Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve - 2010

24 November 2010 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.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, once again we have come to that time of year where we stop and give thanks. It is a busy time of year, with cooking, with travel, with decorating, with receiving guests, with shopping, and perhaps even scheduling and preparing for a whirlwind of parties – which in some cases are more mandatory business and stressful family obligations.

Perhaps when we are busy and distracted is the best time to take a little pause, to reflect, to meditate on our blessings, and give thanks to our generous and merciful Lord. For the easy thing is to just rush on to the next hurdle on the obstacle course of life, like nine of the ten lepers who received healing from our Lord in response to their desperate prayer: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

Of the ten, only one returned – and he was one of the outcast Samaritans. And although it took barely any time at all, he paused from his own busy life and “[praised] God with a loud voice.” He “fell on His face at Jesus’ feet,” and he gave “thanks.” Our Lord Jesus not only blessed him and taught him about the mystery and the blessing of faith, He also used this grateful leper as an object lesson for our benefit. The Holy Spirit has yet again brought this revelation to us for our meditation.

For we are indeed busy like the nine. But there is a great blessing in giving thanks like the one.

And notice that the Samaritan leper didn’t pay for Jesus’s service like a doctor. He did not call in a favor like the powerful of this world do. Nor did he bring anything to the table other than his own helplessness. Remember that the ten were lepers, unclean beggars, rejected by the world and clinging to their rotting flesh, knowing that they were dying. They came to Jesus with nothing and left with everything. They came dying and left living. They asked for mercy, and they received grace and favor. They presented their dying flesh and were given healing, forgiveness, life, and a fresh start.

Dear friends, there could be no more clear picture of our Lord’s ministry among us, no better explanation of the Christian faith and life, no more Christ-centered confession of who God is and what He has in store for us, nor any greater articulation as to why we come here to this place to hear the healing words of our Master and to turn back to Him again and again to worship and give thanks.

For we too are unclean lepers with sinful flesh leading us to death. We are sinners burdened with the wages of sin. We are beggars, crying out in our liturgy “Lord, have mercy!” And we are receivers of gifts, of forgiveness, life, and salvation, of the Gospel, of the blood of the Lord, people whose sinful flesh has been cleansed by baptismal water. And though the world often treats us as leprous outcasts, we are the beloved of the Lord, we who come into His presence with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.

We fall at the feet of our Savior singing: “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” even as we pray: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”

For like the lepers, all the blood of goats and calves cannot take away our mortal sickness. Only the blood of Christ, shed for you, can do that. Like the lepers, our faith – faith in Christ alone as Savior and Redeemer – can cure our own uncleanness and mortality. And this is exactly what He does, dear friends! We do not offer the Lord a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, but rather we offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” in response to the Lord’s offering to us: His atoning and “all-availing sacrifice of His body and blood on the cross.”

Unlike the lepers, we do not need to heed the Lord’s instructions to “go and show yourselves to the priests.” There are no more Levitical priests to declare anything in God’s creation to be “clean” or “unclean.” For the Lord Himself, the Author of Life, our Great High Priest has declared us clean through His priestly administration of the forgiveness of sins, and as a result, all Christians exercise their own baptismal priesthood to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise, together with all the saints, falling down at our Lord’s feet in grateful worship.

For we, like the lepers, are unworthy recipients of the Lord’s gifts. We have been given the privilege to live, to exist, to have heard the revelation of our own history from God, to have the joy of knowing our Creator – especially through the Word Made Flesh and the Word preached and proclaimed in Holy Scripture.

We give thanks to our Creator for creating us, and even though by our own rebellion, we deserve death and hell, we thank Him for His mercy that He instead gives us life and the invitation to stand before His throne as citizens of a Kingdom that will have no end. And even though our Lord disciplines us “as a man disciplines his son,” we know that He disciplines us out of love, bringing us into a “good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey.”

The Lord has good things in store for us, dear brothers and sisters, things that will not wear out or fade away! And let us never forget, dear Christians, that we do not deserve this. We are unworthy. We are beggars. And we pray for mercy. But that is how our Lord is. He is merciful. He cares for you. He hears your prayer. He has plans for you. He will take care of you in this life and unto eternity.

This promise, sealed by the Lord’s blood on the cross, made ours through baptism, strengthened by the Lord’s Supper, given to us again and again in the Good News of forgiveness proclaimed and preached, revealed to us in the promises of Scripture, is why St. Paul can exhort us: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

With St. Paul we give thanks to our merciful Lord no matter what this fallen world throws at us, no matter what Satan does to try to discourage us. We can be content, trusting in the promise, knowing that our faith is rooted in Him who is faithful and who will what He promises to do. As the apostle confesses: “I know how to be brought low, and how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things who strengthens me.”

For our Lord has cleansed the leprosy of our sins and rolled back our mortality to reveal to us what we shall become, what we are destined to be, what we have been created to be, and what, by God’s mercy and promise, we will be.

This, dear friends, is why we give thanks. “This is the feast of victory for our God. For the Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia. Allueluia.”

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

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

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

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