Sermons > 2014 -November 23, 2014 >Thanksgiving
Today, in our nation and our history, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving. It is a day when many of us gather with family and friends to rejoice in all of the things we have as Americans. In the Church, we have adopted this holiday to our own calendar so that we can thank God for all the things He has given us, for the Christian realizes that everything he has really comes not from his own hand, but from the hand of God. Now as Christians, what we are most grateful for is no secret. In fact, it is the answer to the most common Sunday School question – Jesus. We are grateful that God sent His Son to die for us that we would have the forgiveness of all our sins. And we reflect that by coming here today to worship and thank God for His benevolence. In that sense, we are like that one leper in this morning's Gospel who returned to give Christ thanks and praise.
If we look across our country today, we know this isn't a day when most people attend church. Many people are at home right now preparing for later on, spending time with family, getting ready for afternoon football. Human logic begs to ask the question: Are we better Christians than everyone else who is not here today? Does God look more favorably upon us than them? Are they maybe like those other 9 lepers who were healed who just go off and disappear from the story?
We can reach those conclusions through human logic, but as forgiven sinners, we realize that we're not more esteemed than anyone else who isn't here today. We're not better and we don't deserve to be loved by God more. For we know that His mercy and forgiveness come only by His grace – not by the number of times we come to church. And remember, while we come here today on Thanksgiving, the people who go to church on Christmas day will ask where we are.
Our story for today's Gospel reading goes past what a person does for any one day or one morning. It is rather about an attitude that prevails over one's entire life. So, let's talk about the 3 people present in today's story – the single leper, the other 9 and about Jesus.
The single leper in today's story stands out for a lot of reasons. First, by who he is – a Samaritan. Samaritans were a group of people who lived North of Jerusalem. They were descendants of mixed marriages between Jews and Gentiles. They weren't really welcome in Jerusalem because they had Gentile blood in their genealogies. In fact, Jesus Himself calls this Samaritan a "foreigner" when he returns to thank Him.
Second, this single leper stands out because of what he does – he returns to thank Jesus for healing him. Why is this so significant other than the fact that it's courteous and polite? Because the Samaritan believes that Jesus is doing God's work. The story says that he returned praising God with a loud voice. He attributed this healing by Jesus to God, which means He acknowledges God's presence in the man Jesus Christ. The Pharisees and Saducees all accused Jesus of blasphemy when He compared Himself to God. But this Samaritan, this man who on top of everything else against him was also a leper, believed that Jesus was doing God's work. So, he returns and literally falls on his face at the feet of Jesus.
What a contrast this leper's action was to his other nine companions. But who were they, what do we know about them? Well, they all had leprosy too. And you want to know something else? They were probably all Jewish. You see, because they had leprosy, people really didn't want them in the Holy City either. So, they probably headed North to Samaria to be among the other outcasts. They probably met up with the Samaritan leper there and they said, "Hey, he knows his way around town, let's hang out with him." You see, Luke doesn't identify their nationality because he wants the reader to draw the conclusion that there was nothing wrong with it, which means they weren't foreigners like this Samaritan.
Then one day, they all hear Jesus is coming to town. So they rush out to greet Him. Jesus says, "Go show yourselves to the priests and they go. Along the way, they're healed. But then the 9 just keep on going. Let's think about this for a minute. Why don't they come back? Why don't they thank Him? Well, they're healed now. That means they can finally go back to the Holy City – the only place where they think God really is, that means they can go back to their families, they can go into the Temple precincts again, that means they're not outcasts anymore. How long have they been waiting for this? How excited must they be to go back to Jerusalem? You see, that day wasn't Thanksgiving for them, it was Christmas – time to enjoy the new gifts.
You know, sometimes in life we're like that single leper. We remember to give thanks and praise to God for all the blessings we have in life. We thank Him for healing us or our children when we're sick, we thank Him for protecting us from danger or maybe for that end of the year bonus in our paychecks. But in all honesty, far more often we're like those other 9 lepers. We get so excited about the gift that we forget about the Giver. Just think of what a child's like on his birthday when he gets all those presents – he runs outside to play with them while you're trying to scream, "Hey, remember to say thank you!" It's a child like mentality, but in many ways, we never really outgrow it.
You know, I don't think those other 9 lepers were necessarily evil or wicked people. I mean, who wouldn't be in a hurry to go home if you were in their shoes. But it is the Samaritan leper who really shows that he recognizes what just happened. He realizes that the healing wasn't about him, but it was rather about the One who healed him, about His identity as Christ, the one chosen by God to deliver all of Israel.
In our story, we see Jesus who has made it clear that He has come to save the lost sheep of Israel because He is Israel's Messiah. But here, as in other passages of Luke, we see that boundless and limitless grace that will not be contained or restricted by any borders. If we look back to the beginning of today's reading, we see that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. He travels through Samaria where He meets people who are rejected, despised and shamed. Jesus heals them and then He continues on His way to Jerusalem where He will become the despised object of rejection and shame. In Jerusalem, the Holy City, Jesus will become unclean. There, He will not only be ostracized from his own Jewish people, but from His own Father. Jesus will choose the cross and become God's outcast.
The grace Jesus shows this foreigner also tells of His love for us. For we are all foreigners, none of whom have a right to God because of our birth or our works in this life. But like that Samaritan leper, we come to Jesus with our leprosy and our foreignness and He makes us clean and makes us a part of God's family. No longer are we strangers to God's house.
Jesus told the lepers, go and show yourselves to the priests. But before the lepers that day stood a greater priest, one who could Himself offer up a sacrifice that would cleanse them spiritually. Yes, that day the Samaritan did not go to Jerusalem where quite possibly the other 9 lepers thought God could be found. For the Samaritan knew the true priest was not at the Temple, so he did not go there to worship. Instead, he fell at the feet of Jesus knowing that before him stood the true presence of God.
On this Thanksgiving Day, we come here to give God the glory. For God reveals Himself in His Word and in His body and blood. We come here to bow our heads and humbly ask God for mercy. And there is salvation in His reply. "Go your way, your faith has saved you," Jesus told the Samaritan. You see, faith recognizes who Jesus is. Faith brings you to the place where God can be found. And in response to what Jesus has done for us, we thank Him and worship Him. We drop the rest of the day's preparations and festivities to come to His house and sit in His presence. For all of those material things are only ours because of God's charity. So today, let us be mindful of God's graciousness and thank Him for His provisions – those that He gives us to sustain this body and life and those that prepare us for the life that is to come. Amen.
Pastor Chris Bramich