In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I will admit it, the Thanksgiving sermon is one of my least favorite ones to write. It’s just a rough sermon to write. It’s on thanksgiving. So… what do I as a preacher do? Do I stand up here and wag a finger at y’all saying, “You better be more thankful”? I don’t want to go around just dropping law bombs – I want to preach the Gospel. Do I stand up here and spout off platitudes about how wonderful life is? Well, I can, but we aren’t ostriches, we don’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore things that are bad and rough in the world – and there’s been plenty of that lately. Do I go all sappy and gooey and emotional – maybe sigh and wax poetically about how thankful I am for my family and how great it is to be in Herscher? That would be so sticky sweet I’d want to throw up. It seems as though if we try to just preach on giving thanks, it either becomes some sort of moralistic diatribe, or some pie in the sky denial of reality, or just tacky emotionalism – and I don’t like any of those three. So instead, let’s be blunt, let’s be honest, let’s consider this harsh world and how our Lord confronts it.
“On the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And 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.’” Those lepers are in a pathetic state. I don’t know if there was anyone to be more pitied in the ancient world than lepers. You were cut off from society – you had to live on the outskirts – and you never could really see the people you love again, even though they were so close, just inside the city walls. It would be horrifying. So – what to do? Tell these lepers to count their blessings? Start talking about how wonderful the past year has been for them? Nope. First things first – we need to recognize what sad, horrible shape these lepers are in. Because they know it, they see Christ and they call out for mercy. They don’t pretend, they don’t whitewash anything – they see their lack and they call out to God for deliverance.
So, what of you? Do you see your own struggles, the trials that you face? I guess some of these are obvious. The world seems a mite dangerous right now. Some of us aren’t quite as healthy at the moment as we have been. I’m sure jobs or family matters are rough for many of us. There are some things that everyone might know… and some things, well, very few people, if anyone else knows them. That private hurt that you don’t share. That stubborn temptation, that vile sin that keeps jabbing at you like a thorn in your flesh. That disappointment that you’d never breath a word of lest you hurt people you love. Martin Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars before God.” Let’s modify that a bit today – we are all lepers in this world. We all have things in this life in this fallen world that are horrible and terrible… and seeing this, we cry out to Christ for mercy.
“When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Again, astonishing what Christ does here. Lepers couldn’t enter town, they couldn’t be among people – but if they somehow got better, the priest could examine them and let them back into the community. And Christ tells them to go – and as they start walking, they are still diseased, they are still lepers… yet Christ says go, and they go… and on the way they are healed. Likewise, dear Christian friends – Christ knows your pains, your sufferings, your hardships. He knows your sin and all the impacts of your sin – and He says to you, “I have suffered and died in your place – now go on your way, show yourselves to the Father as one who is pure and righteous in My Name.” And that’s how we live our lives – we are moving ever closer and closer to being fully restored to the community, to the heavenly kingdom… and we go confidently, knowing that Christ Jesus has sent us, knowing that by the power of His Word our sin is forgiven, knowing that by the power of His Word the trials we face will be endured.
“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 leper gives thanks when? When he sees that he has been healed – when he realizes what Christ Jesus has done for him – that’s when he has joy and thankfulness and delight. Likewise, dear friends, thankfulness will not come if I wag the finger at you. Thankfulness will not come if I pretend that nothing ever stinks, or if I get all sappy and maudlin. Rather this. Consider your sin – now, know that you are forgiven by Christ Jesus. You are healed. You might have some of the junk of this life still clinging to you, but Christ has declared you clean, and on the last day you will rise new and clean and spotless and pure. You are healed. And it is in seeing this, in knowing the depths of Christ’s mercy that thankfulness will simply and naturally arise. Thankfulness comes when we realize what we have is all gift… and yes, this holds true for all the things in our lives – we deserve none of it… but God gives, gives blessings even to us unworthy sinners in this sinful world, and He gives freely… and He gives not just for this brief time here, He gives not just fallen stuff in this fallen world, but He gives eternal life.
“Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the 9? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” The danger for us is to stop seeing God and His Word at work in our lives, to stop seeing the power of forgiveness and life. We can delude ourselves into thinking we have earned our daily bread, after all we worked hard for it. But seeing forgiveness, seeing that free grace – it is an astonishing thing. “And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The leper saw, rejoiced, understood what was going on, and then there is joy and praise and thankfulness. Likewise, I encourage you this day to see and know the mercy God has given you – Christ has given you the gift of faith, and you are healed. You may not see it fully now, the dross of this life may distract you – but Christ has declared you forgiven, He has rescued you from your sin and this sinful world and given you new life, and You are His and shall be His for all eternity. You are clean and forgiven by Him – and this is a joy that no one can take away from you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +