“Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.””
This is the Thanksgiving text. It’s like listening to Christmas music in October. If we start too soon by the time the actual holiday rolls around we’ll be sick of it. I can’t start asking you to be more thankful for stuff yet, or by the time the turkey gets here you’ll be tired of that too. The encouragement to try harder to be grateful only goes so far. Especially in a story where there was only one thankful man, but all 10 lepers still got healed.
Jesus said “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. All of them. Even the ones who didn’t turn back. It’s a good reminder. God doesn’t reserve mercy for the ones who earn it. That would make it something other than mercy. That would make it for people other than us, who really only have enough thanksgiving to do this thing once a year.
Go and show yourselves to the priests. They’ll offer sacrifice for you. Blood will be shed for you. The priests will tell the truth. You are clean. You can leave the leper colony. No more separation from the ones you love. No more must you cry “unclean” so that your public shame would protect people from getting sick too just by being near you. You can go home again. See your family again. Live. I’d run too. And as they ran, they were healed. You can call them ungrateful, but they took the first steps on faith. They weren’t cleansed until they were moving, but they were clean by the time they got there.
The miracle pointed to who Jesus is. This is God, who makes the unclean clean again. Who restores the relationships sin has destroyed. Who sheds holy blood for what’s unclean in you, that stuff you hide for fear of shame that’s easier to let boil inside you than tell someone else it exists. For the sin that splashes past where you wanted it to. And for the people who run dry on things to feel thankful for. The temple was to point to Jesus. The one who was traveling to Jerusalem to shed His blood to make us clean.
The job of the temple was always to point. The sacrifices pointed to the all atoning sacrifice of the cross. The alter pointed to the meal placed here for you. The architecture, the art, there’s something to be said when you walk in a room and can tell it’s a church. And I suppose there’s something to be said when you can’t. We always point to what’s most important to us.
Here, we dress up the bricks to remind us that God’s here. It’s a gift. It’s beautiful. Look what we believe. See a picture of what’s given here for you. There’s something potent in that, and it’s good. But sometimes we forget that it’s only the job of the bricks to point. We see the beauty and the shelter and we begin to believe God is in the bricks, not the word. Not the sacrament. We begin to believe we couldn’t be the church without the bricks. The bricks are a gift, but the temple is Jesus.
We’ve been given a treasure in this place that the early church couldn’t imagine. Art they could only describe in words. Safety that even today other congregations don’t enjoy. But all of us share the same hope and worship at the same temple. The temple is Jesus.
Jesus is here for sinners in word and sacrament. He was hidden in catacombs in ancient times before believing what we do was legal. He stands risen even as firebombs destroy the bricks that point to Him in the Middle East. And He is here. For you. In Body and in Blood. It was God in the flesh that the bricks pointed to. God in the flesh that spoke to lepers and cleansed them. That same God in flesh and blood is given for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness and the cleansing and the healing that miracles and bricks could only point to. Those things point to Him, but if He’s not there, it’s the wrong place.
Right now, if you travel to the temple in Jerusalem, there’s a mosque on the Temple Mount. I kinda dig it. Not because I want false religion. That’s a bummer. It’s because you can build whatever you want there. Christ is still risen. The temple is still here. God is still cleansing. Restoring families cut off by sin.
Was no one found to give praise to God except this foreigner? He saw the truth. The true temple that would be torn down and rebuilt in 3 days stood before him. Healed him. So there He rejoiced. There he knelt. There gave thanks. He went back to God for more. That’s worship. The temple is not the bricks or the tradition. Both of those are good, but they’re good because they point to Jesus. Wherever He is, that’s the true temple. And Jesus is here for you.