The Christian Life - It is Like A Circle, Not A Line

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In most parts of life, we like to get people on a path – a line towards an end goal of success.  For example, every September, parents wonder if their potty training, ABCs, and discipline will be enough as their little children go off to Kindergarten.  And every May, we celebrate the graduation of our High School Seniors, and then parents send them off to College.  Businesses will do the same with orientation and training classes before directing workers to a business site.  You get the picture. 

Indeed, we live in a linear world.    We start with training wheels, the wheels come off, and we are then pushed out into an open parking lot where we are supposed to peddle and ride to the moon.

This linear way of thinking makes sense, though.  We are influenced a lot by America’s industrial age.  Think about it for a moment; raw materials are brought to a factory; they are hammered, heated, molded, and shaped.  And along the manufacturing line, these products go.  With each stop on the factory line, these raw materials take shape; they become something, and then at the end of the line – ta-da! – a final product is produced.  This product then leaves the factory to enter the marketplace. 

This same mindset can be found in the church too.  Kids are brought to baptism, they attend VBS and Sunday School, and then they are confirmed.  And unfortunately for many youths, it is believed that once they have reached Confirmation, they are at the end of the linear line – they have graduated the church.  As a result, they never return to the church until they want to get married or need to have a pastor do a funeral for them. And parents of the confirmation kids feel fulfilled because they got their kids through the church’s manufacturing line to the so-called end. 

Now, I am not quite sure why we are so wired like this as Americans.  We think linear – a line with a beginning, middle, and end.  And we are not content with the idea of starting something over.  We like to progress on a line – upward and onward, as they say!  To do something over again, or to return to the beginning, is seen as a waste of time.  It is seen as boring.   We don’t like repetition, and we don’t like doing something twice.  We like “new.”  We like movement on the line.  We like progress. 

While I certainly do not want to totally discredit this linear way of thinking because it is very valuable in many situations, I do believe that this linear way of thinking is very problematic for the church.  I am not only talking about the problem of confirmation students getting confirmed and leaving, but I am talking about how we understand our lives as Christians.  You see, in our reading in the Gospel of Luke, we hear about ten lepers.  And as we heard, Jesus healed them.  However, only one returned to Jesus.  And the other nine?  Jesus was disappointed that they did not return to Him after they were healed. The point being, this Christian faith is best thought of - not as a linear line - but as a circle.  Yes, a circle where we are always returning to Jesus. 

Dear friends, consider this a moment.  The Samaritan Leper was healed.  Now, one might assume that after being healed, he would’ve been good to go.  He could’ve gone off to show himself to the priests and went on with his life with health and strength.  But no!  This healed Samaritan Leper returned to Jesus.  Yes, he returned, and this returning to Jesus was good, not bad. 

And so, like that Samaritan Leper, the whole Christian life can be considered as a life of constantly returning to Jesus.  It is a life of continually being brought back to our baptisms.  It is a life of always beginning again.  It is not, though, about you getting a little-jesus and then moving on to higher and bigger spiritual accomplishments.  In the Christian faith, the movement is not from being dependent upon God to being independent with yourself.  As you mature in the Christian faith, you do not proceed from childhood to adulthood.  No!  That is the exact opposite of what it means to be a Christian.  Again, this Christian faith is not a linear line but a circle.

It might be strange to think circularly, but we live circular every single day.  For example, we wake up in the morning, brush our teeth, shower, go to work, come home, eat, get our pajamas on, and go to sleep.  And the next day?  We do it all over again.  And the day after that? We do it all over again.  Our days are circular: morning, afternoon, evening, and night - morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Our weeks are also circular.  We repeat our weeks over and over and over.  And let’s not forget our seasons: Fall, Winter, Summer, and Spring are circular.  We repeat them over and over again.  And the church?  It is circular.  Think of the church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Trinity.  Over and over again.  And to be a little more precise, our Christian faith is circular as well.  Daily you and I repent of our sins, and daily we are returned to the reality of our baptisms.

You see, we must never forget that this Christian faith centers upon Jesus, returns to Jesus, and rests upon - Jesus.  That is why Jesus calls us to abide, rest, watch, listen, receive, stay, and trust. 

Baptized Saints, the problem that you and I have is that we are prone to wander.  We are prone to leave the God that loves us.  We are like sheep who wander to other pastures.  We are like coins that seem to get lost in deep cracks.  We are like unruly children who rebel and go to the big city to party.  We find a linear line pointing away from Jesus and we jump on the line and we get out of dodge, as they say.  Our problem is that our sinful nature loves to find lines that lead away from Jesus – to get us out of the circle of returning to Jesus.  Oh, and to make things worse, our old Adam is quite tricky.  Yes, we are often deceived into getting on a line and thinking that Jesus is behind us, encouraging us upward and onward to great spiritual things when in reality, it is the devil cheering us on as we leave Jesus behind in our dust. 

Dear friends, this Christian faith is not you and me following some line to get to some carrot on the end of the stick.  We are not on a journey to get a treasure at the end of a rainbow.  The problem is not that we have not arrived at the end of the line; the problem is that we can so easily believe that God wants us on some sort of line when in reality, the calling is for us to stay put – to return to Christ and His gifts every single week, day, and moment. 

You do not live apart from Christ.  That is not how things work.  You do not live independently from His gifts.  Just as you need air to breathe, water to live, and food to give you energy, you must always return to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This Christian life is circular because we are always returning to the fountainhead of grace and truth.  We do not return just once at the beginning or the end, but we return constantly. 

And so, it is all about returning to Christ, just like that healed Samaritan Leper. 

And how do we return?  We return just like that healed Samaritan Leper.  We return with reverence, with our face in the dirt, not only thanking the Lord but crying for more mercy.  We return to Jesus like little children to receive our full royal inheritance – not as a strong and invisible adult – but as a begging son and daughter of God. 

And the Lord God?  He does not despise your returning to Him.  You are not a nuisance.  You are not a bother.  He longs to hear your confess.  He has joy in giving us forgiveness.  He desires to give Himself to you and to bless you, not just at the beginning or the end but constantly.   

Baptized Saints, this journey in the Christian faith is never to reach a prize at the end but to return to the prize that has been given to us in Christ and His gifts.  So, return to the Lord and His house where His gifts are delivered to you, as sheer gifts.   

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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