Trinity 14| Luke 17:11-19| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| September 18, 2022
It has become common for English speaking Lutherans to refer to their Sunday worship as the Divine Service. This is a translation from the German, Gottesdienst, which literally means, “God’s Service.” Yet, the term God’s Service or Divine Service is a bit ambiguous. Who is serving whom? What are we doing on Sunday morning? Is this our service to God? Or is this God’s service to us? … The answer is yes. In the Divine Service, we serve God and God serves us.
There were ten lepers crying out to Jesus for mercy outside a certain village. Jesus sent them all to the priests. And as they went, they were all cleansed. However, just one of them returned praising God with a loud voice, fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus responded, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
With Jesus’ words, he teaches that it is our duty to give thanks to God. We hear this at every Divine Service, “It is truly meet, right, and salutary, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, Heavenly Father…” And our Small Catechism teaches us that we should serve our God at all times. In the explanation to the First Article of the Creed, after confessing that God has created us and all we have and still takes care of them out of his own fatherly goodness and mercy, we declare, “For which it is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.” In the explanation to the Second Article, we confess that Jesus Christ has purchased us, not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and innocent sufferings and death, “that I may be His own, and live under Him in his kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness…”
And of course, our liturgy and our Catechism teach us that we should serve God, because that is what the Bible teaches us to do! St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people… This is good and is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.” And so, it makes sense that Jesus was disappointed in the nine men cleansed of their leprosy, who failed to return and give praise to God.
“Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” That is a question we can ask quite frequently when we consider how many fail to come and serve God with their thanks, praise, and songs. Where are all those who were cleansed? Weren’t so many baptized? Where are they? Weren’t so many confirmed? Where are they? And of course, Christ Jesus died to save all people everywhere of their sins. Where are they? Why do they not return and give praise to God?
Many say that they don’t need to go to a particular building to worship God, so that’s why they don’t need to go to church. And in a very simplistic way, they’re right. I visited several homebound parishioners this week in nursing homes and homes. We didn’t go to the church building. But we certainly had church. We had the Divine Service. We served God, prayed to him, thanked him, praised him, and sang to him. And God served us. He forgave our sins. He taught us. And he fed us Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. So, church-skippers are right that you don’t technically need to go to the church building to worship God. But you do need to go to Christ.
The cleansed leper praised God and fell down at His feet giving Him thanks. Whose feet? God’s feet. They were Jesus’ feet. The leper worshipped God at Jesus’ feet, because Jesus is his God. If you are not worshipping Jesus, then you are not worshipping God. Well, how do you worship Jesus? You gather around his Word! Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” (Matthew 18). Jesus said, “Go therefore, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28) Jesus is where his name is proclaimed, where his Word is taught, where his Sacraments are given. We aren’t worshipping some random sky god. We’re worshipping Him, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins. We are worshipping Christ Jesus Himself, our Lord and God.
So, the first lesson about worshipping God is that we worship Jesus. The second lesson is that we must repent. The leper turned back and worshipped Jesus. Jesus said that only one returned to give praise to God. To repent means to turn. We turn from our lives. We stop what we are doing. And we give our attention to the God who deserves our thanks and praise. Oh, you still don’t want to go to church? You think the service is boring? You don’t know the hymns? It’s inconvenient? Well, tough. Not everything is about you. God desires your service. He wants you to thank and praise him. And you demonstrate that you recognize God as God when you turn from serving your own self and put your efforts into serving God. That is why we should not just show up to church, but we should listen, learn, recite the responses with the congregation, and especially, sing the hymns, as Scripture says, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” (Ephesians 5:19)
And it is especially important that we listen to the words of our God. Our Small Catechism explains the Third Commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy, saying, “We should fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching and his Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” Those who belong to God, who worship him, listen to his words.
Yet, it is of the utmost importance that you know that your service toward God does not earn you the forgiveness of sins. Your service toward God in no way justifies you before God or merits eternal life for you. In fact, your service toward God is not even the main reason you go to the Divine Service! Rather, your service to God, traveling on a Sunday morning to worship, reciting the prayers, singing the hymns, hearkening your ears, is all fruit of faith!
And this is the most important lesson in this story. There can be no worship of God without faith. Without faith, no matter how beautifully you sing that hymn, God doesn’t like your singing. Without faith, it doesn’t matter how attentive you follow the service, reciting the responses and listening to the sermon. Without faith, it doesn’t matter how early you got up, how far you drove, how on time you were, how nice your Sunday best is. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:16). Without faith it is impossible to serve God.
In our Lutheran Confessions, in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Philip Melanchthon writes, “Faith is that worship (or divine service) which receives the benefits that God offers… God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers.” [Apology IV (II):49] Faith is true worship, because it receives what God offers us for Christ’s sake. The greatest honor you can give God is to believe his promises! This is what Jesus taught the Samaritan. He said, “Your faith has saved you!”
Now, our English translation says, “Your faith has made you well.”, but that is more of a paraphrase. The translators assume that Jesus is saying that the man was made well from his leprosy, because he had faith. But there were ten lepers who were made well. Yet, only one of them demonstrated his faith by returning to worship Jesus. Jesus meant what he said, “Your faith has saved you.”
Faith and service go hand in hand. If you have faith in Christ, then you desire to serve him. This is why this service is called a fruit of faith. Yet, the greatest emphasis in the Divine Service on Sunday morning is not our service toward God, but God’s service for us. Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served by to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The greatest Divine Service ever was when Jesus Christ gave his life as a ransom for all sinners. No service you could offer or anyone could offer could make atonement for one sin. Yet, Jesus by his perfect sacrifice makes satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
And that is what Christ offers us in the Divine Service on Sunday morning, the benefits he gained for us on the cross: the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. So, faith draws you to go to church, not only so that you can serve God with your thanks and praise, hymns and prayers; faith draws you to church primarily so that you can receive God’s service for you.
Before the leper was healed, he was not permitted to come near anyone. He was unclean. In the Old Testament, a number of figures are struck with leprosy as a punishment for their rebellion against God (Miriam, King Uzziah, and Elisha’s servant Gehazi). So, leprosy became associated with punishment for sin, even though lepers were not necessarily worse sinners than non-lepers. Yet, all physical ailments are a sign of sin. Sin brings death! We are sinners. By nature, we are unclean and not worthy to come before God. Yet, Scripture says in Hebrews 10, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” We draw near to worship Christ, not afraid of our uncleanness, because he has made us clean. In Baptism, Christ washes all of our sins away in his blood. And through faith, we have assurance that all our sins are forever drowned. And we continue to draw near to be cleansed by Christ. As Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, so Jesus washes our feet in the Divine Service, so to say. He declares his absolution to us through his servant, forgiving our sins. He teaches us and strengthens our faith for the continued journey through this veil of tears. He even feeds us his own body and blood to eat and to drink, a foretaste of the heavenly feast, which grants us forgiveness and strengthens us in the faith. Faith in Christ draws you to come near and receive these benefits from Christ, through his Word and Sacrament. Faith draws you to be served by God.
And in response to being served by God, we in return serve God. The Divine Service is a heavenly conversation on earth between God and his people. God declares his grace and forgiveness to us through the mighty works of Christ Jesus, and we respond by confessing this great truth. We stand and bow and sing and declare, “amen!”, in response to being told by our God that we are his people, that he is our God, that we are no longer unclean, but we are washed in the blood of Christ. And you can often tell whether you are serving God or he is serving you based on which direction the pastor is facing. If the pastor is facing the congregation, he is likely representing and speaking for Christ to the congregation, God showering his grace on his people through his minister. When the pastor is facing the altar, he represents and speaks for or with the congregation to God, offering petitions, thanksgivings, and praise.
Yet, our service to God is always offered in response to our faith receiving God’s service to us. And God’s service to us is always for the sake of the innocent sufferings, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has earned for us forgiveness, justification, and eternal life. This is why the number one reason anyone should go to church should always be to receive the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for you on the cross, that is, to be served by God. Amen.