Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity.
"They have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble, they will say, Arise and save us." Jeremiah 2:27.
Thus laments the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah. When it went well with the people of Israel, they turned their backs to the Lord, but when distress came, they said, "Arise and help us." Here a picture of a natural person is placed before our eyes. Namely, when a natural person prospers well in this world, then he does not remember God at all. But when some distress comes, then he becomes godly. While he is well, he prayed often to the god of the world with curses and swearing, but in distress he becomes godly and, in his mind, begins to pray to the God of heaven. So do especially the grace thieves, who after custom believe there is a God. But they who are very bold at blaspheming God, they do not pray even in distress, but only curse when some severe injury happens. Some are so hardened that they curse even on their death bed and ask the devil to come to get their carcass. If such hardened ones injure themselves greatly, then a curse is the first word which comes out of the mouth. If they fall through thin ice, then a curse is the first blessing. But surely the devil will take care of the carcass without cursing. He takes care of those also who have not prayed before, but only then when in distress they begin to pretend to holler, "Arise and help us," if they have no better foundation of salvation than only that hollering after Jesus when in distress, for the prayer of the ungodly is an abomination before God. Therefore the prophet Jeremiah writes, "They have turned their back unto me and not their face, but in the time of their trouble, they will say, Arise and save us." And it is heard especially of the grace thieves, who while they are well do not take heed of God, but when distress comes, they say, "Arise and help us." Grace thieves often become godly when death threatens and presses their unbelieving hearts. Then they begin to pray to God with beautiful prayers, and this praying can, however, be necessary and good for them and for us all, if that fervency which comes to some on the sick bed would be continuing; but it is often seen that the devotion and the godliness which they had while in distress soon changes to lightmindedness and sorrowlessness when such people get over that distress. And of that Christianity which comes on the sick bed or when one is in distress, we can say as the children of the world say of this Christianity which has now appeared, since they cannot find any other fault, "If it would only be enduring." So we can say of that Christianity which comes to the children of the world when in distress, "If it would only be enduring, if it would last a longer time than only when death is before the eyes." But worse than that, that devotion and that godliness which often comes even to those sorrowless in their distress, does not want to be enduring. As soon as a sorrowless person gets through that tight place, the wind of the world comes and scatters their whole Christianity. When natural and bodily distress no longer is there, they are sorrowless as before. We are not speaking now of those who in distress promise the church some dollar or some quarter with that intention, that if God supposedly would now help them in this present distress, they would pay God that dollar or that quarter. But it would be better if they would first repay their neighbor for wrong doing to him, as Zaccheus, and would then take notice if there would still be something to give as a gift to the church. It lies in the nature of a sorrowless one that he wants to do good to God, although he does wrong to his neighbor. Thus a thief can promise a silver dollar to the church if his thievery would prosper. And a whore can promise the church a dollar if God would so arrange things so no child would result from her adultery, and from that gift a peaceful conscience comes to the whore and the thief. They think that God is reconciled. With one dollar they buy for themselves not only natural good fortune, but also a good conscience. But we must now speak of those who in distress promise to make repentance. Such a promise is surely a little better than the promise of those, who in distress promise the church one dollar or a quarter, but it is worse that the promise of those, who promise to make repentance in distress or on the sick bed, their promise, I say, often wants to remain in that place where such a promise was made. Assuredly many make such promises of repentance when death scares them, but the world and the devil bring such promises to naught. Godliness and devotion cease as soon as such a person becomes busy with the world. Of such a Christianity we must say that it is certainly good and necessary, if only it would be lasting. And the children of Israel must have had such a Christianity also, since the Lord laments through the prophet Jeremiah, "They have turned their back unto me and not their face, but in the time of their trouble, they will say, Arise and help us." And the same kind of a Christianity was also had by those men who in distress stood afar off and cried out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." They began to pray to the Saviour when distress was at hand, but when they became helped, they no longer remembered the Saviour at all. The world became so dear to them, they no longer came back to thank the Saviour for that great grace that He had helped them. And surely our Christianity also will become such if we do not take better heed of the time of grace than before. I fear that our Christianity will end if the world becomes so dear as to those ten lepers, who did not return to thank Jesus, except one who was kept in low esteem in the world. He was a stranger in this world, and so we also must be, just pilgrims and strangers in this world as Paul writes to the Christians: "Our conversation is in heaven." But the world is cunning to rob even the hearts of those who through the great power of the Saviour are cleansed of the leprosy of sin. What does our Christianity help us, if we are Christians only when the prompter stands over and forces Christianity into us, or if we are only Christians when natural or spiritual distress forces us to cry out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." But a Christian should always have death and eternity before his eyes; whether he be in joy or in distress, he should be so estranged from the world, and so live in this vale of sorrow and grief, as though every day was the last day. Otherwise the world will become so dear to him that he will not remember to come back from the world to thank the Saviour for those great gifts of grace, which he has received both naturally and spiritually.
Where now are those ten lepers who should show themselves to the priests, that they were cleansed? Has the world become so dear to them on that trip that they do not understand or remember to come back anymore to thank Jesus for His great gifts of grace? Jesus awaits you, you cleansed souls, and asks, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?"
Come back from the world, you cleansed ones, you graced ones, who have once stood afar off and cried out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." Come back to thank and praise that great Crossbearer who always awaits you, and longs for your souls which have become fastened to the world. Follow the Samaritan, who is a stranger in the world, and bow your knees before the feet of the Lord Jesus, as did this poor stranger, despised by the world. He bowed his knees and fell on his face before His feet and glorified God with a loud voice; not being ashamed before the world that he was cleansed through Jesus' grace, he dared to cry out to the world that he was cleansed. But those nine, who did not return to thank Jesus, where are they? They must still be fastened to the world. They nevertheless do not care to cry out to the world that they were cleansed through the power of Jesus. Come therefore, you only stranger; come, you Samaritan, blasphemed and despised by the world, come to thank your Creator and Saviour! Although the other cleansed ones would go into the world, you come, you poorest of all Christian, and praise God with a loud voice saying, Our Father, etc.
The Gospel: Luke 17:11-19.
Since now there were ten cleansed and all these have showed themselves to the priests, so we must through God's grace and in accordance with our holy gospel, consider: Where are the nine, since only one stranger, one Samaritan, has returned to thank the Saviour for His great gifts of grace? But first we must separate those who have never been cleansed, for although then only ten lepers came to Jesus to cry out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us," surely there were several and many hundred who did not come at all to Jesus to pray and beg for help. This matter the Saviour Himself has explained when He once said to that congregation which was in the synagogue in the city of Nazareth, that many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, but none were cleansed, saving Naaman, the Syrian, who was a stranger. So even now there must be many of those lepers in the congregation of Nazareth who will never become cleansed, although they are full of the leprosy of sin. It was the Saviour's intention, that the Nazareth congregation was still full of the leprosy of sin although they thought that all were cleansed. And certainly the Nazarenes well understood that the Saviour was reproaching them, when He took such parables from the Scriptures. They all were filled with wrath toward Him and drove Him out of the synagogue, and led Him to the brow of the hill upon which their city was built, and began to cast Him over the cliff, but He tore Himself loose from their hands and went away. No doubt, the men of Nazareth thought that the Son of Joseph did not need to come to reproach them with such parables, which He took from the Scriptures. The respectable men of Nazareth were old Christians. Why did the son of Joseph have to come to reproach them that they were not cleansed? And certainly they had a good ear to hear and a good mind to understand that the son of Joseph was barking at them when He said, "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, and none of them was cleansed saving only one Naaman the Syrian." One pagan, who did not even belong to the congregation of Israel; is such a pagan now brought forth, who did not even hear but through news that there was one prophet in Israel who can cure the disease of leprosy. Certainly the men of Nazareth had good ears to hear that they were reproached with such a parable which was taken from the Scriptures.
But it is unknown if the old Christians of this congregation have such good ears to hear how they are reproached with the same kind of a parable, which the Saviour brought forth to the congregation of Nazareth, namely this old reminder which is in the Scriptures and has truly happened, that in the time of Eliseus the prophet there were many lepers in Israel, but none others were cleansed except only Naaman the Syrian, who was a pagan. Do you follow now that no others were cleansed than only this one stranger? So the men of Nazareth understood this matter, that they were reproached with such a reminder, and for that reason the old Adam arose in them, "Is that so, were there not any others cleansed than only this one pagan? Are then all other lepers not cleansed?" So the men of Nazareth understood this parable of the Saviour, and other baptized pagans should also understand that all the other leprous men and women are not cleansed, except only those ten who stood afar off and cried out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David, have mercy upon us." Although even then, or in the Saviour's time, there were many of those lepers, however there were no others cleansed except only those who stood afar off and cried out, for they then felt that they were not worthy to come near the Saviour. They felt that the disease of leprosy had made them unfortunate. But others have not felt that; the disease of leprosy does not trouble those who are asleep. The disease of leprosy is a contagious disease, which goes down to the children like an inherited sin, and a person who has contacted such a disease must flee far away from the company of such people who are cleansed. The Saviour said to the disciples, "Ye are clean but not all," from which follows that all are not cleansed. But they who are not cleansed, they do not want to confess it, for they think that since the Saviour has washed the feet of all, then all are the same kind of Christians. But Judas still has one place uncleansed, and that place must be almost black and awful although it is hidden from his eyes. We say therefore as Jesus said to the congregation of Nazareth, that as in the time of Eliseus there were many lepers in Israel, although no others were cleansed except the heathenish man Naaman, so even now there are many, and many full of leprosy; but truly there were no others cleansed than only ten who have cried out in distress, and these ten have certainly showed themselves to the priest, as the Lord has commanded them to do. But as it stands in today's gospel, they have now become fastened to the world and have not remembered to return to thank the Saviour for His great gifts of grace, except this stranger who is the poorest of all. Have the nine not been with him in the time of penitence or when they all cried out, "Jesus, Thou Son of David have mercy on us," And not only in the time of penitence, but even before they have drunk together and cursed in the same company. For although the Samaritan has always been in low esteem, and has not been invited to Christenings, or to weddings and funeral feasts, nevertheless he has been good enough for a drinking companion to the drunkards when people began to brew liquor. He has also been acceptable to the whores for a whoring companion, although he was poor and despised otherwise. But now since he has become cleansed, he is no longer suitable for a companion to the lords of the world, nor to the drunkards or to the whorebucks, for he has become an abomination to all of them. But it is still more remarkable that the companions in penitence and distress will probably leave him, so it appears nevertheless in today's gospel, that ten were cleansed but nine have not returned to thank the Saviour, but only one stranger who is the poorest of all. Where do you think they have strayed? Have they fainted on the road, or have they become lost, that they do not know the way back? I think that their hearts have become fastened to the world and therefore they are missing.
"That I have expected," now says an old Christian who has never had leprosy. What have you expected? Have you expected this, that those nine who have once been in distress and cried out, "Jesus, Son of David," must return to the world? No doubt you have anticipated that, that all would become the same kind as you are. You have prayed to God that all of these who were cleansed would become leprous again, and that they would begin to drink, curse, fight, commit adultery and steal. That, you old Christian and good pharisee, have hoped and prayed for, that they would become like the devil as you are, and that you could rejoice over the fall of a Christian. But they are not yet exactly at that point that they will begin to drink with you, to curse and to fight. If they have forgotten to come back to thank the Saviour, they can still keep in memory that blessed time when they were cleansed, and can once again remember the grace of the Saviour when the world becomes bitter.
Now when we have separated those who have never become cleansed, then we must observe those who have become cleansed of their leprosy. The Saviour longs for them and asks, "Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine?" Have their hearts become fastened to the world since they have not come back to thank Jesus? The Saviour told them to go and show themselves to the priest, and no doubt they have done that, but where are their hearts now, since they do not come back to thank Jesus for His great gifts of grace? Has the priest told them to go into the world? Has He told them, "You do not need to go to Jesus to thank Him"? I do not believe that the priest would have told them to do so, but I think that the world became dear to them, and since they also received that testimony from the priest that they were cleansed, they thought, "Since we are once cleansed, we have no more distress, we do not have to go such a long distance to thank Jesus. Great trouble will come to us from that; we have much work at home which has been left undone during the time of leprosy, we do not have time to return to Jesus." Not one can bypass this place in the Scriptures, who after being cleansed has become fastened to the world; only that stranger, who immediately after his cleansing came back to thank Jesus, has gone past it. And therefore the Saviour said, "Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine?" They are probably fastened to the world.
What should we do now, since the matter is such that the cleansed souls do not come back to thank Jesus? Is it not the best counsel that we first confess that this place in the Scriptures is written for a reminder and warning to all those, who have been cleansed through the power of Jesus, that they would avoid the unthankfulness of the nine and would follow the example of the Samaritan, and would turn back from the world and begin with better fervency to thank Jesus for that great grace, that He through His word has cleansed them from their leprosy. Otherwise the enemy will bring them so far into the world, that they will not be able to come back. Hear, you cleansed souls! Jesus longs for you and asks so that all the people hear, "Were there not ten cleansed, where are the nine?" Do you keep Jesus' grace so cheap that because of love of the world you are not able to return to thank Him? You certainly will not bypass this place of the Scriptures; it is written just against you, for it portrays before our eyes how unthankful those nine cleansed ones are.
Must our Lord always long for those cleansed nine? Must He always be in sorrow because of them? Must His work always be in vain? I hope that those few souls, who have once been cleansed, would come back with the stranger and fall at the feet of the Saviour and thank Him with a loud voice, so that the enemy could not sift them and on Judgement Day accuse them that the cleansed souls are so unthankful that, of ten, only one stranger came back to thank the Saviour for His great gifts of grace. Let us confess that we have been unthankful. God has now given such great grace and blessing both in behalf of body and spirit, that it is apparent that He wants to draw us to Himself with His goodness. But unthankfulness is so great that not many have time to come to church to thank God for their health and for the natural living, which He has allowed to grow abundantly on the earth, and for the peace which God has also granted to all thus far. No one is persecuted because of his faith, as the first Christians were hated and persecuted because of Christianity. Those few souls who are cleansed, they must be so half-hearted and cold that they are not worthy to suffer anything for Jesus' name sake. They are so unthankful toward the Saviour that they do not remember at all through whose power they are cleansed. They have peace in the world, since love of the world is so great that they no longer remember to come back to thank Jesus for His great gifts of grace. Were there not ten cleansed, but where are the nine? No others are found who returned to glorify their God except one stranger.
You hear now, you cleansed souls, that the Saviour longs for you and asks, "Where are the nine?" You probably will now say, "We have no time; we have lost so much necessary work during the time of our awakening, which we must now accomplish. Therefore there is not as good a chance to come to church as before." But Jesus, however, longs for you, you nine cleansed ones! Where are you? Have you already gone into the world and so far that you no longer remember from what distress and from what destruction Jesus rescued you with His word? Who knows where you will find Him when you need Him again. Then Jesus may be so far away that the eye will no longer see nor the ear hear. Because of your unthankfulness Jesus will go so far away that He will no longer hear your cries; He will go to that place where He is better received.
Certainly ten have been cleansed even in this congregation, but where are the nine? They have gone into the world, they have forgotten Jesus' good works. Woe unto you, you nine cleansed ones, who went so far into the world that you did not come back to thank Jesus. Now no others have come back to thank Jesus except one stranger, who is despised by the world and of low esteem. Were there not ten cleansed but where are the nine? They have gone their way, they have gone so far into the world that the eye no longer sees, nor does the ear hear where they are. Who knows if they will come to see Jesus any more before the last day, when the judgement falls upon them: "Depart from me, ye cursed." And thus will be heard the judgement of those who were cleansed and did not return to thank Jesus: "If a righteous man ceases from his righteousness and does those former abominable works, then the former righteousness is to no avail, but he must go to be with those who howl and lament in outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Amen.