“Unexpected Thanksgiving” (Luke 17:11-19)

National Day of Thanksgiving
Thursday, November 24, 2011

“Unexpected Thanksgiving” (Luke 17:11-19)

It was an unexpected thanksgiving. I mean the thanksgiving recorded in today’s reading from Luke 17, the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. The thanksgiving that we find there was quite unexpected. And that may give us some guidance and inspiration for the rest of our day today, that we too may do some “Unexpected Thanksgiving.”

Oh, now you would expect people to give thanks to the person who healed them, when they had just been healed of a dreaded disease like leprosy. It was a kind of a walking death, in a way. It ostracized you, cut you off, from the rest of society. It cut you off from God, really, since you were considered “unclean” and not able to go to the temple. To be a leper was a lousy lot in life.

So you would think, to be cured of that, you would be moved to render the most heartfelt, deep thanksgiving to God and to the person who was the agent of God’s healing. That’s what you would think. Yet nine out of ten of the healed lepers didn’t. They didn’t stop to think about who this man was who healed them, who he must be, in order to do such a mighty, divine work. They didn’t come back to thank him and to praise God.

But one did. And that was the unexpected thing. The one who came back. He was, it says, a Samaritan, a foreigner.

The other guys, they were all Jews, presumably. They should have got it. They should have made the connection. “Let’s see, man heals lepers. Nobody can do that, only God. We’ve heard of this Jesus doing other such works. Maybe he’s more than just a teacher. Maybe he’s more than a prophet. Maybe he’s. . . .” See, those guys should have got it. They should have come back running, falling to their knees, thanking–worshiping–their Messiah.

But no. Who’s the only one who comes back? The Samaritan. An ethnic, religious half-breed. The Samaritans didn’t have their theology straight. They were looked down upon as a mixed race. This is not the one you should expect to “get it.” But he does, or at least he’s beginning to. He can see that God is working through–that God is in–this man Jesus, in a way beyond what he thought at first. He comes back and thanks Jesus, and Jesus commends him for his faith: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

“Your faith has made you well.” “Your faith has saved you,” the Greek could also be translated. Your faith has made you whole, saved you, made you well, in body, soul, and spirit. You see, when you come to Jesus, you get a whole lot more than just a temporary, physical healing. That’s what the ten lepers had been asking for when they cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The act of mercy they were looking for was a physical healing, to be cured of their leprosy. But Jesus has more in store than just that. Yes, there was an unexpected thanksgiving, from the Samaritan, for the healing. But more than that, there was unexpected mercy, from Jesus, more than they were asking for. Jesus is in the business of healing the whole person, restoring us not for just a few years but for eternity. The healed Samaritan was getting a whole lot more than he was expecting when he came to Jesus.

So it is for us. We get a whole lot more than what we might think when we come to Jesus. There is mercy way beyond what you expect. You would expect that good people, maybe, would get special favor from God. They should expect to receive blessings. But the unexpected mercy is that God shows grace to sinners like you and me. Not people that deserve anything. Sinners. What we should expect is only wrath and displeasure. But God shows his mercy toward us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. God shows his grace toward the weak and ungodly, people who are unable to help themselves or even inch themselves closer into God’s good favor. But that’s what God does. He’s in the forgiving-sinners business. He’s in the showing-mercy business. He’s in the healing-and-restoring-sinful-humanity business. That what he does.

And he does it in Christ. Jesus is the agent of God’s healing. The mercy and grace come through him. Christ is God in the flesh, God come to earth to do the saving-sinners job. The healing of the lepers is a demonstration of this. It’s an advance showing of what’s in store for our fallen creation because of Christ. It is unexpected mercy. God forgiving the very people who had rebelled against their Creator, and that’s us. Christ going to the cross is the way it happens. Jesus takes into his body all our sin and bears that unbearable burden on the cross. God’s Son pays the price we could not pay. Sins are forgiven. And thereby death’s hold on us is broken. Humanity will be restored as surely as Christ’s resurrection pioneers the new creation. Our dead, rotting flesh will be raised up new and glorious, perfectly whole, on the day when Christ returns. This is mercy way beyond we sinners should ever expect.

“Your faith has made you well.” Your faith has saved you, made you whole. Not because it is “your faith,” as though you has something to boast about. No, “your faith has made you well,” because it is faith in Jesus. Christ is the one who makes your saving faith saving. He packs the salvation into it.

And it is total, complete salvation, as complete as the job that Jesus accomplished. Your sins are forgiven, all of them. Your salvation is assured, forever. Your body, and all of creation, will be restored, perfectly whole. It’s as sure as your Savior, and that’s as sure as can be.

This unexpected mercy, more than you could ever dream of, prompts, brings forth, unexpected thanksgiving. Here’s what I mean. Even when times are tough, even when circumstances are such, that people would not expect you be thankful, you are. “In any and every circumstance,” as Paul says, you can rejoice, you are content, you have something to be thankful for. That’s because your joy and contentment and thanksgiving are not dependent on this or that passing circumstance. Your thanksgiving is greater than your circumstance, because you have received unexpected and unfathomable mercy. It’s more than anyone could imagine. And it’s a sure thing. And so you give thanks.

Even in the midst of an extended economic downturn, such as our country has been experiencing, we give thanks. When disease is racking our bodies, when distress is haunting our minds, when our conscience is troubled because of our sins, the gospel sneaks in once again and reminds us whose we are and what Christ has done for us, and then thanksgiving returns. Unexpectedly, perhaps. People don’t expect you to be thankful in such times, but you are. Maybe you even surprise yourself.

To be sure, we do give thanks to God for the various blessings that come into our life, the unmistakably good things that come our way: the birth of a healthy grandchild; the diagnosis that turns out OK; the prospect of a surgery that will fix this or that problem; the fact that we have a roof over our head and clothes on our back and food on the table. These are all good things, and we do give thanks for them. National blessings, too, which is what this National Day of Thanksgiving is supposed to be about: bountiful harvests; an incredible supply of natural resources; relative prosperity, when looked at in worldwide and historical terms–Americans are so much better off, even when there’s a slight dip in the economic line. We give thanks to God for these things.

And as Christians, we have all our spiritual blessings to thank God for, too. That we have the gift of faith, to trust in Christ our Savior–this is the work of the Holy Spirit, creating and nourishing our faith. We thank God for the church, where we hear the saving Gospel and receive the Blessed Sacrament. Freedom to worship in this blessed land–not everyone has this freedom in other parts of the world. We give thanks to God for all these blessings. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

So we have much to be thankful for. The blessings of Creation–home, family, health, bounty. The blessings of Redemption and Sanctification–forgiveness of sins, righteousness before God, the sure hope of everlasting life through Christ our Savior; the church, the means of grace. The list goes on and on.

So why don’t you go on–at least a little bit–throughout the day today? Do something unexpected: Give thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day. Not many people do that, you know. I mean, actually, verbally, give thanks to God, out loud, for his many blessings. Hardly anybody does that anymore. Surprise people a bit. Give thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day. Shock your relatives. Amaze your friends. There’s more to this day than football and turkey and getting ready to go shopping. The really amazing, unexpected thing to do on Thanksgiving Day is to thank God.

Yes, unexpected Thanksgiving for unexpected mercy, God’s bountiful mercy in Christ Jesus our Lord, more mercy than anyone could ever ask or imagine!

Published in: on November 23, 2011 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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