Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sermon: Trinity 14 - 2010

5 September 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 17:11-19

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“Gratitude” is closely related to “grace.” In fact, both terms come from the same Latin word: “gratia.” And it makes sense. For gratitude is a response to grace. A Spanish-speaking person responds to a kindness by saying “gracias.”

We are not grateful when we have earned something. “Thank you” is said in response to a gift. And that, dear friends, is the essence of the Christian life. As unworthy recipients of the greatest gift of all, our very lives as Christians are a thank offering to the Lord who has saved us by grace alone, a “salutary gift” received by faith – for as our Lord Himself says: “your faith has made you well.”

As priests of the new covenant, we “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving” and “call on the name of the Lord.” For our sacrifice does not bring us forgiveness (that “all availing sacrifice” is the Lord’s passion and death on the cross), but we offer, rather, a Eucharistic sacrifice in response to the Lord’s forgiveness of us, a sacrifice in which we receive the Lord’s gifts and in which we respond with thanksgiving. It is never an odious burden to say “thank you.” It is the joyful response to a free and generous gift.

The Christian life is embodied in the Tenth Leper. For in his leprous state, he has been stung by the law, by his body of death, by the fallen world. He has been afflicted in the flesh and by the flesh. He is dying before his very own dimming eyes. And in response to this helplessness and hopelessness, along comes a Savior, a Rescuer, a Redeemer – the Lord Himself entering into the leper’s village, The Lord whose own cross-scarred flesh restores the leprous flesh, and his pure life atones for the sinful life. The ten lepers cry out: “Lord, have mercy!” and the Lord has mercy. Healing and wholeness are given to each of them by grace, and the gift is received by faith. The Lord’s healing even satisfies the law – for his forgiveness – carried out by the Word alone – truly forgives and heals. Jesus sends the cleansed lepers to be blessed and restored by the priests, for he has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.

And the Christian response to this grace is embodied in the Tenth Leper. He was not just a Samaritan, but a leprous Samaritan. He loved much because he was healed of much. And “praising God with a loud voice,” he “fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” He worships the one who made him whole. What could be more natural?

And we give thanks to our Lord, our Savior, our Rescuer, our Redeemer, by worshiping him, by working for him in the kingdom, by giving of ourselves in time, talent, and treasure, in resisting temptation, in striving after good works, in patiently loving our neighbor – for all of these things the Christian offers, not in order to be saved, but rather out of love and in gratitude for being saved.

Gratitude follows grace. We say “thank you” because we have received a full and free gift.

And notice how it grieves our Lord that only the Samaritan comes back: “Were not ten cleansed?” asks our blessed Lord. “Where are the nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Our Lord is shocked and taken aback by the large show of ingratitude. For he literally gave these men life, brought them back from the dead, restored them from isolation, and made them whole. And they would not even return to say “thank you.”

Ingratitude, in the words of one of the greatest of all church fathers, is a “shameful blasphemy” and a “destructive sin” and a “disgraceful vice” that “destroys the joy and love of life.” In fact, he speaks very strong words in saying “there is neither joy nor salvation for the ungrateful.” *

Although the nine had faith to be healed, their ingratitude and hardness of heart threatens to cost them the grace given to them in the first place. In taking grace for granted, they are in peril of falling from grace.

“In effect, Jesus is saying ‘You just wait; if you insist on being ungrateful, you won’t get off that easy. I’ll find out where you have disappeared to without a word of thanks for my having restored your health.’ In due time he will ask all ingrates, ‘Why haven’t you acknowledged that I have given you your body and life and have created everything you need? Then everyone will know what a disgraceful vice ingratitude is.’” *

But the good news, dear Christians, is that the Lord does shower us with his grace, boundlessly, without question, and without regard to our own unworthiness. He is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” He is “good, and his mercy endures forever.” And he does give this gift to us without charge, without merit of our own, without any works on our part. And the gift is given so that we might receive it. Our faith makes us well indeed. And truly, we have much to be thankful for. What we offer to the Lord as thanks pales in comparison with his goodness to us. A simple act of prayer, of praise, of worship, is a true and fitting thank offering to him who has cured us of our own leprosy and death.

And the Lord teaches us how to deal with an ungrateful world. For any Christian who does good works and serves his neighbor will be faced with ingratitude – just as surely as the Lord himself had only one in ten come back to say “thank you.” We are not to be discouraged, but rather be encouraged to continue to serve the Lord, for truly he continues to serve us. Our efforts are not in vain.

Let us rejoice in the gifts he gives us, in the blessings he bestows upon us, in the forgiveness of sins he lavishes upon us, in the life with which he quickens us, in the Word with which he revives us, in the Supper with which he strengthens us, in the Absolution with which he restores us, and in the Baptism with which he gives us new birth. Let us thank him for giving us life, for revealing himself to us, for his incarnation, preaching, death, and resurrection, for his proclaimed and saving Word, and for every grace large and small that he gives to us, day in and day out – all without price and without our own merit.

“Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.” Let us continue to sing “Now Thank We All Our God” and pray each morning and evening: “I thank you, my heavenly Father.” Indeed, the Lord loves a cheerful giver. Let us never be so ungrateful as to withhold our offerings from him who withholds nothing from us.

Let us pray for those who are ungrateful, that the Lord would turn their hearts. Let us pray for ourselves for the many times when we are ungrateful, that the Lord may continue to bless and preserve us by His Word and through His mercy, granting us humility and ears to hear, refashioning us evermore in his image for the sake of the kingdom.

“To sum it all up: We will be good Christians, first of all, when we have a firm faith and trust in God’s goodness; second, when we are grateful to God and our fellowmen; and third when we patiently tolerate ingratitude as we keep on doing good to all people. In any case, nine people will be ungrateful for every one who is grateful and thanks you for a good deed. And it may well be that the one who thanks you and is grateful is the one of whom you least expected it, just like this Samaritan. May our loving Lord God grant his grace that we remember this and keep growing in our sanctification. Amen.” *

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

[Note: Quoted passages are from Martin Luther's sermon preached on the 14 Sunday After Trinity, 1533 as recorded in Luther's House Postils, The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 6.]

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