In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
This gospel lesson, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers, I find it tends to make me feel a bit guilty when I hear it. When I first start to hear it, I cannot help myself, I think about who I would be, what I would do – if I were one of the ten, which would I be – the one who comes back, or one of the nine who just went about their merry way. The temptation is to think that surely, surely I would have come back to give thanks – that upon receiving that great blessing, my first thought would be to turn right back around and kneel at Christ's feet and give thanks.
But then, I think – what would it have been like to be one of these lepers – to be in their shoes. Here you are, outcast – condemned to wander the desert, away from all your family and friends and all the things that make life good. And Jesus walks by. And you know who He is, you know what He can do – and you call out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” A great cry, a great plea for help – full of faith and trust. And He tells you to go to town, to show yourself to the priests. Contact again. Other people. Family and friends – go there, go see all them. And they all start to walk – dirty and diseased and filled with leprosy. . . And as they went, they were cleansed. Imagine that moment – you had left, you had started walking towards town in hope, in faith – trusting that what Jesus said would come to pass – and it does. And in that moment – what would you do? I have trouble thinking that I would do anything other than in pure excitement and joy run, run to show my now cleansed body to priest, run to all my friends and loved ones who were lost to me, run in joy to share that joy. Pausing, turning around, heading back to go stop and thank Jesus for what He had done – I think that would have been rather far from my mind.
So what of you? Do you think that you would have been the thankful one? Why of course – my parents taught me to be thankful! My mom would smack me upside the head if I didn't say thank you. So, let me ask the question. Are you always thankful? Every blessing that you get, is your first thought thankfulness to God? Every single one? Have you thought on the scope and scale of all the blessings you receive from God? Think about it – think about all the blessings you receive from God, from the greatest to smallest. Do you return instantaneous thanks for them? Thanks full and worthy of what God deserves? And what of the times when God spares you disaster – when things only go a little bad instead of completely and totally bad? How is your thankfulness then? Or what of when things are even worse? At times of disaster do you call out to God “Why, why did You let this happen to me” or do you call out to God, “Thank You Lord, for restraining the wickedness of this world so that I am not completely ruined”? At the horrible, terminal diagnosis, do you thank God for warning you of your approaching death, so that you have time to put your affairs in order, to see loved ones again? At every moment, do you show God thanks for the blessings in your life? You see, thankfulness isn't just a simple response – but thankfulness is to be one's whole attitude, whole approach – recognizing that everything in one's life is gift from God – that even in the worst, darkest moments of our life, we are always to be thankful, for God indeed defends us and shows us more mercy than we could ever deserve.
Well, okay – so perhaps I'm not as thankful as I should be – but I'm thankful for the big things. And if it were something amazing like being healed of leprosy, well, I'd be thankful right off. We've had a sermon on thankfulness, talking all about it – things to be thankful for – what place, what rank, how quickly did forgiveness come to the fore in your thoughts? Which is more miraculous – that God cleanses the sores of the body, or that God gives us forgiveness and cleanses our souls? Which is the greater wonder – that Jesus gives some people health, a better life – or that God Himself came down from heaven, took on flesh, suffered and died for us to give us not just a better life now but true eternal life with Him in heaven? And we train ourselves, we do, here in the church – we train ourselves to be thankful for forgiveness above anything and everything. You should know that you won't ever hear a sermon from me in this pulpit without proclaiming Christ's forgiveness – not a service goes by here where it isn't proclaimed. Indeed – what do we ourselves say in our Communion Liturgy? Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God – it is meet and right so to do. It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto You Holy Lord, Almighty Father, ever lasting God. That's what leads into Communion – because chiefly, we give thanks for Christ, what He has done, and what He’s going to give us in this Supper- where Christ gives us His own Body. And what afterwards? The thanksgiving –Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever. We give thanks unto Thee, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift. All the time we are taught to be thankful for the great gift of forgiveness – and how often do we fail in that, how often is our thankfulness lacking? How often can we not even be bothered with it? Sunday comes and there’s too many chores to do. Daily Devotions don’t happen. Do you see why this text can make me feel a bit guilty? It reminds me of my failings, that I fail to be thankful to God, and that I even when I am thankful, it lacks. I can even lack thankfulness for forgiveness, I can overlook it and run right on by, ignoring all that God has done for me. So often I run on my merry way without thanks.
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. And here is the beautiful thing, dear friends. Here is the hope, here is the comfort, here is the joy that this text has. If we stop too early, we don't see it – we only see our lack. But then we see Christ in action, and we are comforted. I'm not as thankful as I should be – so what does that mean for me? Is my only hope that God somehow not notice my sin? That I get away with it, just this once? Well, no, God notices. He does – so I can't hope that He ignores my sin. No – God is quite aware of my lack – and in fact He acts on my behalf. My sin doesn't paralyze God. When I sin, when I fail – I don't tie God's hands. He still acts on my behalf. Look at the text. Even as so many fail, so many sin – Jesus still shows love, still heals. Even knowing that thankfulness might be hard to come by, Jesus still has mercy and compassion upon these lepers. Were not ten cleansed! They are cleansed, Jesus still heals them, knowing that their thankfulness will be sparse. Even knowing that your thankfulness will be sparse – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – takes up your sin and puts it to death on the cross – and wins you forgiveness. And more over, even as you can neglect to give thanks for this forgiveness – Christ still yearns to provide it to you. The Sunday where you are too busy for Church – Christ still sees that His Gospel is preached and ready for you the next. That day where you are tired and skip your daily devotions – Christ still supplies you with His Word – the bibles in your house don't all vanish. God is so patient and loving with us. Ponder this with me. When someone isn't thankful to you – when they don't show you thankfulness – what is your reaction? Bitter, upset, angry? Why’d I even bother? God doesn't treat us like we treat each other – God continues to show mercy, continues to call us unto Him, continues to shower us with every blessing of both body and soul – even when we aren't perfect and nice. Indeed, He knows that we aren't perfect and nice – and so He calls us over and over unto His House to hear His Word – to have His Forgiveness spoken to us, to receive His own Body and Blood – all of this to forgive us anew, to strengthen us in faith, to teach and focus our eyes on where they should be, so we can see more and more the depth of His love for us. And He doesn't stop. His mercy endures forever.
If you look at this text, dear friends, and spend your time looking at the lepers – you will see your own lack. It will stand out and be obvious like the sores on these lepers, it will smell like the rot of their decaying flesh. But if, dear friends, you look at our Gospel text and see Christ – see what He does – you will see the depth and intensity of His love for you – a love that is not based on what you do, a love that is not earned or merited by how nice you are – but a love that is unconditional – a love that doesn't merely overlook faults but covers them in His righteous blood and forgives them. Our God always shows us love, always offers us forgiveness, always desires to strengthen and heal us – even when we don't remember this. God grant that He continue to hold before our eyes the Cross of Christ Jesus – so that we might not become content in our sins, but strive ever more to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and learn ever more to join in the thanks with the hosts of heaven for the salvation He has won us. Amen.