The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf Preus| September 17, 2006| St. Luke 17:11-19
The English word “worship” has been used in our churches to describe what happens on a Sunday morning when we gather together as Christ’s church. We talk about a worship service. We speak of going to church to worship God. Worship is an old English word that literally means worth-ship. We ascribe worth to God. We worship God by glorifying Him for who He is and for what He does. Worship is the first expression of faith. The First Commandment commands us to worship God. I am the LORD your God who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
Faith and worship are inextricably bound. Indeed, faith is worship. Everything else is just commentary. Faith believes everything God says. Faith relies implicitly on every promise God makes. Faith depends on God for every good thing. Faith expects God to provide every need. Faith is a living and daring confidence that God cannot forsake us or deny us any good thing. Faith is the purest and holiest form of worship. In fact, the very essence of worship is faith. In this sense worship remains unseen by human eyes and unheard by human ears. Only God can see faith and so only God can see true worship.
The fruit of faith can be seen and heard by others. When we worship together God binds us together as one. I believe in the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints. While we cannot see the faith by which we are joined together in communion with one another we can see and we can hear the fruit of that faith as we glorify God with one voice. The Greek word for glory is doxa. It’s where we get the word doxology and orthodox. We usually think that orthodox means right teaching, but literally it refers to the right way of glorifying God.
We glorify God for who He is. Jesus cleansed and cured ten lepers. Only one returned to glorify God. He returned to Jesus. He fell at Jesus’ feet. In falling at Jesus’ feet He was glorifying God. We glorify God by worshipping God in the flesh. We glorify God by worshipping Jesus. Jesus said that everyone who honors the Father must honor the Son. There is no true worship of God the Father apart from giving glory to His only begotten Son.
When I was a freshman in high school, I attended Clayton High School in Clayton, Missouri. I would say that about 60% of the student body was Jewish. In those days they would invite clergymen to offer prayers at graduation exercises. One year they invited the Rev. Roland Wiederanders who was at the time the First Vice President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He prayed an explicitly Christian prayer, not only mentioning Jesus’ name, but confessing that Jesus was the only hope for salvation. Many of the Jews present were outraged that Rev. Wiederanders was so insensitive to those who did not believe in Jesus or acknowledge Him as the Christ or the Savior of sinners. But a prayer that deliberately ignores Jesus is no prayer at all. True worship does not consult public opinion for direction. It glorifies God by glorifying His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. We don’t know if the other lepers who were cleansed were grateful. I would think that they were. How could they not be? But only one – a Samaritan – returned to glorify God by falling at Jesus’ feet to give Him thanks.
We glorify God for who He is. And we glorify God for what He does. He healed ten men of a terrible disease. Lepers were required by law to stand away from healthy people and cry out, “unclean!” They were segregated from the world. They were ritually unclean. This is why they were required to show themselves to the priests if they were healed. A priest would determine if they were permitted to reenter the religious community and participate in the worship again.
When the nine lepers continued on their way to the priests while the leper from Samaria returned to Jesus a clear confession was made. The nine confessed that they wanted fellowship with a religious community. The one confessed that he wanted fellowship with God. Oh, there’s a difference. There’s a fundamental difference.
People are incurably religious. They want to be with other people and express religious sentiments. That’s why they go to church or synagogue or mosque. There’s nothing uniquely Christian about gathering with other likeminded people on a regular basis to go through religious rituals. What is unique about Christian worship is its source. We aren’t just saying religious things or expressing religious feelings. No, we are glorifying the One from whom we have received our eternal salvation. Christian worship is always in response to receiving what God in Christ gives.
The Samaritan who was cleansed returned to glorify God. For what? For healing him. What does Jesus say? He says, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, “Your faith has saved you.” His faith had saved him from leprosy of the body. His faith had saved him from the cause of all diseases of the body and soul. He was rescued, delivered, cleansed of his sin.
Mercy is broader than forgiveness, but forgiveness is always at its heart. God has pity on the suffering of sinful people even though they deserve what they suffer. Think about it. Have you ever been entirely innocent even when suffering unjustly? We confess in Luther’s explanation of the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer:
We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look upon our sins, nor on their account deny our prayer; for we are not worthy of anything we ask, neither have we deserved it. But we pray that He would give us everything by grace, for we daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment; and we on our part will heartily forgive and readily do good to those who sin against us.
True worship is Christian worship. That is, true worship comes from receiving what Christ alone can give. True worship comes from receiving the forgiveness of our sins.
The lepers went to the priests. Nine of them continued on their way even after they saw that they were cleansed. But who was it that cleansed them? Nine out of ten didn’t care. They were clean. That was all that mattered. But it wasn’t all that mattered. It mattered that Jesus cleansed them. Only one of the ten cared about that. The fact that Jesus was the One who had healed them showed that He was the true priest, the High Priest, the One who would shed His blood to forgive sinners their sins. Who, but the promised Christ, the Savior, God’s only begotten Son, could, by a mere word, heal a man from leprosy? The Samaritan would never have been accepted as a member of that group of ten men had he not been a leper. Misery loves company, and when segregated away from the rest of the world you can’t be too choosy about whom you let into your company. But under normal circumstances the Jews wouldn’t socialize with Samaritans. Samaritans were known for their adherence to false doctrine and false worship. But this Samaritan understood clearly what true worship was. He glorified God in Christ for showing mercy. That’s the essence of true worship. We not only recognize Christ as our God, we confess that in Him alone is the mercy we need from God.
“Your faith has saved you.” That’s what Jesus said. That’s what He says. Not just any faith, but your faith. It isn’t a generic one size fits all, faith. It is a specific faith. It is faith that looks to Jesus and knows that for His sake God will always be merciful. The High Priest has sacrificed Himself for us. He has invited us to show ourselves to Him. Showing Him our sin, He takes it upon Himself. Confessing to Him our leprous desires, He washes us clean. We look to see the works of the flesh and we see them in ourselves. We see “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” We confess that those who do these things have no share in the kingdom of God. Then we run to Christ. We cry out for His mercy, the mercy that flows from the blood He shed for us all. Does Christ ever refuse? Does He ever send us away without receiving that for which we have prayed? He has not and He will not because He cannot. He is who He is and His name is pure mercy.
The church service is not primarily a worship service. Yes, we gather here to glorify God and to confess our faith in Him. But we can do that at home, at work, or with the neighbor. The church service is primarily Divine Service. It is where we come to find our High Priest who ever makes intercession for us in heaven. It is where we gather to hear the gospel and receive the sacraments of Christ. Through the words of Jesus and His holy sacraments God serves us in our need. We receive what faith needs. We receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. We receive it every time we come, for this is what our Savior wishes to give to us, not just piecemeal, but completely. He doesn’t leave us wounded and impure. He sends us on our way pure, clean, holy, and righteous. He deigns to accept our thanksgiving. He, who serves us in the Divine Service, enables us to glorify Him. And so we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.