Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Sermon -- Thanksgiving Eve (November 21, 2018)

LUKE 17:11-19


In the name + of Jesus.

     For the majority of the year, we give our attention to what are termed 2nd Article and 3rd Article blessings—that is, blessings which come through Jesus (Apostles' Creed, 2nd Article), who removes our sins from us and bestows his righteousness upon us, and blessings which come through the Holy Spirit (Apostles' Creed, 3rd Article), who enlightens us through the Gospel and sustains us in the Christian faith through that same Gospel.  We often overlook the 1st Article gifts from God the Father—clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all we own, and all that we need for our body and life.  One of the reasons is that receiving these things do not save us.  Even unbelievers get these things.  Another reason is because God blesses us so faithfully and generously that we give no thought to these things at all.  In 21st century America, we expect that we will always have them in great abundance and variety. 
     There were ten men who knew what it was to not have such blessings, or at least to be limited in them.  Ten men had formed their own mobile leper colony.  Leprosy had banished them from their churches, their jobs, their communities, and their families.  One by one, each man was sent away with his head wrapped in a cloth.  One by one, each would yell, “Unclean!  Unclean!” to any passerby.  Eventually, they found each other as they greeted each other by shouting, “Unclean!” back and forth, until finally there were ten of them.  Although misery loves company, they would rather have been relieved of their misery, healed of their disease, and restored to their families. They caught sight of Jesus as he traveled through the area where they were.  Rather than yell, “Unclean!”, they yelled that they wanted to be cleansed.  They stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke 17:12-13) 
     How they had contracted leprosy we do not know.  But we do know that leprosy is not normal.  It is not normal for people to have debilitating diseases.  They are common, and we all probably know someone who has one.  If so, you know that it affects you as you have to adjust your life for their sake.  It is normal in that it is common, but it is not normal in that everyone is diseased.  There are countless diseases in this world, and we could suffer from many of them.  Our Lord, in his mercy, usually spares us from them.  But when they come, we recognize that they are not normal.  They happen because our bodies grow weak.  Our immunity fails.  Cells mutate.  Viruses invade.  Parasites burrow in.  It happens because this is a sinful world, and we ourselves are sinners in it.  This is all the more reason to cry out, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”
     The ten lepers did not resign themselves to their leprosy and conclude, “This leprosy is God's will.  I guess we should be content to live with it.”  No, instead, when they saw Jesus, they saw the one who could bring cleansing and healing to them.  So, they cried out to him.  They were not disappointed.
     Jesus heard their plea for mercy, and he responded in mercy.  When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one 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.  Now he was a Samaritan. (Luke 17:14-16)  
     True thanksgiving runs back to Jesus.  Of course, this did not mean the others were not cleansed.  Jesus knew they were, for his word did what he had implied with it.  The reason the lepers were to show themselves to the priests was so that the priests could inspect their skin and proclaim them clean.  Once declared clean, the men would shave themselves completely, bathe in clean water, and then, after a sacrifice, would be restored to their churches, their communities, and their families.  Therefore, Jesus asked, “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18)  
     It would be easy for us to assume that the nine were ungrateful.  There is not a doubt in my mind that the nine lepers were overjoyed that they were finally cleansed of this disease which banished them from all that was near and dear to them.  I am sure that the reunion they had with their families was full of laughter and hugs and tears.  And I am sure that they even appreciated going back to work and being productive members of society.  We should not think of the nine cured lepers as bitter, angry men.  In the same way, even people who do not believe in Jesus can appreciate the 1st Article blessings of God.  They will eat turkey and pie tomorrow, and it will be tasty.  They will be with family and they will cherish it.  Even if they do not honor God for his blessings, God is still good, and he still gives his blessings.
     True thanksgiving runs back to Jesus.  The Samaritan ran back to Jesus not just because he was cleansed, but because he honored Jesus as the one who delivers us from all sin and its curse.  The Lord Jesus demonstrates his mercy upon us by bringing the kingdom of God to us.  That kingdom is marked not only by the forgiveness of sins Jesus brings through his sufferings and death, but also by restoring all that has been ruined and corrupted with sin.  Jesus took into his body everything that has to do with sin—our guilt, our shame, our pains, our sorrows, and all its curse.  The body which Jesus gave into death has risen, freed from all sin and all its consequences.  He is forever free from death, from sorrow, from pain, and from every evil.  And Jesus delivers us from every evil, too.  He delivers us from the curse of sin, and he puts an end to all the consequences of sins.  That is why true thanksgiving runs back to Jesus.  These are the things we long for, and Jesus supplies them perfectly and permanently.
     Therefore, when Jesus walked the earth some 2,000 years ago, he brought miraculous healing with him.  It is not God's design that bodies should be sick, or diseased, or for that matter die.  So, Jesus delivered healing to ten lepers and restored their bodies to wholeness.  Likewise, he brought sight to the blind, strength to crippled legs, wholeness to withered hands, and even life back from the grave.  This is what Jesus delivers when  the kingdom of God comes. 
     We know the difficulties and frustrations of this fallen world.  They cause us to cry out, “Jesus, master, have pity on us!”, just as the ten lepers did.  But too often, like the nine lepers, the mercy we pray for is the temporary relief of good health.  We want to a sound body so that we can get on with life.  If that is our goal, then we cannot fault the nine lepers for not coming back to Jesus to thank him.  Then we will treat the doctor and the pharmacy as our gods, trusting that they will provide the pain meds and therapy we want to get better.  If we crave only the 1st Article gifts, that is, our worldly goods, then we lose out on the greater gifts which bring everlasting mercy and wholeness.
     True thanksgiving runs back to Jesus.  The nine lepers did not desire the better gifts.  Even though they did not honor Jesus, Jesus did not rescind his healing.  They remained cleansed of their leprosy; but we have no reason to believe they were cleansed of their sins.  In the same way, when the world fails to honor and thank God for all his goodness, God remains good, and he continues to supply our daily bread.
     True thanksgiving, however, runs back to Jesus.  The Samaritan recognized all that Jesus had to give.  He recognized that the kingdom of God is more than pain relief, a comfortable home, or a full belly.  When he saw that he was healed, (he) turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. (Luke 17:15-16) Even though the other nine were still cleansed of their leprosy, only the Samaritan got to receive Jesus' salvation.  He ran back to Jesus, and Jesus answered, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:19) 
     True thanksgiving runs back to Jesus.  Your problems and your pains may well cause you to cry out, “Jesus, master, have mercy on me.”  Jesus hears your prayers, and his answer is “Yes.”  Jesus may not deliver you or your loved ones from all their diseases right now.  But on the Last Day, he will surely deliver his redeemed forever from every evil.  He takes away sin and death.  He will take away disease, disability, and decay.  Just as he restores you to his Father, so he will restore all things in you as well. 
     Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy endures forever.  Thanks to Jesus, so will our praise.  Go your way in peace; your faith makes you whole.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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