Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve

25 November 2009 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Dear beloved children of God:

The Church asks us to do something the world does not want us to do – take a little pause. Stop. Relax. Take a breath. Just think.

While the world has been fixated on Christmas for several weeks now – or maybe more accurately, on Commercialmas – we Christians have not even begun our Advent journey to the manger. In fact, we are still rounding out the end of the church year. And although the world considers tomorrow’s holiday to be another commercial bonanza and the preparatory rite of Black Friday’s marketing blitz, the Church sees the Festival of Thanksgiving in a different way.

For we are all like the ten lepers the Lord encountered between Samaria and Galilee. We are all afflicted with mortality, with the disfiguring and corrosive effect of sin. We are all, by our fallen nature, sinful and unclean, leprous outcasts from the Lord’s kingdom. And even if we are in good health, we are still aging. And as the poet once said: “No-one gets out of here alive.”

We don’t like to think about our mortality, and yet it stands there like the elephant in the parlor, the five hundred pound gorilla we all politely ignore. But we can’t brush it off it forever. We need to confront the wretched reality, the truly inconvenient truth. We are sick. We are dying. We live in a fallen world of pain, of disappointment, of loneliness, and of death. And while the world fills our heads with images of perfect families gathered around perfect Christmas trees bursting with material goods and the “perfect” gift for everyone – we know that reality is far from perfect.

And it is into this leprous, imperfect, fallen, sinful, and dying world that our Healer and Savior crosses paths with us on His way to Jerusalem. And though our sins make us stand at a distance, we are drawn to Him who can make us whole.

The Lord Himself closes the gap of that dreadful, deathly distance by coming to us. For He and He alone is the “perfect gift for everyone.” He is born of the virgin. He walks among us, healing us, casting out our demons, and raising us from the dead. He is crucified for us, crying “It is finished!” to rejoin and conjoin anew God and man, and He rises from the dead, blazing the trail for us when we too will finally be rid of the leprosy that infects our flesh. For in our flesh we will rise, in our flesh we will see God, and in our flesh we will be healed and declared righteous by not just any priest, but by the High Priest Himself.

It has been customary during times of harvest – as the fruits of the earth are gathered, as the gifts of God are enjoyed in all their bountiful goodness – that mankind should enjoy a great feast. And this meal is not merely to satisfy our hunger, but also to offer thanksgiving to Him who has withheld nothing from us – not the harvest of the earth we have defiled by our sins, not the bread we have defiled by the leaven of our sins, and not the wine we have defiled by our gluttony and drunkenness. No indeed! Our merciful Lord continues to heap blessings and goodness upon us. He continues to take away our leprous sins, restore our mortal flesh, and bless the fruits of our labors by giving us that which we don’t deserve.

And for us Christians, we who have been visited by the Lord’s most lavish grace, have only one kind of sacrifice to offer. Our priestly sacrifice at the altar of the Most High is not a sacrifice seeking the forgiveness of sins – as though the blood of mortal bulls and goats could remove our trespasses and cure our mortal leprosy. For the Lord Himself is the Priest and the one all-availing Sacrifice, whose blood is shed for us, pleads to the Father for us, and is given to us to drink as part of the great thanksgiving feast of eternity. Our eternal priestly sacrifice is an offering of thanks and praise.

Our thank offering, our Eucharistic offering, our priestly offering of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, of almsgiving and sharing, of love and peace, of the living out of the life of a cured leper – is a life of gratitude. The Samaritan cured of his leprosy, the only one of the ten who returned to fall on His face at Jesus’s feet to give thanks, understood the nature of this sacrifice.

This “foreigner” not only understood how his healing came about, but also understood that the only sacrifice he himself could, or should, offer, is a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And that sacrifice comes in the form of humility, joy, praise, and being in the physical presence of Jesus in order to worship him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself comes into our midst so that we can fall before Him, thanking Him, praising Him, and offering a Eucharistic sacrifice at His altar, eating and drinking the gifts of the Lord’s grace incarnate, all unto the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is why we take a moment, like the Tenth Leper, take a little pause. To stop. To relax. To take a breath. To just think. For in that holy reflection upon what our Lord has done for us, we are led to continually return to the source of our comfort, joy, and life. When we do take the time to meditate on the benefits the Lord gives us, in spite of our unworthiness, we can do nothing else but worship our God in the flesh and to eat the holy Thanksgiving meal that we offer as a feast of victory for our God, but which is even more importantly, a feast offered by our victorious God as a feast of victory for us, for our benefit, for the forgiveness of sins, a victory over the fallen world, over disease, over our mortality, and over evil itself.

And we join the former leper in reverent worship before the Lord Jesus even as we pray:

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.

“O 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.

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