glorifies God by giving thanks to Jesus.  In Jesus he has found his Priest.  In Jesus he has found his Pastor.  In Jesus he has found his God, and in the Body of Jesus, his Temple.

So he worships Him.  He worships Him as the great and merciful High Priest in whom God and Man are no longer separated, and no longer at odds, and no longer at enmity.  For Christ Jesus is the One who is both true God and true Man, begotten of His Father from all eternity, conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary here in time, in whom God and Man are perfectly reconciled.

And so this Samaritan sees and knows his God in this one true God who has drawn near to him.  He sees and knows the Father in the Son.  He knows God in the Flesh.  He has worshiped Him with his prayer, when he cried out with the other nine, “Lord Jesus, have mercy!”  That is the most basic prayer of faith.  But the Samaritan now also worships Jesus with the eucharistic sacrifice, giving thanks to God, the Lord, by giving thanks and praise to this Man who is true God in the Flesh.

And he worships Him with his body, as well.  He fully prostrates himself before Jesus.  For is it not true that God has come to him with a Body of flesh and blood?  And is it not true that this God has healed him in his body?  This poor man who has worn his sin in his very skin now finds that his body also has been healed and cleansed.  So how shall he not worship God with his body?

The Lord has made him well in both body and soul.  He makes you well, too.  In your body and your soul, in your heart, mind, and spirit.  Wherever your sin has entangled itself in your flesh, wherever you know and feel your mortality, wherever the curse and consequences of sin and death have plagued you and tormented you and driven you away and taken others from you, the Lord Jesus steps into the breach.  He draws near to you in love, He embraces you in mercy, and He speaks to you the Gospel.  He sends you also to the priest, to the pastor, to the Temple of His Body, the Church, in order to be cleansed and healed by His Word through the Ministry of His Gospel.

For He is the God who takes water, and with His Word He makes it a full washing away of sins, a cleansing of transgression, a water of life.  He is the God who takes real bread and wine, and with His Word He makes them His own Body and His Blood, and He gives them into your body, that your body and your blood should thus be cleansed and healed for the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting.  He is the God who speaks to you through mortal men, and by His speaking He forgives you all your sins and cleanses you from all unrighteousness.

Meet Him here, where He meets you.  Raise your voice to Him in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving — at all times and in all places, to be sure, and so also here at His Altar.  Call upon His Name in every trouble.  And in the certainty of His Word, praise Him and give Him thanks.  Worship Him as God.  Bend your heart before Him by humbling yourself before the Lord.  And humble your mind before Him, too, that you would hear His Word and not presume to know better than Him.

Then, also, as you are able, as your mortal flesh permits, worship Him with your body.  Whether by folding your hands or making the sign of the cross, bowing your head, kneeling, or prostrating yourself before Him.  For the same God is here who met and healed those ten lepers.  The same God is here, who welcomes you to Himself, because He has drawn near to you with His Gospel.

So, as you are here healed, and as you are cleansed by His Cross and in His Resurrection through His Word of the Gospel and in His Holy Sacrament, now rise, and go.  Proceed on your way within your vocation as a child of God, for that is what you are.  And worship the Lord your God with your body by faithfully doing the work that He has given you to do within your station in life, and by patiently bearing the Cross that He has given you to carry and suffer in love for your neighbor.

Consider, for example, the case of Ruth that we have heard this morning.  She was, to begin with, a foreigner, a pagan, with people of her own that were not God’s people, and gods of her own that were not God.  And yet, you know how much she benefitted in her coming to Israel and binding herself to Naomi and then finding a husband in Boaz of the tribe of Judah.  She was able to do all of these things because the ancestors of Christ our Lord had first of all drawn near to her in Moab.

In much the same way, however, she also became a blessing to Naomi.  For Ruth was also to be an ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ.  So it was that she was given to Naomi when that older woman’s faith had faltered.  For when the Lord provided bread for Israel, Naomi said, “It is more bitter for me than for you.  I shall not have another husband.  What hope is there for me?  The hand of God has gone against me!  Go on back to your own gods, they will serve you better.”  You can relate to that kind of bitterness, that kind of anger, that kind of doubt and despair, I’m sure of it.  And for such sins of heart and mind, repent, and trust the Word and promises of Christ the Lord.

Hear again of Ruth, this foreigner.  She binds herself to Naomi, precisely when Naomi is mired in her grief and mourning, doubts and fears.  She binds herself to Naomi’s God, even when Naomi seems ready to give up on her God.  And so Ruth says, “Where you live, I will live, and where you die, I will die, and that’s where I’ll be buried.  Not even death, then, will separate me from you.”

In that oath and promise, in dear Ruth, it is Christ who binds Himself to His people.  And so does He bind Himself to you.  Where you live, He lives with you.  And where you die, He dies with you.  And where you are buried, He is buried with you.  Not even death shall separate you from Him.

The Son of David, the Great-Great-Grandson many times over of Ruth, has bound Himself to you in your Baptism, by His Word and promise, and nowhere more closely than here at His Altar, where He feeds you with His Body and gives you to drink of His Blood.  He draws near and gives Himself to you in the Flesh, in order to abide with you, and you with Him, unto the Resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul, in and with Him, in the Glory of His Father and the Communion of His Holy Spirit, even now and forevermore.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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