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2015 Thanksgiving Sermon – Luke 17:11-19

November 27, 2015

November 25, 2015 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?” 

The lepers’ request is typical of what those in need ask based upon their knowledge of Jesus’ identity: “As He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” They call out for help from Jesus. The lepers know their illness. But they also know that Jesus can heal it. That drives their actions.

And what does Jesus do? He acts according to His identity and ability: “When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Jesus’ action is typical of how He responds to those who call on Him for aid. Their plight isn’t ignored by Him. Jesus knows well that they need His healing. So He grants it to them, demonstrating the divine power that is exercised according to divine mercy.

You hear of these incidents throughout the Gospel records of Jesus’ words and works. They are extraordinary. Divine power being exercised to provide physical healing is not a mundane happening. But these incidents are not unusual in the story of Jesus’ life. The sequence of events is routine. It repeats itself again and again. The lepers become part of a long list of individuals assisted by Jesus.

But there is reason why this event becomes well-known. There is something more here beyond individuals’ asking help from Jesus and receiving it. That was noted by the Gospel Writer: “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.” This wasn’t so usual. Numerous times the Gospels record Jesus’ healing miracles that are followed by no type of response. But this time there is a specific reaction of gratitude recorded.

This Gospel Reading is most appropriate for a Day of Thanksgiving. As we go through our lives, there is plenty of asking Jesus for help. We do so because we know who He is—the Son of the Father, begotten before all worlds, who became man for our salvation. We have received that knowledge from the proclamation of His words and works. The Gospel accounts make clear Jesus’ identity and ability. As that has been heard and believed, we make Jesus the One we turn to for aid. His teaching about the Father is also received, so that we ask Him to provide for all that we need for our body and life.

Turning to the Father and the Son to grant us help is done individually. It takes place in the personal prayers that we offer. It also is done corporately. That is seen most clearly in the Divine Service. Think on what takes place there—all the times that you request the Father or the Son to do something for you. Confession and Absolution: forgiveness is begged for. Kyrie: Jesus’ mercy is asked for. Collect of the Day: we solicit the LORD’s help for a general need of the Church. Prayer of the Church: an entire catalog of requests are made. Lord’s Prayer: a drumbeat of petitions are spoken. In this way, we become part of the the long line of individuals who ask Jesus to do something for them.

But is there an expression of gratitude given? Do the Father and the Son witness us acting like the Samaritan in the Gospel Reading? “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.” The Gospel Reading for a Day of Thanksgiving throws that question right out there: “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?’” 

Jesus’ question is not just for the ten lepers who had been cleansed. It’s really meant for all who have received His benefits. Each of the lepers in the Gospel Reading got the part about Jesus’ identity and ability correct. They rightly knew that He could aid them in their sickness. And He did so. But the part about how to react to this healing—nine of them didn’t really hit the mark on that. But that Samaritan did. He praised God with a loud voice. He gave Jesus thanks for the cleansing he had received. And when Jesus hears this, He says to that man: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Jesus notes that the man’s faith was truly correct. He had fully known and believed in Jesus’ identity and ability.

Thanksgiving and gratitude are aspects of true faith. It is not coincidental that Luther notes this in explaining the Creed. When teaching about the First Article—the Father’s work of Creation and Preservation—he writes: “All this He does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.” And when discussing the Lord’s Prayer and its request for daily bread, he writes: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” These statements in the Small Catechism are meant to hammer home the essential nature of expressing gratitude to the LORD for His benefits. And if that is the case for receiving temporal blessings from the LORD, then no less should be expected for receiving forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation from Him through Jesus’ death and resurrection.The essential nature of expressing gratitude to the LORD for His benefits is a characteristic of our worship service this evening. There is plenty of requesting the LORD’s help. Our prayers will be offered to Him. Petitions will be set before Him. But alongside these, interspersed throughout the service, are statements of thanksgiving. The hymns are where this shows up the clearest. Their titles alone convey gratitude: “Now Thank We All Our God…. We Praise You, O God…. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come…. For the Fruits of His Creation, Thanks Be to God.” As a group of individuals who have each received healing from Jesus, we come to Him, praising God with a loud voice, and give Him thanks.

Why is this done? Because of what we believe concerning His identity and ability. Our thanksgiving is a confession of faith. It testifies to what we think about Him. There is no sharing the glory with any other deity. There is no statement that we have provided all for ourselves, that we have been totally self-sufficient. Those would be false beliefs, false faith. Instead, our gratitude is offered because we acknowledge that we have received a gift from the LORD. Our praise is given to the LORD because we acknowledge that He is the source of it. Our thanks is directed in response to His divine generosity.

And how does the LORD react to this? Does He give it any thought, any concern? Yes, He does. In fact, His response is the same as He spoke to the Samaritan leper who praised Him with loud voice and knelt at His feet: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” It is a divine way of saying: “You’re right. I have provided for you. Your physical needs have been addressed. And even more, I have given the healing you need. Your sins are forgiven. You have life. And you will be gathered up with all who have received the same from Me and have acknowledged Me as the source of it.”

So as we will leave here with our Thanksgiving service completed, let this be the lesson learned. We have called on the LORD to help us in our need. He has provided for us. He has healed us. We have received it with gratitude and joy, giving thanks to Him for His great glory shown in His merciful acts. All this is a matter of faith. And the LORD says: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

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

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