Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve – 2011

23 November 2011 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. We all know we should be grateful. We are all taught to say “thank you.” We all know that there is something terribly wrong when a person is an ingrate. But with God, this is not just a matter of being polite.

For unlike us, God is not concerned about His own feelings or His ego. God is perfectly all-loving. And so when the Lord speaks through St. Paul to tell us: “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” it must be for something other than not hurting God’s feelings or for us not to look like a social oaf. In fact, St. Paul completes the thought by saying that as a result: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So when we “offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving” and “call on the name of the Lord” – it is really for our benefit, not to give God a big head.

What is it about gratitude that is so important? After all, we have already received the benefit of God’s grace, haven’t we? Moses recounted to the people how God had already promised to bring the people “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, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing…. And you shall eat and be full.”

Indeed, this promised land could well describe our own America – for we lack nothing and we most certainly “shall eat and be full” – especially tomorrow!

So what difference does it make if we are grateful or not? What does it matter to us if we pray? As we confess with Luther in the Small Catechism: “God certainly gives daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”

Dear friends, when we receive with thanksgiving, we confess that we have indeed received unworthily. We acknowledge God’s love for us, and we accept these gifts of God on faith. And as we all know, faith is important! Faith is our lifeline to continue receiving these gifts. For, dear brothers and sisters, apart from faith we can do nothing. Apart from faith we have no hope. Apart from faith we have no life in us! And so, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving is a sacrifice made in faith, the faith with which we commune with the living God, the faith through which we are saved.

And this, dear friends, is the work of Christ! He is the Victim and the Priest; He is the Host and the Feast; He is our Life and Salvation. To Him belong thanksgiving, because He is the Giver of every good gift. And He is the Gift itself!

Indeed, the Lord Jesus cured ten lepers – the grateful and the ungrateful. He took away their sickness, their shame, gave them the gift of life, and restored to them that which was lost. He did this through His Word and His presence in the world. And only one returned in thanksgiving, “one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God in a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.”

This man received God’s grace in faith – genuine saving faith. And this man offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving and calls on the name of the Lord. He comes to where Jesus is found in His flesh and in His Word, fulfilling promises, healing, saving, and strengthening faith. This man came to Jesus to offer thanks and praise to the One who saved Him! And he, not Jesus, is the beneficiary. It is his faith that is strengthened by Christ’s faithfulness.

Our Lord observes: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Our Lord is not concerned with etiquette or even with His own feelings. For listen to the next thing the Lord pronounces, dear friends. “And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”

Dear brothers and sisters, we all have much for which to give thanks. Did you just draw a breath of air? God created an atmosphere with just the right mix of oxygen. By means of a complex series of electrical impulses and muscular contractions, you pulled just the right amount of air into your nostrils and windpipe, led into your lungs and air sacs, transferring just the right amount of oxygen through the microscopic walls of your capillaries, enriching your blood to nourish every cell in your body, exchanging oxygen for wastes, which are returned in the same bloodstream to be exhaled as carbon dioxide through your nose. And you live to draw another breath. And if this process is interrupted for even a few minutes, we die. The Lord watches over us in “plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” In the spirit of thanksgiving, we learn to depend on the Lord and “in whatever situation to be content.”

We live in a country where most people around the world would like to live. We are free to come and worship the True God without fear of persecution. Even the poor among us are well-fed and live in luxury compared to the vast majority of the world’s people. We are blessed to have homes, cars, vacations, clothing, health care, televisions, entertainments, conveniences, technology, temperate weather, and many other things we pray for when we ask for “our daily bread.” And most of all, we have salvation through the blood of Christ who saves us at the cross and delivers salvation to us in His Word and in His sacraments! We can, like the Tenth Leper, approach Jesus, adore and worship Him, thank Him, and receive Him in His flesh and in His Word. And we come, unworthy as we are, to this rail where He blesses us and proclaims anew the forgiveness of sins, granting communion with the Most Holy Trinity, and bestowing upon us eternal life.

What more could we ever want or need in this body and life, dear friends! What more could we ever desire at this time and in this place?

Let us live each day of our lives in fervent and humble gratitude for all that our Savior has done for us, continues to do for us, and will do for us unto all eternity! Let us realize that our faith – which is itself a gift of our Savior – is a faith that has made us well! Let us continually offer our lives as thanksgiving, enjoying the gifts of God – both temporal and eternal. Let us pray every moment of our lives, praying with every breath we draw, praying with gratitude and thankfulness for Him who gave everything for our sakes.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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

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