Thanksgiving Day (November 22, 2007)
“Faith Knows to Give Thanks” (Luke 17:11-17)
In the name of Jesus, dearly beloved children of God.
The text for this National Day of Thanksgiving is the Gospel lesson from Luke 17. In this portion of Holy Scripture, Jesus heals ten lepers, but only one returns to say “Thank you.” We will use this account to help us see that you and I often neglect to say “Thank you” to our Lord. But because He has healed our sinful hearts and has given us faith in Him, we know that it is only right to give Him thanks for all that He has done for us, especially for giving us those “richer gifts” of life, forgiveness, and salvation.
The lepers certainly knew who to go to for help. Word had gotten out about Jesus. People knew about this great healer from Nazareth, and so did these men with their debilitating disease. And when Jesus had come to their home town, they did not miss the opportunity to make their request known to Him.
They knew they could not approach him because of their disease. Like all lepers in those days, they were not allowed inside the city. They lived on the outskirts of town, wrapped up in strips of cloth to hide their hideously deformed bodies caused by the disease. When anyone came near them, they were supposed to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” to alert others to stay away. And so, when Jesus came to town, they knew who to go to, but still they stood at a distance.
Yet, even so, they cried out for help. They exclaimed “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!.” “Lord, have mercy” is a prayer of faith. It’s a prayer that trusts that God will mercifully hear and answer. That’s why we use that same prayer in our worship. In the Kyrie and often in the Prayer of the Church, each petition ends, “Lord, have mercy.” It’s not a prayer asking for forgiveness. It’s a prayer that comes to the Lord with full confidence in His ability and willingness to answer our prayers according to His good and gracious will.
Not only the prayer of these ten men, but the fact that they set off before they were healed was an act of faith, too. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. This was something that the Law prescribed. Anyone who had been cured of a skin disorder was supposed to show themselves to the priest in order to confirm that the disease was gone. Then, they were to go through various cleansing rituals and offer certain sacrifices. The lepers left to go to the temple before they were healed. The text says that they were cleansed “as they went.” This, too, was an act of faith. Without seeing the miracle, they believed that it would happen to them. And it did. Jesus had compassion on them and graciously answered their prayer.
One leper knew that he should thank Jesus personally. What happened to the others? Did they lose faith? Did they get so excited over their healing that they soon went back to their former way of life before they contracted leprosy and forgot about Jesus? Jesus asked the same question in our text. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Of course, as God, Jesus already knew the answers to these questions, but the reason why the others did not return is not recorded for us. We can only imagine.
What we do know is that one man returned to give thanks. And after he fell at Jesus’ feet, Jesus told him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well” which can also be translated “your faith has saved you.” Faith in Jesus made his heart well. By faith, this man received the spiritual healing he needed and he was forgiven of all his sins. He was given back his earthly life. He could go back into town and live among his family and friends once again. But he was also given the “richer gift” of everlasting life.
Moreover, this man’s faith in Jesus brought forth a response of thanksgiving that was shown in action. He turned around in the middle of his journey after he saw that he was healed and in order to say “Thank you” to Jesus. He returned to say “thanks” even though it was probably inconvenient. He was going to have to backtrack a bit. Remember, he was on his way to the temple and he had to go back to the village and seek out Jesus, and once having found Him, let Him know personally how much he appreciated what Jesus had done for him. But he would still have to head out again to go up to Jerusalem to do what the Law proscribed.
Like the ten lepers, you and I know who to go to for help. We can go to Jesus at any time, in any need. But we also know that we, too, cannot approach Him because of our disease. Our disease is a heart that often does not give thanks, a heart that often takes things for granted. We are often like the 9 lepers who neglect to give thanks. And so, we, too, should stand at a distance. All our sins make us unclean and unable to approach the Holy and Righteous God.
Nevertheless, Jesus invites us to come to him with a heart that is sorry for our sins, sorry for our unthankfulness. And because His death on the cross has paid the price also for our ingratitude, He has compassion on us. He graciously forgives us. And because we have been cleansed through His precious blood shed on the cross and in the waters of Holy Baptism, we can approach Him with full confidence and with love and thankfulness for everything He does for us and for everything He gives us…our “warmth and sheltered care”… our “worldly wealthiness”… His power which preserves us moment by moment and causes His creation to be fruitful so that our plates are full…and especially those “richer gifts” of life, forgiveness, and salvation. In giving us spiritual life, God gives us back, in a sense, our earthly life, like he did for the leper. In giving us spiritual life, our earthly, physical life is enriched as our eyes are opened so that we recognize how much God loves us by providing so well for both our spiritual and our physical well-being.
Like the one leper who returned, those with faithful hearts know to return to say “Thank you” to God. Faith in Jesus has saved us. And true faith brings forth a response of thanksgiving that is shown in action. We show our thankfulness by obeying, by giving, by serving, by loving, by worshipping, and so on. And we do so even though it may be inconvenient. I would imagine it was probably not convenient for many of you to come give thanks today. There are lots of things needing to be cooked and prepared. But your faith in Jesus has led you to come say “Thank you” to your Lord and Savior today. I would imagine it’s never convenient for you to give your offerings. There are a lot of other things you could do with that money. But your faith in Jesus leads you to give regularly and generously to support the mission of our church, to support mission work beyond our doors and our community, to spread the Good News to those who have not heard it yet.
And finally, faith in Jesus leads us to throw ourselves at His feet this morning, kneeling to receive the very body and blood of our Savior, and giving Him thanks at the Eucharist, the best meal of “Thanksgiving.” Receiving those Eucharistic gifts in faith, you, too, can “rise and go,” confident that you have been made well.