Leprosy is one of the best analogies for sin. Leprosy is a terrible disease that starts small, but ends in death. What begins as a small spot on the skin turns into boils and scabs. The hair turns white or yellow. The flesh becomes raw. And it’s all coupled with a pain that radiates below the skin, down to the bone. Eventually everything is taken over by this rotting and all that’s left is death. Isn’t that what sin does? Our sin starts small—one tiny infraction, but it grows. It consumes, until all we know how to do is sin, and sin gives way to death, spiritual and physical. So, what we heard in God’s Word today is that we’re all lepers. Each of us can examine our own lives and see the symptoms St. Paul laid out: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. We don’t all experience these in the same way, but that list touches each and every one of us in some way. Every one of us are on the path to certain death. Our only hope is the intervention of Jesus Christ, that He would haver mercy on us, to save us from this body of death.
And He has. He is not content that we be cut off from Him and from one another. So just as Jesus has mercy on those ten lepers, He has mercy on us. He comes to us in our death and uncleanness and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He not only takes away our death, but takes it onto Himself and dies for it. He washes you, makes you clean and perfect, justifies you to make it just as if you’d never sinned.
Wonderful! End of sermon, right? Law—Gospel. You were a leper, but now you’re not because of Jesus! Pastor wrapped that one up pretty fast! Not bad for a holiday weekend! Not so fast.
As John the Baptist preached he admonished us: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Lk. 3:8). That’s where today’s Readings take us. We aren’t called to be forgiven and to simply brush it off with a quick “thank you” shouted over our shoulder as we walk away. As we repent of our sin, we are to bear fruit that goes with that repentance. You’ve heard me explain it several times. Real repentance isn’t saying you’re sorry and living however you please. If a husband berates his wife, says he’s sorry, and is forgiven, that’s wonderful. But let’s say he berates her again the next day. The cycle repeats. He does it again and again. Eventually the wife asks—and rightly so!—if his “I’m sorry” is actually genuine. Has he borne fruit worthy of repentance? Examining the situation would say no, he hasn’t, because he isn’t watching over his life and conduct but simply goes right back into it.
The same is true for us. As I said a few minutes ago, each of us have been forgiven for our sins of sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissentions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. Thanks be to God! But what leper do you look like? What fruit in keeping with repentance have you borne? Do you look like the nine, simply going back to daily life after being brought back from certain death, or do you look like the one who returned to give thanks, throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, thankful for His healing and restoration to life and striving never to return to the old way of life? Let me be the first to tell you—I’m not perfect. I certainly don’t look like that one leper, so thankful for my forgiveness that I can’t imagine going back to the sins I love to do. I’ve allowed myself to walk into temptation, knowing where it will get me. I have not always borne fruit in keeping with repentance. Have you? You know the answer.
Each of us deserve to find ourselves right back in the leper colony. Each of us should perish temporally and eternally. But thanks be to God He doesn’t want that for us. Jesus knew nine of those lepers wouldn’t return to give thanks. He knew they would go back to their old lives, soon forgetting the enormity of what they had been rescued from by His mercy. He knows that, as long as we have this flesh and live in this world, we will sin, sometimes unwillingly, but even more of the time knowingly. And He still forgives us. He laid down His life to pull us back from death. He is not content that we should die in our sin. And that’s one of the things we’re celebrating this morning! He has given us the gift of Holy Baptism, that washes us clean of all our sin, that promises forgiveness each time we ask for it because of the enormity and unsoundable depth of God’s mercy. Emma and Amy were given that in their Baptism, just as each of us were. They are forgiven and live forever in Christ. I am forgiven and live forever in Christ. You are forgiven and live forever in Christ.
And His giving doesn’t stop there. In Holy Baptism He gave us all His Holy Spirit who lives in us, who causes us to walk in paths of righteousness. He gives us the fruit in keeping with repentance. He takes away our deadly sin and in its place causes us to produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He increases in us a desire to do those things that please God and serve our neighbor, those things that come as a result of our repentance and our thanksgiving for the unmerited forgiveness given to us.
So, how do we move forward from here? Given grace and mercy beyond comprehension, how do we react to the One who has delivered our souls from death, our eyes from tears, our feet from stumbling? Take the advice of the Psalmist: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13). Come, receive from the cup of salvation. Fall on your knees and call on the name of the Lord. The best thanksgiving for His mercy is receiving His mercy as He gives it again and again in His Body and Blood. Your presence in the Divine Service is a living confession that you can’t do this on your own. The good in you can only be traced back to Him. As you approach this Altar, as you eat and drink you do what that one leper did. You attach yourself to the only One who can give you what you truly need. Repentance has borne its fruit, and that fruit is refusing to leave the only Source of life, temporal and eternal.
Thanks be to God that He is not content to let us die, to let sin overtake us. Through all our lives He will be near us with His love and forgiveness. What more could we want? Jesus has had mercy upon us, has mercy upon us, and always will have mercy upon us.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
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Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.