Sermon: Giving Thanks to God

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Day of Thanksgiving
Listen to the sermon here.

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the rarest qualities on earth is gratitude. A Scottish pastor in the nineteenth century once visited an elderly parishioner. During the visit, the lady complained at length about everything and everyone. Finally, hat in hand, the pastor rose to leave. His only comment was a phrase from Psalm 103:2, “And mind you, forget not all his benefits.” Thanklessness isn’t anything new. Today we have never had so much, and yet many remain ungrateful. And we’re not immune. This ought not to be. According to the Bible, there is no such thing as a thankless Christian. The account of the ten lepers in today’s Gospel reading addresses the issue of being thankful in a powerful way.

The Lepers’ Plea

On his way to Jerusalem, where Jesus was going to die and rise again, He was met by ten lepers.  Leprosy is a skin disease. Yet, more than a medical condition, it also had a social impact. The disease, sometimes contagious, made them “unclean” according to Jewish law, so they had to be isolated from the city and people.   It turned them into outcasts.  It separated them from their family and friends. Lepers were forbidden to enter the temple courtyard, so they were excluded from worship. Wherever lepers travelled, they were to call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” as a warning to others to stay away from them. People would avoid all contact with them.  They’d hide their children from them.  The only community they had was their fellow lepers. Imagine the burden of having to tell everyone you encountered that you were “unclean.”

Imagining such a life helps us understand why they call out for mercy. It’s much like being in quarantine for the rest of your life. In our sin, we differ very little from these lepers. Our sins make us all unclean. Our sin is like leprosy in our soul. Only worse. Because it doesn’t just result in the death of our body, it makes us unclean before God, and its symptoms have spread throughout humanity.  It lands us in the agony of eternal separation from God; apart from him, there is neither life nor joy. Sin is in what you do and what you want to do. Every part of us is corrupted. That’s what had hold of us. And there is nothing we can do about it. Were it not for God’s mercy in Jesus, and we would be left in isolation, separated from God and isolated from each other.

What did these ten lepers do when they saw Jesus at a distance?  They didn’t cry out “Unclean, unclean” as they were supposed to, but they called out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  They sought mercy and healing.  They’d likely heard about Jesus and His power to heal.  They hoped and prayed He would do the same for them.  They believed Jesus could cure them of their leprosy and return them to their community. Given our own sins, we should all cry out to God for mercy. But what response will God have to our cries?

The Savior’s Response

Notice the way Jesus loves lepers. Look at the way the Master gives attention to the unclean. Before him is the most crucial task in the world—the cross. He has fixed his face like flint to go to Jerusalem. But on the way, some nameless lepers on an isolated hill call out to him, and the universe’s Saviour takes time to show mercy! Jesus listens, and he responds. His mercy moves him into action. We read: “When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” Jesus sends the lepers on their way, knowing that his word will do its work.  Their skin was cleansed as they walked on the road, and their leprosy disappeared. Christ’s word is a divine word, a creative word, powerful and effective. His word does what he says. He wills it, and he says it, and it is so. This is the eternal Son of God speaking here. He uses his almighty power to help those who need it. Is this not a beautiful God?

Some people worship cruel gods who crush their worshipers, but the one true and living God does not crush us in our weakness. When we cry for mercy, he answers our prayer! Jesus came, sent by the Father to take care of our sins once and for all. He healed us. And not just by speaking a word but by offering His sinless life in our place and enduring the cross for us. He is the Lamb of God who takes away your sins. He is the atoning sacrifice, not only for our sin but for the sin of the world, the whole sin of the entire world. That’s what he did for us to break sin’s hold on you and all humanity. He blotted out our sins forever with His blood. Then he rose again and called us to follow him into that eternal life which is the joy of the Father’s presence forever.

The Gratitude Expressed

Now, you’d think each leper healed would have given thanks to God. You’d think the other nine, when they heard one man “with a loud voice” praising God, would have turned back to see what he was saying. You’d think that the most thankful would have been the Jewish persons in the text. But it was the Samaritan who turned back (v. 16). Ten out of ten lepers were cleansed when they encountered Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. One out of ten returned to give thanks at the feet of Jesus. Ten were healed, and one worshipped. One was thankful. Luke doesn’t say they were any less cured, but he implies that they were less grateful.

We need to recover our sense of surprise that this man returns to thank Jesus. No doubt, their natural inclination would be to seek to be readmitted to society. They wanted to rejoin their villages, their workplaces and their homes. They wanted to see their families. After being cut off so completely, they want nothing more than a normal life. That must have been overwhelming. It is remarkable that even one man—resisting the urge to go home—returned to thank Jesus.

Like the nine, we often forget about Jesus and get back to the seriousness of life, back to the daily grind and the business of buying and spending and so on. And so we miss out on the joy! The joy of coming back to our Savior’s feet and falling down in front of him and shouting out like a little kid our excitement that we have been set free from sin’s condemnation and death’s power – thanking and praising our God and our Savior!

So, on this Thanksgiving weekend, we thank God for everything. We thank him for our clothing, shoes, homes, spouses, children, and friends. We also give thanks for cars, toys, every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on a friend’s face—all that, and a million more things. We thank God for his generosity since all these come purely from God’s fatherly divine goodness, without merit or worthiness in us.  It is all mercy and not by merit or even by faith.

We thank God for the gifts of redemption – for the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ, for His perfect life and death, for His rising from the dead, for His atonement for the sin of the world, for His reign over all things that we might belong to Him and serve Him in His kingdom.

We thank God for his gifts: the preaching of the Gospel, the church and her pastors, our own rebirth and renewal in Baptism, our refreshment in the Lord’s Supper, our fellowship together with all the saints in Christ, the resurrection of our bodies, guaranteed by Christ’s resurrection, and the sure hope of eternal life. What else can you say but “thank you.” What else can we do but bow at the feet of Jesus and praise Him?  This Thanksgiving weekend, we pause on our road and turn to God through His Son, Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who works faith in our hearts to render our thanks and praise.  That’s what faith does. 

Let’s take our cue from this Samaritan. Remember the great things that our God has done for you. Do not forget all the countless blessings God has given you. But, most of all, do not forget what God in Jesus Christ has done for you. Remember how God continues to bless you with thanksgiving as you receive your Savior’s body and blood from Him today for forgiveness, life, and salvation. “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you.”

May, the peace of  God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Published by revfenn

Canadian. Confessional Lutheran pastor. Loci Communicant. Husband. Dad. Bach enthusiast. Middle-Earthling. Nerdy interests on the whole.

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