Text: Luke 17:11-19
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Contrary to what you and I may think, America is very religious. Just follow the money, and you will find that religious groups own over $600 billion in property and take in over $83 billion each year through the offering plates.
Now, obviously, much of this money goes towards paying salaries, giving to missions, and paying the electric bills. However, there is also a large chunk of that money that is sunk into churches for the purpose of worship. For example, some churches invest thousands and thousands of dollars into marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, and candles. On the opposite side of the spectrum, other churches invest thousands of dollars into audio speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and theater. But why the hundreds of thousands of dollars? Well, these things are considered gadgets or tools or inventions that are supposedly intended to help the Christian worship, God.
And so, what can happen is that the life and focus of the church then becomes fixated on clinging to buildings, singing, ringing, lighting, clothing, videoing, projecting, and all sorts of different preparations that are considered essential to prepare and help Christians with the worship of God.
To make things even worse, churches will end up advertising and showing off the gadgets, tools, and inventions that they have. It is presented as if these gadgets, tools, and inventions will help Christians worship God really really well.
“If you want to worship God, come to our cathedral with reflective glass that has 10,000 rectangular panes of glass.”
“If you want to worship God, come to our cathedral with over 1 million painted 1-inch tiles.”
“If you want to worship God, come to our worship center with the best musicians in town.”
“If you want to worship God, come to our place of worship with the most technologically advanced audiovisual system in the city.”
People are then wooed into churches for really dramatic religious worship experiences. And generally speaking, these gadgets, tools, and inventions work! Yes, they have a way of enhancing the so-called vibrancy and fervor of a person’s attempt to worship God. However, there is a catch. There is always a catch!
After the church service, people will leave the church and drive home, talking about the beauty of singing in a granite or marble sanctuary. They will leave and talk about worshipping in the middle of cool lights, perfectly timed video screens, and loudspeakers. They will leave talking about all the gadgets, tools, and inventions that were used to enhance their worshipping experience – they talk about worship and not the One they are worshipping.
I am so completely humbled and ashamed of myself every time I hear about Christian churches overseas with no air conditioning, dirt floors, and leaking roofs. And to the south of us in South America? Their churches have small space heaters inside old railroad boxcars welded together. I am so completely humbled and ashamed not because of some North American guilt but because we Americans seem not to understand true worship. In North America, we really do not have a clue about true worship.
This is where the reading from the Gospel of Luke is so incredibly valuable to you and me this day. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear about 10 Lepers; we get a glimpse of true worship. Of the ten lepers, the one Samaritan was different from the rest of the Jewish lepers. He returned to Jesus with a loud voice glorifying God.
And right there! Simply stated in our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we see and hear true worship! True worship is returning to Jesus and glorifying God for the gift that was received!
Dear friends, our brothers and sisters overseas and in South America are blessed because they are not distracted by all sorts of gadgets, tools, and inventions that we have in America. They seem to understand that worshipping God is nothing more than returning to Jesus - falling on our faces - to give Him all the credit as the good giver of gifts.
Consider that Samaritan again. The moment that he was cleansed, the leprous Samaritan ran back to Jesus. He shouted all the way. He knew he was supposed to go show himself to the priests in order to be officially declared clean and allowed back into society, but that did not matter. In other words, the Samaritan leper was forbidden to approach Jesus before being pronounced clean, but that did not matter. He ran right to the great giver – Jesus – fell at his feet with his face in the dirt and thanked Jesus. This is worship!
If you believe that we – as Christians – need a bunch of marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, candles, audio speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and lasers to worship God better, well… you do not understand what true worship. You need to stop and take notice of the Samaritan leper. In that Samaritan leper, we see true worship! And that true worship is nothing more than returning to Jesus, with a face in the ground, to give Jesus credit as the giver of good gifts.
But this does not just happen one time. Dear friends, in humility and meekness, we continually long to receive more and more good gifts from the Lord – grace upon grace, as the Bible says.
Think of it this way: why should marble pillars, granite floors, gold plated tiles, bells, candles, speakers, cameras, screens, lights, and lasers matter if your face is in the ground in reverence before Jesus? How can they elevate you to some higher level of worship, when your face should be in the ground before Christ?
Sit up. Open your ears and hear this! God is not impressed with the silly worship games we play. The Lord is not impressed with the flawless performances of prestigious worship – it means nothing to Him. True worship has nothing to do with foolish gadgets, tools, and inventions, but instead, true worship is when our pride is shattered, and we return before the Lord with thanksgiving and a desperate need to receive forgiveness, life, and salvation – again and again, and again.
So, it should be evidently clear at this point that there are two kinds of worship. One that has the appearance of having a great-spiritual-holiness but, in reality, is empty – a clanging gong. And the other kind of worship? It appears not to be real, but it is! The other kind of worship is shown to us in that dirty and despised Samaritan leper! The Samaritan leper is a picture of real worship, contrary to all appearances! Again, worship is not based on the appearance, cleanliness, status, or performance of the Samaritan leper but simply that his face was in the dirt before Jesus, where the leper gives thanks to Jesus as the giver of gifts!
As you think about it a bit more, there are all sorts of examples of true worship in the Bible:
The repentant pig smelling prodigal son returning to his Father? Yes, that is Worship!
Blind Bartimaeus crying out for mercy, being healed, and following Jesus giving praise? Worship!
The demonic man being healed and then begging to be with Jesus in the boat? Worship!
And on and on and on!
But there is one more great picture of worship that you must not overlook. It is right before you! It is right here in this church service. It is you!
When returned to this church service here at St. Paul’s, week after week, you did not bring your “Worship A-Game,” but instead, the first thing you do is confess your sins. And when you confessed your sins this morning, you spoke the words of King David – the words he said when he confessed his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and received forgiveness through Christ, and then gave thanks. Worship!
When you sang the words of the Kyrie, “Lord have mercy upon us,” you were singing the words of Blind Bartimaeus as he cried out for mercy, was healed by Jesus, and gave thanks. Worship!
After communion, you will sing the Nunc Dimittis. As you sing the Nunc Dimittis, you are singing the praise-filled words of Simeon, who held the Savior in his arms. But unlike Simeon, you do not have the Savior in your arms but in your belly because of communion. Worship!
And so, Baptized Saints, you are free from the gadgets, tools, and invention. You – like the Samaritan leper – are free to return to Jesus again and again for worship. You are free to approach the throne of grace with your sin, in humility, and with thanksgiving – to receive grace upon grace, again and again, and again.
Return to the Great Giver of Gifts – Christ Jesus. Drop your face in the dust and hear the word of Christ, “Arise, your faith has saved you!”
Return often, dear Baptized Saints! Return often to receive the mercy of Christ and give thanks for the Lord indeed chooses always to give good gifts to you.
Worship: receiving, thanking, praising, and receiving, thanking, and praising – again and again.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.