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Mercifully Restored

October 13, 2019
By Rev. David French

Outcasts - every culture has them - people who are not allowed to participate fully in society. Sometimes people are looked at as outcasts for reasons beyond their control. The physically deformed and handicapped are among those who many today shy away from. Certainly, mental illness has been a hot topic lately. Then, there are others who seek attention by becoming outcasts. Instead of dressing for success, they dress for shock value. They use language and behave in ways that offend people around them. It’s their goal to make people around them uncomfortable.

In his last sermon to Israel, for sins highlighted earlier in Deuteronomy, God directed Moses to declare; no Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Promised Land; that is, both were outcast. Lepers were also on the list of outcasts. We read in Leviticus (13:45-46), “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”

Our Old Testament reading for today is the opening words from the book of Ruth. If you’ve never read it, you really should. It’s only four chapters long and it gives us insight into the culture of the time, into family life, financial dealings, and courtship rituals. Finally, by constantly referring to Boaz as the kinsman redeemer, it gives us good reason to compare the love between Boaz and Ruth and the love between Christ and His bride, the Church. The thing is, Ruth was a Moabite. And so, looking at the big picture of the book of Ruth, we see how God mercifully brings outcasts into His family.

In today’s gospel lesson, we read about Jesus and the ten lepers. Certainly, of all the diseases mentioned in the Bible, I would guess none is a better metaphor for sin than leprosy. Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes the disease this way: This disease is a bacterial disease that “… begins with specks on the eyelids and on the palms, gradually spreading over the body, bleaching the hair white wherever they appear, crusting the affected parts with white scales, and causing terrible sores and swellings. From the skin the disease eats inward to the bones, (eventually) rotting the whole body ….”

I suppose most lepers at some point became used to people turning away in horror or running away in terror. They probably came to appreciate being outside the camp or the community. The life of those affected with this disease must have truly been a lonely and wretched life to live. Through no fault of their own, they became infected and were labeled as outcasts who were no longer permitted to take part in the activities of daily life. In today’s gospel lesson, we see how the Son of God mercifully restores outcasts into His family.

Now, it’s true that Ruth and the lepers were outcasts for different reasons. It’s also true that they, along with us, are outcasts from God’s kingdom for the same reason. You see, from the time Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, Ruth, the Ten Lepers, you, me, all of humanity - we are all born outcasts, separated from God because we are all conceived in and born of sin. And being sinners from birth, we do throughout our earthly lives the only thing we can do - we daily add to our guilt.

And remember, one of the really devious things about our sinful nature is that it often uses what we call good to disguise our sin. Ruth knew that she was an outcast because of where she was born. The lepers knew they were outcasts because every day they could compare themselves to healthy people. Sinners don’t have that advantage.

Everyone is born a sinner, so we have only sinners to compare ourselves to. This world has no sinless standard for us to use as a measure of our own depravity. It’s the nature of our sinful pride to believe that we live in a perfectly healthy and normal world. The truth is, when we judge others by the twisted standards of the world around us, as opposed to God’s standards as revealed in the Scriptures, we can easily develop a feeling that, in some ways, we really are better than some of those around us. We fail to see that we are also fellow outcasts in a sick and dying world.

It’s not until the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and minds and hearts to God’s Word, beginning with the law, that we begin to see that we don’t just say it, we really are miserable sinners. When we see our reflection in the mirror of God’s law, we can clearly see that we have a serious disease and a real problem. Apart from God, even as we live and grow stronger physically, our spirits, dead from sin, are rotting within us.

Just as a leper was a dead man walking, so also a sinner apart from God is a damned man walking. Only when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and shows us the truth through God’s Law do we see that we are indeed still sinners, spiritual lepers, outcasts in need of forgiveness. And since outcasts are not allowed to enter the city of God, the law does the only thing it can do. It condemns us to hell.

But, thanks be to God. After the Holy Spirit opens our eyes through the law, and we begin to feel the guilt we have so richly earned, He mercifully opens our hearts and minds to the truth of His Gospel. Remember, as Jesus healed those ten lepers physically, he was already on His way to Jerusalem to take their spiritual leprosy to the cross, but not theirs alone.

From the time Christ’s blood was shed at the temple seven days after His birth until the day His blood was shed on the cross, Jesus carried the spiritual leprosy, the sin that affects us all, on Himself. In Jerusalem He would offer His perfect life on the cross as payment for the cure of this worldwide, all-consuming disease called sin. And with His resurrection, Jesus began to freely offer that cure to all who are born of sin.

It was after He died that Jesus showed how different He really is. Every living thing that dies soon begins to decay. Eventually, that decay returns every dead thing to dust. As God promised, Jesus didn’t see decay because Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven that He might fill all things in heaven and on earth. So, in a way, we believe by faith but can never truly understand that He is here with us right now. Jesus is here to keep His promise to come to you through His Word and in, with, and under the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. He comes bearing gifts of forgiveness and life for you and for all who meet with Him again this day.

My friends, you had a disease that was much worse than you knew, but by grace through faith in Christ, you have been healed. True, we will all one day die and our bodies will decay, but it’s also true that the day will come when Jesus will raise our bodies to new life. He will take us to our heavenly home where you and I and all who trusted in His promise will live with Him forever. You see, while all of us are born outcasts, you and all who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins have graciously been sought, found, and mercifully restored to the family of God.

In His name, Amen.