I’m not a doctor, but yesterday I did read most of an article from the CDC’s website. I’ll leave it up to you what lesson you can learn from that, but the recent outbreak shouldn’t surprise us, given the statistics.

And the fear—that’s expected, too.

Infection can damage the respiratory tract, we know that, but I’ve read, now, that it can damage nerves and even skin and eyes.

Extensive contact is necessary for it to spread from person to person, but that doesn’t make us feel more safe.

What is “extensive contact,” anyway?

One cough, one mucosal particle from the nose, that’s all it takes.

Or one dead armadillo.

I’m talking about leprosy, of course.

And some armadillos are naturally infected with the bacteria that cause leprosy in people, so, last week, when I saw a dead armadillo in the road about a mile north of the church, I prepared myself for the inevitable leprosy outbreak.

Okay, no I didn’t. But it’s not a new thing for an entire people to worry about clean and unclean, the spread of disease, and the fear of God.

Who isn’t tired of hearing all this bad news about fear. I’m sure everyone would rather hear all the bad news about politics. And we’re all tired of the bad news about disease.

So hear the Good News of the Gospel:

Jesus is God and Lord.

Faith in Jesus saves.

And the Living God is a God who loves even the poor, miserable, diseased lepers.

With that in mind, recall the Ten Lepers and the Good News of Jesus Christ:

“On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’ When he saw them he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ And he said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well’” (Luke 17:11-19).

What’s the lesson here?

If the Bible is merely Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth, if we strip the intent of God to save the world from sin, death, and the fear of satan, and if we reduce the Word of God to morality tales as told by cartoon vegetables, the lesson’s simple: be thankful.

But do you see how that fails?

If you reduce the Gospel to “Be thankful,” are you comforted?

It’s not the Gospel if it tells you how to be, what you must do.

It is the Gospel if it tells you who you are by faith in Jesus Christ, what God has done to win you away from sin, death, and the fear of satan.

We are to be thankful.

These verses from St. Luke’s account of the Gospel are also appointed for Thanksgiving Day, so yes, we are to give thanks, but that’s only part of what goes on here.

What’s the lesson?

A lesson could be made out of what Jesus says: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19), because faith doesn’t always make you well.

Prayer doesn’t always yield, in an apparent way, that for which you ask.

Or have you not prayed for anything you didn’t get?

It’s an important distinction for us to make, to know that Jesus literally says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19, The UBS Greek New Testament).

The word isn’t θεραπεύω as in therapeutic or therapy that might make you well. The word is σώζω as in soteriology and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

That’s a big difference.

Faith may not make you well, temporally speaking. 

But faith that trusts in Jesus for salvation saves always, whether it’s small like a mustard seed, immature, O you of little faith, or brand new.

If faith makes you well, there are a lot of sick Christians who must now doubt their faith.

But if faith that trusts in Jesus saves, then we are comforted in the midst of any affliction.

We can abound, of course. It’s easy to rejoice when everyone’s healthy, your team is winning, and you just cashed a check.

But the peace that Jesus gives teaches us, even, to be brought low and yet rejoice in our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 4:12). To thank God for our daily bread, even in the midst of what talking-heads call “unprecedented times.”

Faith in Jesus Christ saves, that may well be the lesson, but briefly, I’d like to share this with you as well.

All ten were lepers.

All ten “stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (Luke 17:13)

All ten were cleansed.

But only “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice” (Luke 17:15).

What does this mean?

All ten were lepers.

Desiring not the death of the sinner but that he turn from his evil ways and live, leprosy was the cross God gave to these men, that they would draw near to Him.

That’s what God is doing every moment of every day since Creation—calling you to repentance and teaching you to rely on Him.

All ten called out, and God, in the flesh, literally drew near to them.

But only one believed that God breathed into him the breath of life. Only one turned back, praising God, worshiping Jesus, giving Him thanks.

Only one recognized Jesus as the High Priest He is, who would offer the sacrifice of His own Body and Blood on the tree of the cross to justify the world.

Only one trusted in Jesus for salvation.

Only one saw the cross he bore in his flesh as a call to repentance and faith. Only one received his daily bread of renewed health in faith that looks to God for all good things.

With only that one did Jesus dwell.

To only that one did God draw near.

To that one alone did Jesus say, “Your faith has saved you” (cf. Luke 17:19).

So what does this mean?

God has given us all a cross to bear.

Great and small. Acute and chronic. Colorful and bland. The size and shape and individual weight of each cross is different, yet we’re all the same.

God is patient, desiring that all should reach repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

Hear the Word of God, believe it, and He will raise you unto life everlasting.

Rejoice in the Good News of the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to all who believe in the Lord, and you will know how to abound and how to be brought low, how to do all things.

Rejoice in this Good News:

Jesus is God and Lord.

He speaks life into existence, doing all things well.

He knit you into existence, that you would live with Him forever.

Jesus is God and Lord.

That’s the Good News.

And faith in Jesus Christ saves.

Not your struggles, not your works, not your effort or your prayers, but “[Jesus] himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

I see it every year, around the eleventh of September, the claim that everyone who dies tragically is somehow an angel or otherwise with God.

It’s not true.

Whether your life is a Tragedy or a Comedy, it makes no difference, you were purchased and won from sin, death, and satan in the History of Jesus Christ.

Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves.

That’s the Good News.

And the Living God is a God who loves the leper, the infant, and the poor, miserable sinner.

He gives us all a cross to bear, out of love, that we would  draw near to Him and bear it faithfully.

He gives us His Son, that we would cast our cares upon Him. He draws near to us, removes our burdens, comforts us with Absolution, and speaks peace into our hearts.

May we all hear this Good News, recognize Jesus for who He is, and follow Him like the one, Samaritan ex-leper who returned, praising God, worshipping Jesus, and giving thanks.

That’s the lesson.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Trinity 14 Sermon, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

How many of you have heard someone quote St. Paul: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13)?

Everybody knows this verse.

Everybody’s seen it, heard it, and read it.

It’s everywhere.

But to my eyes and ears, it’s applied in only one way. When someone quotes St. Paul—I can do all things through him who strengthens me—what they mean is, “I can overcome whatever challenge is in front of me. I can do it. If I trust God enough.”

Maybe that’s a bit too broad a summary, but that’s how it’s used. And that’s not what St. Paul means.

For St. Paul, “all things” consists of a very specific list of things: He writes, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).

That’s not how that verse is commonly used. Commonly, its use is cliché.

A person will invoke Philippians 4:13 to overcome—that most generic of things—adversity.

If you watch any football over the next few days, count how many times “overcoming adversity” is mentioned.

It goes like this—this is what you might hear or see:Jesus healed the leper who believed in Him. We can’t forget that. Jesus says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). We can’t forget Jesus.

St. Paul writes, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). And I believe in Him. I believe in Jesus.

Therefore, I can overcome whatever “leprosy,” whatever adversity I face. I believe in Jesus and can do all things through Him.

That is—commonly—how Philippians 4:13 is applied.

That may not be every person’s logical progression, but the destination’s the same—whatever “adversity” you face is to be gotten rid of.

American Christianity has reduced St. Paul’s all things into just one thing: the appearance of success.

No one ever talks about “overcoming adversity” such that they mean “remaining faithful and losing.”

“Overcoming adversity,” doing “all things,” as St. Paul writes, is always used to mean “eventually winning,” or, at the very least, “eventually getting my way.”

Face the facts.

Not everyone overcomes adversity.

You don’t always win.

You don’t always get a second chance.

What St. Paul means—what “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” means, is this:

In your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if there’s an abundance—a 2:1 pie to person ratio, for example—you can live and remain faithful to Christ.

Even with an abundance of pie—or money, stuff, whatever—even then, you can enter the kingdom of God. In Christ, you know how to abound.

It’s difficult.

Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25).

With great difficulty will a rich man enter heaven; however, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

If your table is full, if every seat is filled, if there’s hardly room to park at your house, don’t let your wealth—your food, your family, your stuff—don’t let that get in the way of your praise and thanks to God.

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, but we’re not fooled. Many will say that today is about “family.” The next month is about shopping. The next eleven months are about paying off the credit cards. But today—that’s about family.

We’re not fooled.

“This is the day the Lord has made—let us rejoice—and give thanks—and be glad in it” (cf. Psalm 118:24).

All ten lepers were cleansed.

Like the ten virgins, they all looked the part—but only one ex-leper was wise. Only one ex-leper praised God, worshipped Jesus, and gave thanks.

And only that one was saved.

Jesus doesn’t literally say, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

That’s one half of “all [the] things” we can do through God who gives us strength.

That’s plenty and abundance.

But all things includes any and every circumstance.

All things includes being brought low, hunger, and need.

So, in your life—at your table this Thanksgiving—if you lack anything—if a particular chair is empty, perhaps for the first time—if there should be one more car in the driveway that you know won’t be—if this is your first Thanksgiving without—you can live and remain faithful to Christ—thanking Him for all that you do have.

In Christ, you know how to be brought low.

Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, though you lack, though your pastures are far from green, nevertheless, you can enter the kingdom of God.

You can endure all things in patient faith, with love to God and neighbor, waiting for all things to be made new.

Rich or poor.

In plenty or hunger.

With abundance or need.

You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. The kingdom of God is yours.

That’s what the miracles of Jesus give and teach to us.

The cleansing of the ten lepers—the salvation of the one ex-leper—proves that the outward appearance of things is fleeting.

The appearance of success, it passes away.

Though the ten were cleansed, they all still eventually died.

That the one was saved—rich or poor, in plenty or hunger, with an abundance or a great need—the one can do and endure it all faithfully, because he recognized in Jesus the God of his salvation.

Faith in the Lord Jesus—fear, love, and trust in God above all things—the forgiveness of sins—enables you to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

That’s what St. Paul means in Philippians four.

St. John writes: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-17).

We know this.

But in any and every circumstance we need to live it, too.

It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun.

But in whatever situation be content (cf. Philippians 4:11).

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think [on] these things” (Philippians 4:8).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Because “[You] can do all things through him who [gives you strength]” (Philippians 4:13).

You can be brought low. You can abound.

You can face plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

Because you recognize in Jesus, the God of your salvation.

Praise God. Worship Jesus. Give thanks.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day Sermon, 2019
Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt