Trinity Lutheran Church
Pastor James Preus
November 22, 2017
Last week President Trump not so subtly asked for a thank you from three college basketball players whom he helped release from custody in China, where they were arrested for alleged shoplifting. Now you may have opinions about our president and his use of Twitter, but our septuagenarian chief of state displayed a sentiment felt by many, especially those of the older generation. "The youth these days aren't grateful! They don't know how good they have it. They don't know how to say, thank you!"
And it's true, mostly! Young people are in general unappreciative. But it's not just the young. Everyone has a problem with realizing the blessings they have. Counting your blessings is a good exercise, especially in this season of thanksgiving. And we certainly have a lot to give thanks for. We're dressed in fine clothing, we eat sumptuously every day, we live in warm, dry, and clean homes. We have beating hearts and our members and senses function.
Yet to give thanks you need more than simply to count your blessings. Even an atheist can recognize his fortune in having good health and wealth. To be thankful you also need to know from whom your blessings come. When you recognize both the blessings you receive and you know who gives you these blessings, that is faith. Giving thanks is a beautiful fruit of faith. So, the thankful leper in our lesson teaches us a whole lot about saving faith.
All ten lepers cry out to Jesus asking for help. This doesn't necessarily mean that they all had faith in Jesus. Leprosy is a terrible disease. These men were in excruciating pain, not to mention they were ostracized from their families and communities. They had heard that Jesus could heal them, so they ask him for help. Suffering makes people desperate. There is a whole industry of so-called natural medicine, much of which does not work at all, but desperate people suffering from various ailments buy them, because they don't know what else to do.
Yet after Jesus heals them, only one of the ten returns to give thanks. Having faith isn't a prerequisite for being healed. God lets his rain fall on the just and the unjust and shines his sun on the wicked and the righteous alike. He feeds the unbelievers just as he does the Christians and medicine works on both those who pray and those who don't. And when someone recovers from an illness it doesn't mean that he had a stronger faith than the one, who didn't recover.
Yet Jesus says to the one thankful leper, "Your faith has made you well." Well, actually Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you." The Greek word for "save" can mean to save eternally. It can also mean to help or make someone healthy. Considering the context, that the man was just healed from leprosy, most translators think "made you well" is the most fitting translation. Yet, all ten of the lepers were made well from their leprosy. Did they all have faith? We know only of the faith of this one leper, because he gave thanks.
When Jesus heard the request of the lepers he told them to go to show themselves to the priests and on the way, they realized they were healed. Jesus didn't send the lepers to the priests to be healed of their leprosy. Jesus already healed their leprosy. He sent them to the priests, because God had established a rite to cleanse a leper after he had been healed of his leprosy. This cleansing is spiritual. The healing is physical.
Leviticus chapter fourteen explains what the priest must do for a man, who has been healed of leprosy, so that he may be clean. It involves sacrificing a pigeon and dripping blood on the leper as well as sacrificing lambs to atone for sin. Jesus tells the lepers to go to the priests in the temple. The priests would then make sacrifices for them to make them spiritually clean.
And it's not that there is something special in the blood of doves or lambs that makes lepers clean. Rather, the sacrifices are done according to the God's command and because God promises to be present in his temple. The healed lepers were going to the temple to be in God's presence and receive spiritual healing. Yet the one leper, when he saw that he was healed returned to Jesus. He gave thanks and glorified God at Jesus feet. The word used here for "give thanks" is only used in the New Testament to give thanks to God. And here the man gives thanks to God at the feet of Jesus. The man recognizes, who Jesus is. He recognizes God in Jesus. He sees in Jesus that he can get not only physical healing, but spiritual cleansing.
And this is why Jesus says, "Your faith has saved you." The man has faith in Jesus. He worships him as his God. He gives thanks to him as the provider of all good things. Yet, even more, the man sees Jesus as the source of spiritual cleansing. The dove and lambs that would be sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem were only a shadow pointing to Christ, who even then was journeying to Jerusalem, where he would be the final sacrifice for atonement, which would cleanse the whole world.
Giving thanks is not what saves you. Faith in Jesus Christ alone saves. Yet thanksgiving makes known that faith is living just as large juicy shiny apples make clear that the roots under the ground are strong and healthy. And so, when you give thanks to God you make known your faith. You acknowledge that you receive all good things from God alone. As our hymn of the day proclaims,
Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers' arms Has blessed us on our way
With countess gifts of love and still is ours today. (LSB 895)
With such proclamation of thanksgiving, we also express full confidence that God will continue to bless us throughout our lives and that we may ask him for all we need.
Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper has historically been referred to as the Eucharist. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for giving thanks. "Our Lord on the night when he was betrayed took bread and after giving thanks he broke it and gave it to them saying..." Jesus gave thanks to his Father for the Sacrament he was giving to his disciples. And we give thanks to God every time we receive this Sacrament. "It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord..." we pray before the Words of Institution every Sunday. "O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever... We give thanks to you almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift, and we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith toward You and in fervent love toward one another; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord..." We pray this prayer of thanksgiving after we receive the Sacrament.
We give thanks, because we, like the thankful leper, recognize where our true healing comes from. In our prayer of thanksgiving we confess the benefit we receive from Christ's body and blood, strengthening in faith toward God and in fervent love toward one another. These prayers of thanksgiving express our faith that the Jesus, who gave himself up to die on the cross for the atonement of our sins gives himself to us in this Sacrament with all the benefits of his dying and rising.
Thanksgiving, like faith, can be misplaced. Most people will say they have faith. Whether their faith is in the promises of the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation won through the atoning suffering and death of Jesus Christ and given through the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments is another story. Likewise, nearly everyone in America is celebrating Thanksgiving this long weekend. But for what are they thankful for? And to whom are they giving thanks? We are thankful for all good things, which God showers upon us in our lives, which we can list off from the explanations to the First Article of the Creed and the Fourth Petition, "Give us this day our daily bread" from our Small Catechism. But above all, we give thanks for Jesus, his death for our sins and resurrection, which gives us eternal life and for his coming to us now in the midst of this life. And we give thanks to the only God, who can save; the one who sent his Son to save us. Such thanksgiving is not misplaced, because such faith is not misplaced. Amen.