Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving

Sermon on Luke 17:11-19
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
November 22, 2012 (Day of National Thanksgiving)

An enemy.  That’s what the man who came back to give thanks was, an enemy.  The Samaritans were considered the enemies of the Jews, because they claimed to worship the true God, but they worshiped Him in a different place than He had commanded, and in a different way, and their beliefs were different.  But it was a Samaritan who came back to thank Jesus for healing him of his leprosy.  The other nine, whom we can presume were Jews, did not return to thank Jesus.  And it wasn’t just that they had to go and show themselves to the priests, either.  After all, Jesus had commanded them to do that.  They could have come back after the priests had pronounced them clean and thanked Jesus.  But they didn’t.  Only this Samaritan, this enemy of the Jewish people, this foreigner, came back to thank Jesus for what had been done for Him.

We see the same thing happen in our own day.  Often you can tell whether a person was raised a Christian or whether he became a Christian as an adult by observing how he acts.  Those who have been converted as adults find it much easier to show their gratitude for what God has done for them in their everyday lives, while those of us who have always been Christians have grown up with the idea and so we are not so likely to become emotional or excited about God’s gifts the way that those who are new to the faith are.  It is hard to become emotional or excited about something you have always taken for granted, unless some experience teaches you anew the value of what you have been given.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we, along with the rest of the world, have been given many blessings by God over the course of our lives.  We owe our very existence to His continued vigilance in sustaining our lives and keeping us safe.  If He took His eyes off us for even a moment we would simply cease to exist.  He sustains us in so many ways.  In response to the question, “What is meant by daily bread?” Luther gives us this a rather long list: “Everything that belongs to the support and wants of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, field, cattle, money, goods, a pious spouse, pious children, pious servants, pious and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, discipline, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.”  And of course this is only a partial list.  In our modern age we could add to this electricity, automobiles, computers and other forms of modern technology, and many other things which support our lives in this world.  And of course we who are Christians have the highest gift of all to thank God for, the gift of His son Jesus, our Savior, along with the Means of Grace by which our faith is sustained and nourished, and through which we receive the eternal life which Christ has won for us.

But these are things that it is too easy to take for granted.  The sun shines both on the just and the unjust, and so it is easy to forget that it is God who gives it.  Those of us who have been Christians for a very long time may take for granted the salvation which is ours through Christ, forgetting how infinitely great was His sacrifice in humiliating Himself, even to the point of death, so that we might have eternal life.  It is easy to take God’s blessings to us for granted, and it is especially easy to do so because of the fact that we are sinners.  The old sinful Adam in us doesn’t want to acknowledge God as the giver of all these good gifts.  Our pride will not allow us to admit that we are dependent upon God, or upon anyone else for that matter, for our survival or our well-being.  And ultimately that is the root cause of the unthankful attitude into which we so often fall: pride.  How can I thank someone for doing something for me if my pride gets in the way and says that I should have been able to do it myself?  We become like little children who, instead of thanking their parents for helping them with some task, start kicking and screaming and saying, “No!  I wanna do it myself!”  Our Old Adam, in his sinful pride, keeps us from being thankful to our Lord for His many gifts to us.

But the amazing thing is that God continues to give.  He continues to give “clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and home,” and so forth even to the vast majority in this world who never thank Him for it, or who are thankful to their own false gods for the things that the true God has given to them.  He continues to give us the Means of Grace even though so often we receive them with a ho-hum sort of attitude that shows no appreciation for Christ’s great sacrifice.  In fact, that always has been the remarkable thing about God’s generosity.  Not only does He continue to give to those who do not appreciate it, but in fact He has been working with us this way for a long, long time.  “God showed His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  And in fact, God gives us the ability to be thankful.  Through His Law He crushes our prideful hearts which don’t want to acknowledge that He is the giver of all our blessings, and most importantly through the Gospel He makes us new.  He creates in us clean hearts and renews a right spirit within us.  It is only because of the faith that He has given us, the new heart, the new spirit, created through Word and Sacrament, that we are able to thank Him rightly for the many blessings He has given us.  The fact that we are able to give thanks to God is itself something to be thankful for!

God has given us everything that we are and everything that we have.  Our natural response to His generosity is to ignore Him and to pretend that we are independent, self-sufficient creatures who don’t depend upon Him for anything.  This was the response of the nine Jewish lepers who were healed by Jesus.  But one of those lepers was different.  The Samaritan, of all of them, had been healed in his heart as well as his body, and he came back to thank Jesus for what He had done for him.  We have been healed in our souls just like that Samaritan.  We, like him, return here week after week, as well as on other occasions such as today, to thank Him for His generosity toward us, and to show our gratitude by continuing to receive His highest blessings, namely fellowship with Him through Word and Sacrament, and life everlasting.  God gives us everything we are and everything we have, not only for this life, but for the life to come.  The faith He has given us through the Means of Grace has healed us.  Therefore it is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places thank and praise, serve and obey Him.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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