Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day Sermon -- Luke 17:11-19

November 26, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

Then Jesus answered: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 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.”

There are times when the astonishment of Jesus is a good thing. This is evident when He commended the faith of the Roman centurion who wanted his servant healed (“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”) and the Canaanite woman who persisted in asking for her daughter’s healing (“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done as you desire.”). Jesus has the same reaction to this Samaritan whom He heals. But when Jesus is astonished at the lack of faith and belief, it is a terrible thing. Such astonishment of Jesus is what you also heard read from St. Luke’s Gospel.

Jesus meets ten lepers, all of whom had cried out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus heals all ten lepers: “When He saw them He said to them: ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Jesus has no care for their class or ethnicity. He has pity on them and grants them the healing that only He can provide. His compassion was not limited. He left no need unmet.

That is why the one man returned to Jesus. He recognized what had been given to him, what he had received from the mouth of the Lord God. And so this healed leper reacts: “Then on of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” This is the reaction of gratitude, the giving of thanks that this day is designated for on the national calendar. It is also the reaction of faith: the man believes that Jesus has truly healed him.

But note the identity of this man who returns: “Now he was a Samaritan.” You heard that this event took place as “Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” As the Savior was traveling in the border region, He heals the ten lepers, again not caring about their ethnicity. But only a Samaritan returns. And so Jesus asks: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus is from Galilee and that would have been known, as the High Priest’s servant girl would tell Peter: “Your accent gives you away.” Couldn’t at least one Galilean have come back and thanked his countryman for what He did? Why does Jesus get no reaction of gratitude from His own people?

All ten that Jesus healed were leprous. All ten received from the Lord God what they needed. But only the foreigner returns, only the one who understood what it meant to be an outcast even before his illness. Recall whom Jesus commends for their faith: the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, the Samaritan leper. They realize their helplessness. They realize they are not deserving of Christ’s aid. They realize they do not belong to the Chosen People. Yet, in faith, they turn to Jesus for His aid and He delivers. And these are the type of people who show gratitude, who give thanks.

It is with good reason that your Lutheran forefathers selected this portion of St. Luke’s Gospel to be read on a Day of Thanksgiving. The event demonstrates well what a proper reaction to receiving benefit from the Lord God looks like. You see it in the Samaritan leper who returns. But the event also shows what an improper reaction—or truly, a lack of reaction—looks like. You see it from the other nine, those who are assumed to be Galileans.

The other nine were part of the Chosen People. They were descendants of those whom the Lord God had delivered from Egyptian slavery and made a great nation. They were taught what Moses had said to their forefathers, as you heard from Deuteronomy: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” Then Moses listed the providential work of the Lord God that the Israelites had received. But when the descendants of these people actually had the Lord God Incarnate dwelling among them, the lack of gratitude was seen everywhere.

So it may be for you who are descendants—either by blood or by citizenship—of those who received great providential benefits from above. In this nation, do you see the reaction of the one Samaritan or of the nine Galileans? Even more importantly: in your own lives, do you see the reaction of the one Samaritan to what you have received or the reaction of the Galilean? What you receive might seem like a birthright, either as an American or as a Lutheran. But your catechism study taught you that what you received was not based upon a quality in you, but on the fatherly, divine goodness and mercy of the Lord God. And for what you have received out of His graciousness, it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

You do not want to be the people about whom Jesus says: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Or to put it in numbers that reflect our parish membership: “Were not 250 cleansed by Holy Baptism and made My people and given My salvation? Where are the other 200?” This is not the type of astonished statement that you want from Jesus. The questions may be rhetorical, but the rhetorical question does make a point, it does reflect the thought of the speaker. And when Jesus asks about His absent disciples or His ungrateful people, His displeasure is clearly evident.

But displeasure is not the only reaction that Jesus has, as you well heard. The feeling that Christ has for the nine Galileans is evident and it is negative. So it is for all who do not respond to His graciousness. But Jesus makes abundantly clear His positive reaction to the one Samaritan who returns to give thanks: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well!” In the Greek text, it is even more evident: “‘η πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε = your faith has saved you.”

Jesus recognizes the Samaritan’s faith by his reaction to the healing. The Samaritan’s thanksgiving is evidence of his belief in Christ, a faith that brings everlasting life. And so it is for all who receive Christ’s healing and cleansing, those who are redeemed by His precious blood. Such reaction of thanksgiving is commended by the Apostle Paul, as you heard: “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus wants to see people believing in Him. He wants to provide the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation that He has earned and to see people reaction to their reception of it.

This is not simply a demand. But it is the natural result that receiving an undeserved benefit, especially an eternal one, should bring about in people who receive it. Thanksgiving is a natural result, but your reaction can easily slip into the error of the Galileans. There is the ever-present hazard of becoming so absorbed in what you have received that you forget who it is that provided it. An even more common hazard is the feeling that you deserved to receive it as an entitlement and so you are not duty-bound to give thanks. Both are problematic. Both are inconsistent with what should flow from the hearts of Christ’s people.

But those hazards can be avoided. They will be avoided as long as you truly recognize what you are by nature and what you have received and who has given it to you. This is what the Church’s worship and the life of discipleship laid out in the Gospels bring to mind. These incidents with Jesus are a constant reminder of the undeserving nature of humanity and the graciousness of Christ. As you hear them, you learn about yourselves and your Savior. The order of Divine Service also teaches about the same undeserving nature of humanity and the graciousness of Christ. As you gather together for worship, the very texts tell you that you give thanks to God and that there really is nothing that you can render to Him for all His benefits. And in the old Common Service, there was the thanksgiving that came directly after the Lord’s Supper, the sacrament that teaches you about your sin and Christ’s continual compassion for you.

The recognition of your helplessness and your undeservedness—the very things that the Samaritan recognized in himself—will lead to thanksgiving. It is the response that Christ’s people give to Him, the piety of faith that our Lutheran forefathers described: “Piety focuses on what has been given and what has been forgiven; it compares the greatness of God’s blessings with the greatness of our ills, our sin and our death, and it gives thanks.” So it was for the Samaritan who returned and so it is for you who have returned this day in thanksgiving.

Know yourself well, then you will know just how gracious the Lord God is to you and how deserving He is of your thanksgiving. Know yourself well, then you will understand and appreciate the mercy that Christ has shown to you. For the Lord God did not simply say a word to heal you; rather, He first made His Word become flesh and dwell among you and die for you and rise again for you. All this was done for the forgiveness of your sins and all out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you.

For all this it is your duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him, just as the healed Samaritan leper did. You will do so as you offer your worship to the Lord God in this place. But even more so, you thank and praise, serve and obey Him, when you show the same compassion, pity, and mercy to one another that Christ has shown to you. What Jesus says to the Samaritan should be the same reaction He has to you. And it will be so, as you are led by faith—“the faith that saves you”—to do works of service and compassion as you “rise and go your way” from this place, living another year as Christ’s disciples.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No comments: