Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Sermon: Thanksgiving Eve - 2017

22 November 2017

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In our Gospel, 90% of the people that Jesus served didn’t really understand the mission of Jesus at all.  One of the ten, a guy most people would dismiss as a “foreigner,” did understand Christianity.

I think today’s numbers are worse.  Even among Christians!

Most people think of the Christian faith as “being good” – or perhaps more so today, being “nice” or being “inclusive.”  Being a Christian is, in the eyes of many, being a Democrat or a Republican, being an American, or being critical of America, being a capitalist or being a communist.  In fact, being a Christian is transcends all such understanding.  To be a Christian is to give thanks, and not just one time, but at all times, constantly, in fact.

And likewise, many like to pontificate about Jesus, in a sense, attempting to create a God in their own image, instead of letting God be God, the God who took human flesh, died for the sins of the world, and who comes to us in the manner of His choosing: the cross, the font, the pulpit, the altar, the confessional, the vocations of those who serve God and neighbor, and by the words of the Holy Scriptures.

But what does this have to do with the grateful leper in our Gospel text?  What does this have to do with us, or this holiday of Thanksgiving, with football and turkeys?

Dear friends, our problem is death.  Our problem is sin.  Our problem is that we are broken.  We can’t fix it with medicine, technology, ecology, will power, therapy, education, or any other way.  We can’t fix it, period.  We are like lepers suffering with a debilitating disease.  In a very real sense, we are all dying of a terminal disease.

And so along comes Jesus.  The Word of God who becomes God in the flesh, the Creator who has become the Savior, the one who has been sinned against but who comes to put things right through forgiving us, the sacrificial Lamb who dies the death we deserve.  He heals us like He healed the ten – He declares it done, and it is so.  Our healing, our salvation, comes from the mouth of the Lord.

What do the ten do with their new bodies, their renewed minds, their newly freed spirits?  Well, nine of them don’t return – and Jesus is clearly aghast: “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Dear friends, the Christian life is that we “return and give praise to God” by leading lives of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We give thanks because someone has done us a good turn and given us something.  And in the case of Jesus, that Someone has given us eternal life, victory over the grave, dominion over the devil, a second chance, a new lease on life, a transformation in body and soul that no force in heaven or on earth can take away from us!

He died for us on the cross and washed us from our old sinful dying nature through Holy Baptism.  He proclaims this gift to us through the preaching of the Good News.  He liberates us from this body of death by Holy Absolution.  And He invites us to the greatest Thanksgiving feast of all: Holy Communion with Him in His body and blood – for the word “Eucharist” is literally Greek for “Thanksgiving.”

And having been cleansed, we turn back, “praising God with a loud voice.”  And we do this when we serve our neighbor by our deeds, when we worship God and praise Him for His mercy, when we support our congregation by our sacrifice of thanksgiving, calling on the name of the Lord in the Divine Service.  We do this when we fall at Jesus’s feet by studying the Scriptures, by praying, by learning all that we can about Him and His kingdom, and when we teach our children and the children of others how Jesus has saved us, cured us, and gave us everlasting life.

This is the Christian life, and it is a life of joyful service, not begrudging rule-following.  It is a life of the desire to be where Jesus is, not a life of complaining that we “have to go to church.”  It is a life of the freedom to love our neighbor in many and various ways because we have been set free to do so, not a life of trying to be good enough to get into heaven by selfish "good works” – because you’re just not that good, and neither am I. 

The Christian life is the life of the tenth leper.  And far from being a life of drudgery, it is a life of liberty and celebration, a life in which every day is a Thanksgiving Feast, a cheerful acknowledgment that we have been cured of the leprosy of mortality and the ultimate end of death and hell – even though that is what we deserve.

We have so much to be thankful for, dear friends.  We live in a prosperous and free country.  We enjoy the pinnacle of technology and comfort.  We are free from the sword of the invader on our soil.  We revel in luxuries and riches that even kings and queens could not have imagined in our grandparents’ days. 

But even more than that, dear friends, we have a God who is also our Savior, a merciful Lord who is also our Salvation, our Priest who is also our Lamb, our Great Physician of body and soul who comes directly to us and answers our own plea: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” by marking us with the sign of the cross and declaring us off-limits to the devil, compelling death to pass over us as we enjoy a meal celebrating our exodus from slavery, so that “you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  The Christian life is a Thanksgiving Feast that never ends!

This is the Christian life, dear friends!  It is a bounty, a feast, a celebration of life, an eruption of boundless and eternal joy!  For “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  

Let us give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!  And His mercy endureth forever!  Amen.

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

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