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- Commands, Promises -
& Spiritual Renewal

F. Earle Fox

11/09/25 Trinity 14
Jer. 7:1-20;   Ps. 42 & 43;   Gal. 5:16-24;   Lk. 17:11-19

The Gospel lesson tells the event of the ten lepers being healed, but only one of them, a Samaritan, returning to give thanks to Jesus for his healing. They stood afar off as they called , “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Lepers were required to keep their distance from all other persons to not spread the leprosy. “Lord, have mercy!” was what one called as an important figure would go by, often with his entourage. It was the way of getting his attention to ask for a favor. It is the Kyrie Eleison of our liturgy. We are all spiritual lepers seeking the mercy of God as He goes by.

The story does not tell us that this Samaritan was saved in the sense we Christians think of “being saved”, nor does it tell us that the other nine were not.

But based on the principles of the Last Judgement parable in Matthew 25, we might suspect that the Samaritan would come out on the side of the sheep who were invited into the Kingdom, and that the other nine were at least in danger of not being so invited, and, if they continued in their ingratitude, might be counted as goats. Jesus pictures His decision in the Last Judgement parable as depending on the kind of relationship which we choose with Him, even if “with Him” means as shown by how we treat our fellow human beings, made in His image. The way we treat our fellow human beings Jesus counts as the way we treat Him.
 

The collect for this 14th Sunday after Trinity asks God to... “give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou dost command...”

What indeed has God promised if not that very increase of faith, hope, and charity – those three which St. Paul tells us endure, which stick with you, which are meant to be the way we live our eternal lives – beginning right here and now? Faith, love, and hope are transforming qualities.

That is an extraordinary promise, and an extraordinary request by ourselves in the collect. It means that we are asking to experience and live in that power of God to redeem and reclaim all things, with the power and fullness of faith, love, and hope. That is serious business. The collect gets us to pray for the power of God to make us into faithful, loving, and hopeful people. God says that He can do that, as soon as we bend our hearts and minds toward Him.

Then we ask: – in order to actually obtain that which God promises, that we be made to love that which He commands.

Loving what God commands means valuing, prizing, yearning for that faith, love, and hope so deeply that God can pour those qualities into our open souls.

  

The commands of God are the same as the promises of God. We are commanded to love God and our neighbor. The two Great Commandments define in concise form that which God both commands and promises. They define the meaning and purpose of the Kingdom of God. God both promises the Kingdom for us, and commands that we hasten there. The hastening there is not like hopping on your donkey and hastening to some other place. It is the spiritual journey of the cross, learning how to give up oneself to the service of God and of one’s fellow man, how to be a part of the community of those who are always faithful, always loving, and always hopeful.

The goal is not like arriving at some wonderful place, it is not “salvation by change of environment”, it is salvation by change of motivation and of relationship, building a very special relationship with God and one’s fellows. The relationship will make the place heavenly -- not vice-versa. That is at least part of how God will redeem even the physical world. The place will itself change visibly, turning from a desert to a garden. Changes like these are happening in the world right now as I speak.

The promises of God tell us of a spiritual renewal available to us right here and now, as powerful as anything that happened on the original Pentecost. Our history books and news reporters have selectively hidden from us the extraordinary works of God which have continued in every century, but which are mounting and increasing, not diminishing, in our own age. We have a hard time believing that because not only the secular press will not tell of them, but because our secularized churches will not believe that such things can happen today, and show little interest in what is happening right in the world of our own time.

The kind of relationship which we choose with God depends on whether we prefer and value those three qualities which endure. God both promises that He will draw us into that community in which faith, hope, and love are the defining characteristics, and commands that we do everything in our power to get there as soon as possible. Command and promise aim at the same goal – our present participation in the Kingdom of heaven. God is promising, guaranteeing, that what He commands will happen if we take that journey of obedience. It can happen in our communities, in our churches, and in and families. Beginning whenever we get serious enough to invite God into our midst by deep repentance and prayer. The arm of God is not shortened, and the power of God is not diminished.

The question is: Do we want what God is offering? Are we willing to pay that price of prayer and repentance? Will we give up our self-satisfaction and self-absorption to allow the Holy Spirit of God to change our lives according to His will, not anyone else’s. People who work in renewed churches and renewed cities, and even in some cases, renewed countries, tell us that pride is the primary drag on spiritual renewal. Humbling ourselves does not mean demeaning ourselves, it means simply recognizing our own inability to do the work of God until, as Jesus told us, we are grafted into the Vine, into the will and purpose of God for our own time and place. And, yes, when we do, we will see unmistakable results. And so will the world around us.
  

We fallen humans tend to see the commands of God as those difficult things which God demands of us, maybe with a bit of resentment at being commanded. We tend to see commandments as hanging over us, a bit threatening because they have consequences if we do not obey. There is probably a libertarian (or maybe even libertine) side of all of us which sees commandments as getting in the way of our normal course of desire and hope.

But that is not how God wants us to see His commandments. His commandments and promises are the same. The very world into which He commands us is also the world of our salvation, our wholeness, our health, and joy. God commands us to do that which will benefit us, not that which will bother and irritate us. God is commanding us to get into the Best of All Possible Worlds. Why are we complaining? Why do we lag behind?

We complain out of ignorance, because we do not understand the real intention of God, or we complain out of ill will, because we so much resent His intrusion into our desire for independence that we would rather die doing it our own way than live in faith, love, and hope doing it His way. Much better to agree with God and make it easier on everyone.
  

Ten lepers were cleansed, healed. The event tells us nothing about forgiveness. But God understands that there is a connection between our brokenness and our need for forgiveness. God understands that we do evil things often because we are hurting, and can become obsessed with our own pain. And God understands that sometimes our brokenness is itself directly a result of our evil and ignorant choices. Brokenness and sin feed on each other.

But in this event, sin is not a primary issue – not until the one returns to give thanks for his healing and the nine do not. They had asked for mercy from Jesus, whom they trusted could provide that mercy. They must have heard of His healings, or maybe seen some of them. The ten were told to go show themselves to the priests – to show that they were healed. That was the way back into society for the leper, proving they were healed and in no danger of spreading the leprosy. They had to get the permission of the priests to return to society. They were on their way to the Temple, not yet healed, and must have wondered what would happen when they got there. But on their way, they were all healed. The ten lepers had become a living part of that most powerful renewal, the redemption of the world.

And one returned to Jesus to say “thank you”.

We are not told whether the nine lost their healings for their ingratitude. We assume that they went on to the priests, and maybe gave thanks there in the Temple. But only one returned. We do not know how much the Samaritan knew of Jesus, but he “with a loud voice glorified God and fell down on his face at his feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan”.

Jesus tells the man that his faith has made him whole – the first of those three – faith, love, and hope. But the man also showed love, concern for Jesus. No doubt he left Jesus with a renewed hope in his soul for a better life, back to family and friends. Faith, love, and hope, the three that endure were already sprouting.

That is the kind of spiritual renewal which ought to be common place among Christians.

The other nine were no doubt glad and rejoicing over their healings, but the reprimand of Jesus says that they had little or no sense of the gratitude which would have carried their spiritual lives out beyond themselves. If that is the case, they were not in their attitudes and goals interested in the Way of the Cross. They were happy to be free of the plague of leprosy, but their interests did not extend beyond their own feeling good.

An ungrateful heart will not be very open to the kinds of renewed relationships which make up the Kingdom of God. Such persons will not be open to self-correction, or correction by others. The ungrateful heart takes in the benefits of life without much concern for those who provide the benefits. They are takers, but not givers.

The faithful heart will build up a reservoir of intelligent trust and have a faithfulness to those who show love and mercy toward them. The loving heart will reach out to persons of any stature or place in society. And the hopeful heart will do so with a joy and expectation that the mercies of God will abundantly show themselves. Our faith is the stability which we have built up through our past, our love is how we meet the present, and our hope is our facing into the future.

The ungrateful heart does not care about others, even though the two great commandments specifically command a caring attitude. We are commanded to care, that is the meaning of loving other persons, to care for them, even at great cost to ourselves.
  

St. Paul tells us to “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh...” That is how renewed persons and communities act. But what is this lust of the flesh?

Lust of the flesh is the drive to be a somebody or the drive to ease pain or increase pleasure when we have lost our relationship with God, who alone can supply our two stabilities, personal and moral. It is the drive for power to control the chaotic circumstances of life without God. It can rightly be called “lust” because it is compulsive and addictive.

Given the circumstances of the world without God, it would be impossible for anyone to be free from that compulsive drive. We are driven by our fears of being a nobody to secure ourselves as somebodies, and to have a sense of meaning and purpose. But the world cannot supply either personhood or purpose, so we seek for substitutes – such as earning the good opinions of others, or controlling them by power or deceit. We believe that the people generally not love us. So we try to get their respect by earning it or by controlling it.

Spiritual renewal changes our dependency on, and obedience to, the world back to God again. Jeremiah had to speak the terrible word of the rejection by God of Judea and its leaders. They had passed the point of no return, they were unreachable by faith, love, or hope.
  

The works of the flesh which Paul lists are typical of worldly pleasure and power struggle: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and the like.” You cannot inherit the Kingdom of God doing such things. Well, why not? Because they destroy the kinds of relationships which build the Kingdom. You build heaven with God or you build hell all by yourself.

The fruit of the Spirit is radically different from the works of the flesh. We have a different experience of life, depending on which route we choose, to rebel against God or to submit to and cooperate with Him. We have “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”

If you take away all the emotional baggage which gets associated with the items on those two lists, and compare them objectively, the differences are stunning. America and the West are fast descending into that ugly list of behaviors, openly and brazenly. We have become all but incapable of fending them off, incapable of the spiritual warfare which alone can send them packing. But that can change. And indeed is changing.
  

The spirit of ingratitude and of pleasure-seeking has been rampant in the West for several decades, coming out of the closet in 1962 with the Supreme Court rejection of prayer in schools . That was the signal that the moral lid was off.

Faith, love, and hope hardly make an appearance on the public stage. And the law and grace of God are being more and more banned from public speech. The promises and the commands of God are missing because so few Christians know how to say such things out loud and gracefully.

But there are renewals going on currently which have far worse problems to face than we have, and are changing the spiritual life of their cities and in some cases, whole countries. Spiritual renewal begins with only a small group of dedicated Christians who will spend quality time praying for God to visit our churches, our communities, and our nations. Prayers need to research their communities to target specific centers of spiritual evil.

God raised up His Church to become a lightning rod for the power of the Holy Spirit to touch down on earth. That happens through our individual prayers and common worship, as we make ourselves available to God to do whatever He wants us to do. Christians must learn how to discern the will of God, how to discern the spiritual problems and centers of evil forces in our own cultures, and how to pray for ourselves to become the channels, the lightning rod, for God again to manifest His power and glory through us to the world.

God speaks with a word like a sword, cutting through the deceits and lighting up the darkness with truth. God wants us, as all His people, to become channels for that kind of glory to touch down on earth again, and again, and again. God can still heal lepers, He can still convert pagans, He can still heal our own woundedness, physical or spiritual.

As we sing the Kyrie Eleison, sing it to the Lord as He passes by, begging Him for the power of the Holy Spirit to be able ourselves to speak with that Sword of the Spirit, that word of truth spoken in love which convicts people of their sin, brings repentance, and renewal of families, churches, and whole cities, even nations. The commands and promises of Jesus lead to spiritual renewal and the coming of the Kingdom among us.
  

Lord, “give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou dost command...”

 

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Date Posted - 09/25/2011   -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012