PENTECOST 21, C – October 9, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Ps. 34; Ruth 1:1-19; 2 Tim. 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19

 

“If we have died with [Christ], we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.” 2 Tim. 2

 

Today’s readings bring some uncomfortable things before our eyes, things we are all too familiar with:

  • Economic hardship which causes a family to move to find a better life. Our reading from Ruth begins with this.

  • A life-changing, life-threatening illness which brings physical and mental/emotional suffering, financial loss, and many other hardships. The lepers who confront Jesus in our Gospel reading were dealing with this.

    We live in far different times from those who lived in Bible times. We enjoy far more prosperity and stability and security today. Give thanks to God for this! Even so, we must also deal with severe hardships at times. I’ve been with some of you in the midst of them.

     

    Enduring such things can be particularly difficult when you believe that God is in charge. Look at Naomi in our Old Testament reading. She believes that God is behind the famine that made it necessary for her family to leave Israel and move to Moab, and especially is behind the death of her husband and sons. “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me,” she says. She’s taking it personally! The lepers in our Gospel reading address Jesus as “Master.” That’s appropriate, for that’s what God is, right? He is the Master over all things. If He is not, He is not truly God. God is somehow behind everything that happens, then, whether He’s actually causing it or is simply allowing it. This can be hard to handle when you are hurting and suffering. It makes you wonder: why?

     

    Faith – not just believing that there is a God who is in control but trusting Him – isn’t easy. But, it also isn’t suffering in silence. Being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to simply shut up and take it when suffering comes upon you. Naomi cries out in her pain and lays her sufferings in God’s lap. “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” She’s not rebuked for saying this. The lepers believe that Jesus is in charge and so look to Him with expectation. They cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Both Naomi and the lepers, especially the Samaritan leper, are examples to us of the faith that pleases God, the faith that saves.

     

    Naomi is being faithful when she lays her sufferings in God’s lap. She’s not challenging Him. She’s not protesting against His ways or charging Him with wrong or with not caring. She’s crying out, but still trusting Him. In fact, she speaks positively of Him to her daughters-in-law and asks Him to bless them. “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest.” There’s no greater witness to God than when you are suffering and yet say good things about Him and expect good from Him!

     

    Perhaps this is one reason why God allows sufferings to come upon His people. In fact, I am sure this is one reason why He does so. He is giving you the opportunity to witness to Him and help others to believe! Look at the good that comes from the sufferings spoken of in today’s Scripture readings:

  • Naomi’s sufferings result in Ruth becoming part of her family. Ruth is converted from her belief in many gods – a belief that is false and will result in her eternal death – to trusting in Yahweh, the one true God, and gaining a new life in Him. She leaves Moab with Naomi to make her home in Israel and ends up marrying a Jewish man, Boaz. From them will come David, the great king of Israel, and Jesus, the Savior of the world. Naomi’s sufferings have resulted in your blessing! She never would have imagined this.

  • As a result of his being afflicted with leprosy the Samaritan leper not only meets Jesus and is healed by Him; he hears Jesus bless him above the others by saying to him, “Your faith has saved you.” The Messiah and Savior of Israel accepts him and is his Messiah and Savior!

    What blessings, for you and others, will come from your sufferings when you endure them with trust in God? He alone knows. There will be blessings, however; of this you can be sure.

     

    I often say that God does His greatest work through suffering. I say this because it is true. Sufferings can remove barriers between people. There was no way those nine Jewish men would have been with that Samaritan man if they had not been afflicted with leprosy, for Jews and Samaritans hated one another! Their sufferings brought them together. They bring us together today, also. Sometimes people’s eyes are only opened to you by your sufferings. Now they are concerned and are paying attention to you. What can you say to them? In fact, what can you hold onto yourself?

     

    “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The God we believe in and worship is our Master. But, He is not only our Master; He is also our Servant. He came to live among us as one of us. He came not to be Master over us but to be Master for us. This is the God we have in Jesus.

     

    Does this mean you will understand and agree with everything that your Master sends into your life or allows to come upon you? No, no more than you understood or agreed with everything your parents did when you were a child. But, you need never doubt that your Master loves you and has only good in mind for you. He gave His life for you! Jesus died on a cross for you. By His cross He has forgiven all of your sins and taken you to be His child! Look upon that cross, especially when you are hurting and suffering, and see God’s love for you. Wear it; display it in your home; mark it upon yourself. God loves you! He is a merciful Master.

     

    He is also a strong and victorious Master. Stories of Christ’s great works of healing, or of His ultimate blessing of Naomi and Ruth with great good and transforming their lives, assure us of what Paul tells us in 2 Timothy:

    “If we have died with [Christ], we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.”

    Our Master was not mastered by our sins when He bore them on the cross. Even though they brought about His death, He rose from the dead to live forevermore. He ascended into heaven and reigns as Master over your sin and death and every evil. Living in Him and trusting in Him, His victory and life and reign are yours. You are in Him and so are Master over your sufferings, and they must serve you. What was true for the Samaritan leper is true for you: “Your faith has saved you.”

     

    Trust in the Lord, your good and merciful Master. Thank Him for His mercies when they are seen and experienced, and cry out to Him for mercy when they are not. Tell of the mercy you can expect to receive because of Jesus. This is being a Christian. This is being a faithful believer who pleases God. We have eternal hope because of Christ.

    “If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him.”

    Thanks be to God! Through our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Amen.