The right use of God’s name always ends in thanksgiving.
That I believe is the message contained in the story of the 10 healed lepers. It is not just a miracle, although it is that. Neither is it an overly simple, “aw shucks, we should give thanks” lesson, although giving thanks is a good habit. It is really a lesson on who has used the name of God rightly. There are three groups named at the start: Jerusalem, Galilee and Samaria. All three think they know how to use the name. The 10 lepers use the name in seeking mercy. But only one receives the grace. Only one receives the kingdom. This sermon contemplates the 2nd commandment from Luther’s catechism, which is a spiritual classic. And it ponders our lives, our prayer, praise and thanks, in light of the command and the text. What does it mean to use the name of God rightly? Think about it.
I think the lectionary makers have stuck us with the end of one devotion and the start of another. I think 2:1-3 complete the chapter 1 thought. Peter then picks up a new thought in 2:4. The first devotion moves from new birth to craving pure spiritual milk. It is a devotion about growing up in Christ. The second devotion moves from that individual and early growth in faith to the communal nature and its maturity. As individuals we are newborns (baptism), babes (milk) and eventually grown up into salvation. As the church we are living stones built into the new temple, the royal priesthood, a holy nation. When we are grown we come into our maturity which is as a people.
This being mother’s day, the childhood analogy works well. The bridge from the childhood to the communal is that the church is the feminine or mother image. God is building his church, and he builds it from the stones that are rejected by the world. We living stones conform to Christ, the rejected cornerstone, with all the rough angles of the cruciform life. In this there are always two building projects: the world’s and God’s, the false house and the high house. Mom, the church, is the means by which we are built as the living stones of the High House. (Note: I’ve stolen those labels from an enchanting work of fantasy (The Evenmere Chronicles by James Stoddard).
Music note: I lost most of the music in the recording, but I think I kept the best piece, although as a congregation we got off to a rough start on it. LSB 645, Built on the Rock, captures the spirit of the text and the sermon quite well.
Recording note: I’m sorry for the overall quality. The volume level was quite low (our line volume ghost came back). I had to re-record the lesson as the early parts were unusable. I’ve normalized the volume levels to the best of my ability, but you will notice the change from a studio sound to the live static.
The parable and the life picture in the text may not on first glance appear to go together. What do the a compare and contrast of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector at prayer have to do with mothers bringing babies to Jesus? But the theme running through both is humility and spiritual pride. The kingdom belongs to the children, the tax collector went down justified, while the Pharisee exalted himself, and the disciples subtly sought to do the same.
This sermon grounds humility/pride in the second commandment, how we use God’s name. It examines the coarse form of pride of the Pharisee, but also the subtle pride of the disciples, and how both of these play in our life. It presents Jesus as the one who humbled himself for us and was exalted for us. It concludes with the response of faith both now as children under the cross and then when we come into our inheritance.
Recording note: Two items: 1) I think the recording is good, but the line volume was quite low, the raw file had to be amplified which often has the effect of bring forward background noise. I don’t think it is too bad, but if it is worse than I think, please let me know. 2) I left in the recording our final hymn, LSB 573, Lord ‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee. I think this hymn captures perfectly the spiritual humility or childlikeness the text call for. Stanza one covers the coarse spiritual pride that I can be righteous in myself, I cannot. Stanza two ponders how that grace works on us while the world yet enthralls, the spiritual pride of claiming the grace, but not for the Kingdom itself but for our own glory – “to thy heavenly glories blind. And stanza three ends as all theology must, in the praise of a doxology, the calling on the name of god in praise and thanks. One of my top 10 hymns. It doesn’t hurt that the tune it is set to is a the slightly melancholy catnip of O DU LIEBE MEINER LIEBE shared with the great Lenten hymn by Savonarola (he of the bonfire of vanities) Jesus, Refuge of the Weary. The life of Savonarola is fitting meditation for the theme of spiritual pride and humility.
The 2nd commandment (3 commandment if you are Reformed) is about respecting the name of God. The 1st petition of the Lord’s prayer is that the name for God would be holy. The 1 article of the Augsburg Confession is “On God”. The first thing the church post the apostles wrestled with was the creeds which are verbal ways of nailing down just who this God is – Father, Son and Spirit. The church seems flooded with bad religion. And bad religion starts with a poor conception of God. Usually a conception warped by our reason. Either reason twisting revelation to its design, or reason using a great filter to only let in what it desires.
And that Bad Religion is tragic because we always filter out the gospel. The God we worship – Father, Son and Spirit – comes to us, reveals himself, abides with us, and won’t let go. The revealed God, revealed most fully in Jesus Christ, is the one who brings peace. Its those things we lose when we go looking for a God to take His place.