Thanksgiving - St. Luke 17:11-19 - November 25,2015

Hymn #568 We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer, Creator
Hymn #36 Now Thank We All Our God
Hymn #569 O Lord, I Sing with Lips and Heart

Sirach 50:22-24
1 Timothy 2:1-8
St. Luke 17:11-19

1)       This is quite the gift Jesus gives these ten men. They are afflicted with leprosy, a living death. Every day they see with their eyes the deterioration of their flesh. Each moment they are keenly aware of the rotting away of their earthly existence. Shunned by everyone, relegated to a colony outside the city so as to not infect anyone else, they are utterly alone. The only company they have is one another, each one having nine other men with the same death sentence slowly playing out each day of their life. There is no hope in this leper colony. No one walks away from leprosy. The only way out of this colony and existence is on a gurney. But Jesus is near. He travels through Galilee, through Samaria, and as He enters this city to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the inhabitants of the city, He has to walk within earshot of this leper colony. Jesus doesn't mind walking close to those who have no hope. He doesn't avoid them like the plague, even though they ARE the plague. He goes near them.

2)     These men whose lives are mired in hopelessness and whose existence has been shipwrecked by the jagged rocks of this disease, for a moment, abandon their lack of hope. For a moment and not much more, they see and opportunity, a future, and a chance at life. Except they don't ask for healing. They ask for something so much better and their petition demonstrates their faith. The ten lepers show great faith in Christ. It's not a faith that relies upon signs and wonders. If that were the case they'd call out "Heal us, Son of David. Cleanse our flesh, O Lord!" Their faith in Christ is certain and sure. They have heard the news of this man, the Gospel that Christ saves sinners from physical deterioration and from spiritual death. So they cry out with great faith, Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us! These men don't know it but they are writing one of the earliest and most consistently used pieces of the Holy Liturgy of Christ's church. Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us. And He does. He cleanses them with only a word. Go, show yourselves to the priests. No fanfare. No physical touch as He had done for another lepers. No great exhortation to good works or admonitions to keep from sin. Just gospel. Go, show yourselves to the priests. And so it was that was they went, they were cleansed. This is quite the gift Jesus gives these ten men.

3)     Christ cannot extol faith enough. He seeks it in men. He desires to bring it out of all His Christians, to exercise it, strengthen it, and fortify it. When these ten men demonstrate the great faith they have been given by the Holy Ghost, Jesus heals them. Faith receives Christ's gifts as they come, when they come, and is content when they don't seem to come in the way we would like them to come. These men hear the word and run with it. They go, running off to show themselves to the priest, and as their faith grasps the promise of Christ, they are healed. But they are more than healed. They are given mercy. Mercy does more than get rid of leprosy. It saves. Our English translations hide this very important fact because most modern translations have an axe to grind with justification by faith alone. When Jesus tells the Samaritan, the one who returned, your faith has made you well what He really says, according to St. Luke, is your faith has saved you. Faith saves because it believes the promise of the Gospel. Faith doesn't save because it's such a good work that it impresses Christ. Faith saves because it believes the promise of the Gospel in the same way that Abraham believed and it was imputed to him for righteousness in Genesis 15:6.

4)     These ten lepers are given the gift of mercy, healing of body and soul, because they believed that in Christ God was merciful to them. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, one leprous sinner at a time. They believed that in Christ God was for them and not against them, in spite of what they felt in their decrepit flesh and decaying bodies. So Christ extols the faith of these lepers because He wants each of us to have the faith of the ten lepers, trusting the Word of Christ above all others, not adding anything to God's Word from the heart or from feeling for from facebook or cliche. Just the Word of Jesus, that's all that faith wants, its all faith hears. Nothing else will do but confidence in the promises of Christ. These ten lepers have it, and their faith made them well, but better than that, their faith saved them!

5)     And we have to make sure we say that its all ten lepers. We are tempted to think that the nine who do not return to give thanks are not healed and saved because of their ingratitude. And even if that's never said, its implied by many. Even its liturgical placement leads us towards making this conclusion. We hear this text every year on the fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday. Yearly we get to hear about how Jesus extols faith. But in recent years this text has been relegated to today, the national day of thanksgiving. When the healing of the ten lepers is only heard through the lens of thanksgiving, it mutates into a moral battering ram, chiding us for our thankless ingratitude and pummeling us as a one of the nine lepers who did not return. Heard in this context alone leads many to hear something in the text that simply isn't there: that the faith of the nine lepers is deficient, unstable, and selfish, which means no faith at all because faith is never directed it upon itself.  And while it is true that we are an unthankful lot, Jesus does not speak harshly against the nine. Jesus does not gather His Christians to hear this Gospel text as a pretext for having an "attitude of gratitude" or so that they think of it not as thanksgiving but "thanks living." Jesus does not chide the nine. He doesn't revoke their healing and salvation. His mercy is not conditioned upon your thankfulness to it, so that if you forget to thank Him immediately you risk losing His mercy. It's not like that at all.

6)     Jesus understands our nature. He assumed our human nature but was without sin. He was tempted in every way, including the temptation to be ungrateful to His heavenly Father. He knows the flesh better than we do for He entered it and remained spotless from sin in thought, word, and deed for our salvation. He understand that His Christians, even the most seasoned saints, are still children. And children must be gently taught to give thanks. Giving thanks, or "saying thank you" does not come naturally to the sinful man, woman, and child. This is why parents have to inculcate such responses in their children from a young age. "Remember to say thank you." When someone gives a child something the parent asks, "What are you supposed to say?" It isn't natural, for children or adults, because both are sinners, to say thank you or to feel the warm and humility of gratitude. Christ understands this. He knows that we are all children in the faith and so He uses the example of the Samaritan leper as a gentle reminder to say thank you to God for all His marvelous and wonderful gifts, most precious of which is the mercy God the Father shows in Jesus Christ's perfect life and death upon the cross for our sake's. Much like Christ does in Matthew 6 when He addresses worry, He does not command, "Thou shalt be thankful! just as He does not command "Thou shalt not worry." In Matthew 6 He points to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Here He points to the Samaritan leper, or rather the Samaritan formerly known as a leper, as a gentle reminder to children of the heavenly Faith. Consider what you are enjoying. Consider the great gift You have been given in the perfect life of Christ and in His innocent suffering and death. Consider that by faith, His righteousness of a perfect life is credited to you. Ponder for a moment that His innocent death atones for all your sins of thought, word, and deed, among them the ungrateful heart and the worrying conconscience.

7)     Too often we are among the nine lepers. Too often we neglect to give thanks unto the Lord for His goodness and mercy. Too often we receive the gift through faith and then rush off to enjoy it because that's what faith does, it takes Jesus' promise and runs with it. Faith wants to take that word of Jesus and go show the priests. Too often we are among the nine. But your Lord wants to gently remind you today about the Samaritan man who used to be a leper too. His promises are not conditional. Christ will not revoke them if you are ungrateful and fail to thank Him. But consider the Samaritan, whose faith, like that of the nine, made him well, I mean, saved him. The Holy Ghost works that same faith in your hearts when you hear the Word purely preached and meditate upon it, ponder it, and chew it over and over like the cow who chews its own cud several times. Remember the one who returned to give thanks to God in human flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ. And be thankful. Not because you have to be. Not because you are commanded to be from Sinai's heights. But be thankful because of the great thing that God has done for you, something far better than physical healing, but salvation from your many and terrible sins, salvation from eternal wrath and hell, salvation from all the power and might of the devil. Dear saints of the Lord though faith in Christ, Arise, go your way. Your faith has saved you. Amen.

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