There’s a distinction to make between the one and the nine. Obviously, we want to be the one and not the nine, but there’s a great difference between the two.

Now, there are a lot of distinctions to make in today’s Gospel lesson, but there’s only one that really matters.

Consider all the distinctions to be made in today’s Gospel lesson:

Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem, and He goes, uncomplaining forth and in our place, as the sacrifice for sin.

But just as He is on His way to Jerusalem, some would be on the way to Mount Gerizim.

Some are Galileans. And some, Samaritans.

For those who followed Jesus, those are important distinctions. Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, as was right. And those half-breed Samaritans foolishly and falsely worshiped on Mount Gerizim.

They made those distinctions.

Jesus is going along between Samaria and Galilee—here, not choosing a side—because He goes to Jerusalem to be crucified for all.

And there are more distinctions.

There are lepers and—what do you call “not lepers”? Normal people? How rude, right?

There are those who call Jesus “Master” and those who don’t.

There are priests and—what do you call “not priests”? Normal people? How fitting, right?

There are the cleansed and the unclean.

The healed and the sick.

And we read these distinctions with gladness, thanking God that He has made us different from other men.

We thank God that we’re not so foolish as to think that worship must occur at Jerusalem or Gerizim.

No—we’re more likely to think that our last name gives us super powers. The right last names have that quirk everywhere.

We thank God we’re not lepers—how terrible that would be.

But we’re even more glad we’ve not recently tested positive for something as bad for our reputation as COVID.

Because there are COVID positive people and then there are normal people. Now is that rude or fitting?

We thank God that we call Jesus Master.

But we don’t think about that any further lest we realize there are false gods we at least occasionally bow down to. 

It’s Thanksgiving—so I’m trying to retain my normal cheerfulness. But—it’s Thanksgiving, which means everyone’s on edge.

Will the turkey be dry this year?

Did you use the right recipe?

Did mom really say that? Did grandpa?

How many false gods will we tiptoe around this year?

Is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is about family? Perhaps the nine think so.

Or is it fitting to think that Thanksgiving is and ought to be about God, our very reason to be thankful.

Indeed, the one does.

Or—to avoid all the nonsense—are you following the suggested commands of our glorious overlords, the CDC and having a Thanksgiving-for-One sponsored by HotPocket.

Some thank God they’re priests.

Most thank God they’re not.

80% of the people are happy with that. Or 20%.

It varies.

We don’t argue about being cleansed, I don’t think, and we should thank God for that.

But there are people who meet your expectations—and people who don’t—and that’s about the same.

We don’t argue about who is healed and who isn’t, thanks be to God!

But we take note when yours are and ours aren’t.

I’m not saying that every one of you makes every one of these distinctions, but the shallowness of American Christianity has taught us to think of our day and age as golden, an improvement over those judgmental Jews and Gentiles.

But really, these same distinctions are made among us every day.

And—none of these distinctions are what Jesus commends.

“One of [the lepers], 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 [saved you]’” (Luke 17:15-19).

And this is the type of faith that saves—

This is the distinction between the one and the nine—

The distinction Jesus wants you to know and believe and live—

There are those who worship God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There are those who call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

And there are those who don’t.

There isn’t a Jerusalem or a Gerizim, but there are idolized churches and churches to be scorned.

There isn’t a Samaria and a Galilee, but there is a Home team to root for and an Away team to despise.

And if a sports analogy doesn’t work there for you—there are schools to which you can send your kids and schools to which you should not.

Don’t read into that, I’m just saying that it’s true.

People take sides.

There aren’t really lepers anymore. Now they’re called homeless or addict or Democrat (or Republican—it depends on your family, I guess). They live together, scorned by man, and we love to hate them.

Plenty of Christians call Jesus Master.

So, that’s the same.

But plenty of look-alike Christians do, too.

So, that’s the same.

Cleansed or not—healed or not—priest or not—the distinction Jesus cares about is the broken and contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.

The one ex-leper turned back and praised God with a loud voice. There are those who unabashedly sing the straight truth of God—and there are those who don’t.

The one ex-leper fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.

Posture matters.

Reverence in the presence of God matters.

He humbled himself physically, because he humbled himself period, giving Him thanks.

That the ex-leper is a Samaritan should shock us.

He’s on the wrong side of our distinctions. He’s the half-breed, homeless, addict, Democratic-Republican who worships in the wrong place. He’s not from here, not part of the community, he’s strange and doesn’t belong.

We would hate this guy for who he is.

And we would hate him even more for getting it right.

“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18). Jesus didn’t say that because He was shocked. He said that because we’re shocked that faith can be found in people we don’t like.

That’s the point!

The distinction that matters is the contrite heart that renders the sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord.

I keep hearing about how bad a year 2020 has been.

Hearing about the ex-leper who seemed to immediately get everything he wanted from God might grate against our ears.

But Jesus healing the lepers doesn’t teach us to wait for our leprosy to be healed.

Your leprosy—mental, emotional, physical, whatever—may not be healed this side of the resurrection.

This miracle—and all the miracles—rather, shows us who fights for us.

And it is the Living God who fights for you.

When I point out that the distinction that matters is faith which trusts in Jesus—and thanks Him—that might grate against our ears, too.

“Thank Him? For this year?”

You think this year’s been bad?

Imagine if God withdrew His protection.

Considering all we know—we might reminisce next year about how great we had it this year.

You think you’re innocent of taking God’s love for granted?

How many of you are at all anxious about today?

Why? Does God love you less than He did?

No.

In fact, He stands immovable in love.

Protecting you from worse. And giving you His best, His only-begotten.

What stands between the one and the nine is Jesus the Christ.

The nine get what they want and get out, and we’re always tempted to do the same.

The one gets what he wants—but his entire life is put on hold for one moment.

And in that one moment, he realizes that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

God kills. And God makes alive.

And this God stands between you and sin, death, and satan and says to all evil, “Thus far shall you come and no farther.”

There will never be a better year, a better day, than this one, because the Lord made it and used it to call you to Himself.

Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you, / Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you. / What need or grief / Ever has failed of relief? / Wings of His mercy did shade you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day, 2020
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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