Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

26 November 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (Deut 8:1-10, Phil 4:6-20)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the tenth leper, we see a beautiful illustration of the Christian life. Ten lepers were in dire need. They were not only diseased, shamed, and exiled – but they were also dying. “For the wages of sin is death.” These ten men – at least one of whom was already scorned by the people of God for his ethnicity – understood full well the implications of sin and of being outside of the assembly of the people of God. In their desperation, they came to the Master seeking mercy.

These ten were cleansed. They were healed. The cross they bore for the burden of their sin and the sin of man was taken away from them by the One who would bear all sin upon His one great cross. The lepers were told that they were not only biologically healed, but made ceremonially clean in a way that would satisfy the priests and the law of the Old Testament.

But only one of these ten came back to give thanks. In the Greek, giving thanks is “euchariston.” In the Latin translation, this thanksgiving, “gratias agens”, is related to the idea of being an “agent” and of “grace”.

This “foreigner”, as our Lord calls him, is the only one of those who have been healed who has become an “agent of gratitude.” He is the only one who returned to the physical body of Christ to “eucharist”, to give thanks, for the agency of grace given to him. He is the only one who falls down in worship to “pray, praise, and give thanks.”

And notice another agency that our Lord ascribes to the healing of the leper: his “faith” – that is his “belief” – which our Lord says “has made you well”. The faith that drove this leper to come back to Jesus to worship and thank him is the faith through which he was made well in the first place. But there is even more, for the Greek word often rendered into English as “made you well” is also understood as meaning “saved you.”

The other nine were also saved, also cleansed, also healed, but their healing is only temporary. Indeed, all ten of these lepers will die – in spite of our Lord’s miracle. But this leper’s faith has done more than rid him of a skin disease, it has saved him. The non-thankful nine will hopefully repent of their ingratitude. For even God’s grace can be refused by those whose lack of gratitude demonstrates a lapsed faith, a lack of eucharist and a lack of grace and faith.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is one of the clearest illustrations of the Christian life in all of Scripture.

For like the lepers that encountered our Lord, you too were hopelessly disease-ridden and covered with shame. Sin has literally infected all of us to the point of terminal illness. And yet, what happens? Most of you were brought to the Master in your swaddling clothes. Most of you were cleansed and shown mercy by baptismal water without even realizing it was happening. You were given eternal life, and your terminal sinfulness was washed away and replaced with eternal holiness. If there were any priests of the Old Testament to declare you to be in accordance with the Law, you could have received their blessing.

You who hear the Word of God in this place have come back, like the grateful leper, to fall upon your faces in worship before the Master. You have come to “praise God with a loud voice” – with song and psalm – for the purpose of partaking in the Eucharistic celebration, the agent of grace – which is not only a meal of thanksgiving, but a paradoxical gift of the very faith that has “made you well” and “saved you” – in the holy words of the prophet Moses: “bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks, of water, of fountains and springs… of wheat… a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…. You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good He has given you.”

We deserve nothing but leprosy, want, and death; and yet our gracious Lord gives us healing, an everlasting feast, and eternal life. We deserve starvation, but we are given the living bread of the Eucharist that is also the Word “from the mouth of the Lord.” We deserve the cup of the Lord’s wrath, but we are given the Eucharistic wine of the sacrificial blood of the Son Himself! We deserve a dry desert, but we are given “fountains and springs” of living water. We deserve the punishment reserved to those who do not believe, but we receive faith itself. We deserve what we have merited, but we are given the free gift of grace.

It is only in receiving a free gift that a “thank you” is appropriate. It is only in being given life by the very Author of Life, through whom all things were made, that it is possible to fall upon one’s face in worship. It is only by grace that the Christian, having received all, can indeed “return” and praise God “with a loud voice.”

The leper has nothing in himself to put his faith in. But the leper has a Master, a Redeemer, a Good Physician – which is both the source and the deposit of his faith. The leper has his life. His shame has been put to flight. He has hope, and even more. He has the “agent of grace,” the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, the healing waters of baptism, and the hope and certitude of eternal life and the promise of resurrection. He has been freed from his dungeon, and made an heir of the King and a son of God.

This is how it is that the Christian can learn, along with our holy father in the faith, St. Paul, “in whatever state… to be content.” We can have contentment even as we “know how to be abased” and “to abound”, “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Even when the economy booms and when it busts, when jobs are secure and when they are in doubt, when times are prosperous and when they are lean – for we confess with the holy Apostle: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This is the Christian life of thanksgiving, of Eucharist, of grace, of falling before the Lord in worship. It is the faith that saves us and brings us contentment. “And my God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Amen.

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

1 comment:

Rev. Luke T. Zimmerman said...

Fr. Hollywood:

Excellent homily. Hope many others will read these words.

Will have to keep some of those thoughts in mind for next year, which were much more in telling about the graciousness of God instead of man's reasonable service of giving thanks (which may have gotten too much play in mine.)

Happy Thanksgiving!