Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

Thanksgiving Eve
22 November 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Saying “thank you” is very important. It’s a matter of politeness. It’s a mark of good manners. It shows taste, class, and makes for civility.

But as good and noble (and sorely needed in our culture) as saying “thank you” is, the Holiday of Thanksgiving and the account of the grateful Samaritan concerns something much more profound than proper etiquette.

Jesus heals ten men of leprosy. In a matter of minutes, our Lord has restored life to those who were as good as dead. Their rotting, diseased flesh has been healed. Their shame and disgrace have been taken away. Of the ten, only one, a Samaritan, returns in thanksgiving to the One who has given him life, redeemed him, and restored him to wholeness.

Our Lord praises both the actions and the faith of the Samaritan, and is disappointed in the nine who did not return.

The point of this incident is not that the Samaritan was polite and the nine were rude, but rather that the Samaritan was making a confession. The Samaritan was confessing to Jesus that his salvation was by grace and not something he earned.
For we don’t give thanks for receiving what has been owed to us.

For example, I suspect you’ve never sent the IRS a thank you card for a tax refund. Why not? Because it’s your money. They are simply paying you what they owed you.

You don’t thank your boss every time you receive a paycheck. Now, you may thank your boss for giving you the opportunity to work, or give thanks for having a job you like, but once you have earned your money, your boss is simply squaring the account, paying you what he owes you.

We give thanks for things we have not earned, for gifts, for grace.

Hurricane Katrina saw many of us receiving gifts – often from total strangers. Many of us were unaccustomed to receiving charity, and all we could do was say “thank you.” The word “charity,” by the way, is based on the Greek word “charis” which means “grace.” As refugees, we were given grace – not because we earned it or deserved it – but rather because we were in need, and we were shown compassion. That’s something quite different than earning a paycheck.

While getting benefits from the government (such as Social Security and FEMA), and while receiving settlements from insurance companies, are simply things that are contractually owed to us (for we pay taxes and insurance premiums) – it’s a completely different thing to receive free gifts from those who are helping us out of love and compassion. While we wouldn’t send FEMA or our insurance company a “thank you” for simply paying what we’re owed, we certainly should thank those individuals in government and private industry who worked so hard out of compassion and concern for us.

It recently came to light that a family that evacuated to Memphis was given a $75,000 home by a church that had compassion on them. However, the family didn’t really need the house, never moved in, and sold it for $88,000. They went back to New Orleans with the money, and never offered to give the money to the church. They simply took what they believed was owed to them, and ran.

This kind of behavior is not only rude, not only greedy, but it reflects an entitlement mentality that something is owed to them. Legally, the house was theirs when the title was signed over to them. Legally, they were entitled to the proceeds from the sale. But this house was given to them by grace, as a free gift, when they were in need. It was an outpouring of love, of charity, of charis, of grace. It’s wrong to treat this like an entitlement.

Grace is not owed. Grace is not a paycheck. Grace is not for sale. Grace is not an entitlement.

The Samaritan understood this. He did not take the miracle and run. He did not feel entitled to God’s grace by virtue of ethnicity. Rather, he confessed his own unworthiness. He confessed the fact that Jesus took away his infirmity only out of love, out of charity, out of charis, by grace. The benefits of God are not an entitlement. The forgiveness of sins is not a FEMA check or a tax refund. Rather, the outpouring of the gifts of God upon us poor miserable sinners, refugees from sin, death and the devil, is pure unbridled and unmerited grace.

Hence “thanksgiving.” Another word for "thanksgiving" is “gratitude.” Gratitude is based on the Latin word “gratia” – which means “grace.” “Gratia” is where the Spanish word “gracias” (which means “thank you”) comes from. To be filled with gratitude is to be full of grace – like the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, filled to the point of spilling over with fruits and gifts of the earth. Being full of grace, being “gratia-full” – we give thanks to God for all his benefits to us. For the benefits God offers are not like on the job perqs that are part of your salary package. Rather, they are free gifts to those of us who don’t deserve them.

“What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call on the name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.”

In response to these benefits, we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. We offer the Lord what he has first given us: our lives, our time, our talents, our treasure, willing tongues to sing his praise, willing ears to hear his Word, and willing hearts to serve him. We will call on him, and drink the chalice of salvation.

For like the grateful Samaritan, having been baptized, having been healed of our leprous sins, having been restored to life from death - we come back to Jesus to give thanks. We return to the one who healed us, gratia-full and grateful, we kneel before him in worship like the Samaritan, we call upon his name and take the cup of salvation.

The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist – which is Greek for “thanksgiving.” The Holy Supper is the greatest Thanksgiving Meal of all. For even as our Lord was offering his very body and blood for us, he gave thanks to his Father.

And yet, our participation in this Eucharist is not a payback to Jesus for what he has done. Rather, through this Thanksgiving Meal, our Blessed Lord continues to heal us, forgive us, and shower his benefits upon us. It is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Our songs of thankfulness and praise, our offering of the sacrifice of thanksgiving, our participation in the Eucharistic feast is not a matter of politeness. Rather, we are confessing our unworthiness. We are confessing that God owes us nothing and yet gives us everything. We are confessing that we are recipients of unmerited grace.

Let us give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and his mercy endures forever! Amen.

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


Anonymous said...

Good sermon. The story of the ungrateful people of Memphis really characterizes the other 9 lepers well. Nice job.

Past Elder said...

My wife died Thanksgiving Eve 1997. Our kids were 3 months and 13 months old. I spent Thanksgiving selecting a coffin as well as eating turkey. At the funeral Saturday, the pastor said, most of us just celebrated a Thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.

I'm a leper too, on the inside, so rotten and foul with sin and self obsession that for years that idea of a loving god, let alone one who would die that we might live, seemed like so much make believe denial in the face of what really happens in life, and since Vatican II even the churches don't talk about it much, just be a good person, like they know it too.

God had other plans. This disaffected LCMS girl, who after the convulsion of Seminex in her youth said bye, call me when you figure out what you believe, and I meet, fall in love and get married LCMS. Rather than inflict our religious burnouts on children, we spend about a year in instruction with a WELS pastor. And guess what? Two lepers got healed!

And when one was called to her eternal Thanksgiving, the one still here, me, was by the grace of God only, against everything natural to me, unshaken in faith. The real me would have thought, pastor that's real nice words but totally bogus and how dare you gloss over the biggest screwing over I've ever had with junk like that. By the grace of God, that person died, and instead his words stay in my mind like I just heard them. The only dead people at the funeral were the ones not alive in Christ, and we were here not to mourn as the world mourns but to rejoice in the Thanksgiving she enjoys which is offered to us too!

I can't believe this. I'm not capable of believing this. It is purely the unmerited grace of God that has granted me faith. I'm dead all by myself, as dead as she in the flesh. St Paul laid it right on the line when he said it is no longer I who lives but he who lives in me. God's grace can heal rotten, scarred, bitter souls, which is the real miracle to which healing rotten flesh points. The one leper knew that.

Thanks be indeed to God who can lift a lost soul out of the self centred bonds from which he cannot free himself, and as if that were not enough, give him what he does not deserve -- full and free pardon of his spiteful rebellion, commutation of his self imposed death sentence, by the merits of His son Jesus restored to life with him starting here on earth and continuing into eternity. Which is no special story. He offers that to everyone! We are all beggars, we are all lepers and we are all offered a Thanksgiving that lasts an eternity by faith in the One He has sent. He who gave us turkey gives us His body and blood for our salvation. There's Thanksgiving, there's the Eucharist, there's grace, there's gracias!

Calicem salutaris accipiam et nomen Domini invocabo!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Paul:

Thanks bro! High praise coming from a great preacher.

Soli Deo gloria!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Past Elder:

What a magnificent confession of the faith - a truly cruciform faith. Thank you for posting this - it is a magnificent articulation of the Gospel. Thanks be to God!

"I know that my Redeemer lives!"