Give Thanks from the Bottom of Your Heart
A sermon based on Luke 17:11-19
October 17, 2010 – Pentecost 21C
The little boy tore through the paper tossing it aside. He looked at the toy he'd just unwrapped and exclaimed with delight, "It's awesome! I love it!" and with excitement he ran off to play with it. Grandma was glad her grandson like the present, but mom looked unhappy. "Hold it!" she called to her son. "Before you run off to play with it, isn't there something you're forgetting?" "Oh, yeah!" the boy called over his shoulder, "Thanks, grandma!" And he was gone.
Ever seen that scenario take place? Ever been the little boy in that scenario? If we're honest with ourselves and with each other we have to admit that we haven't always been very thankful for the blessings we have. We take the gifts God gives us with joy, but then run off forgetting to thank him, or at best, we shout "Oh, yeah! Thanks God!" half-heartedly as we run off to use the blessings he's given.
This morning as we see one who is truly thankful for the blessings he'd received from God, we're reminded that we too should and can give thanks to God from the bottom of our hearts—with hearts that have been made clean, with hearts full of love. Listen to the first half of our gospel lesson recorded for us in Luke 17…
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
I. A Heart Made Clean
I'm sure it's not a pleasant thing to be a leper, but as unpleasant as it would be today, it must have been far worse in 1st Century Israel. You see, not only did you struggle with a life threatening disease that slowly and painfully ate away at your body one limb or organ at a time, but you were also cut off. As contagious as the disease is, once someone was diagnosed with the deadly disease—with that first white spot that appeared on the hand or the arm or the head—you would be an outcast. No longer permitted to function in society, always forced to keep your distance from others—cut off even from your own family—your spouse, your kids. And to some, worse still, was the fact that you would be cut off from temple worship—cut off from the Lord—unable to perform the required sacrifices or observe the prescribed feasts.
In Leviticus 13:45-46 God gave the rule: "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp." Lepers would live cut off and separated from everyone else while they were slowly and painfully eaten away until finally that welcome death would come.
But for these ten lepers there was hope. The ten so accustomed to shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" picked up a new chant that day. "Unclean! Unclean!" became "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" And what a beautiful prayer it was! In this short prayer they express so much. They express their faith that Jesus could cure them of this incurable disease if he chose to; that he had the power to help them. And they expressed their own unworthiness of such help. "Jesus, Master—we're nothing but slaves. Have pity on us, because we know we can make no demands, we deserve no such help from the likes of you."
And by that faith, Jesus did heal them. We know they had faith—all ten—because of how they respond to Jesus' command. He didn't say, "Be healed," but "Go! See the priests—the health inspectors—who would decide if they were clean or unclean." (cf. Leviticus 14) And in that "Go" a promise is implied: "You will be healed." They took Jesus at his word and "as they went" Luke tells us, "they were cleansed"—miraculously restored! Made acceptable again—physically (with perfect health again), socially (no longer outcasts), and spiritually (able to go to the temple once more)! What a gift these ten were given!
But friends, as awesome as that gift was, it's nothing compared to what we've been given…
You see you and I were born with a disease: the deadly—spiritually and eternally deadly—disease of sin. Like leprosy it worked its way through our bodies often painfully as it sought to take our lives. And like leprosy it made us unacceptable. Sure, we were acceptable to the rest of society affected with the same disease as we all lived in the same colony of death. But we were all alike unacceptable to God—cut off from him. As Isaiah put it, "your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2)
By the sins of grumbling and griping against God for all things he hasn't given us, by the whining and complaining against him for all the blessings that should be ours, for our ingratitude and silence for all we have—the ordinary blessings of food and shelter, of relative health and peace, and the extraordinary gifts of his grace and love, his Word, his forgiveness—by these sins we were cut off from him and destined to be cut off from him forever
But Jesus has the power to help us. And when we cry out to him "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" recognizing that no cure can be found on our own, recognizing how unworthy of any help from Jesus we are, when we appeal to his compassion and mercy and not to our works, he does have pity on us. He did have pity on us. By the miracles Jesus performed we know that he isn't just some great teacher that lived thousands of years ago, but God himself—God in the flesh. We know, then, that Jesus' death on the cross wasn't just the death of some guy, but the death of God. We know, then that his death counted as an acceptable payment for our sins.
And by our faith in him, when we take him at his Word as the lepers did, we are healed. We are made clean and pure—the leprosy of sin removed forever. We are made acceptable God again and able to enter into his presence—into heaven itself. What a gift we have been given! Our hearts are made clean! And for such a gift we can't help but thank him as our hearts are filled with love…
II. A Heart Filled with Love
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well."
As the ten made their way to the temple, how exciting it must have been to realize that they were healed! The painful, deadly disease that had taken them had been destroyed! They could go home! They could go back to their families! They could go back to the temple! And we can only assume that out of obedience to Jesus and out of excitement to return to the lives they once had before this horrible disease—that's exactly where the nine went: to the temple to get the okay from the priests to return to life as normal.
But unfortunately, that's all we hear about them. Once they did return to life as normal, it seems they forgot about Jesus. Perhaps, like the little boy who tore open the present from grandma, they were so excited and absorbed in the gift they'd been given, they forgot all about the giver. Perhaps they assumed their gratitude was known and figured they didn't need to sit down and write those "Thank-You's." No wonder Jesus expressed his disappointment. He gave them such an awesome gift—not only taking away their disease, but demonstrating in no uncertain terms exactly who he was. But they didn't seem to care. It was too much to go back and give thanks and praise to him.
Only one man did a U-turn mid-trip to the temple. Seeing that he was healed!—cured of this incurable disease!—he had to go back and thank Jesus! The Samiritan—the one who knew the least of God and his promised grace—had to back to express his heartfelt gratitude. His heart was so full of love for his Savior that he shouted his praises all the way there, proclaiming to all who would listen what Jesus had done for him! And upon finding Jesus he threw himself down at his feet and thanked him again and again! No wonder Jesus expressed his pleasure with this foreigner. He said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." His trust in Jesus made him not just physically well, but would make him spiritually well for eternity. No wonder he was so full of thanks!
So how about us? Which are we? The nine? Or the one? Too often we do act like the nine, don't we? We call out to God for help and we trust that he can. But when he delivers, don't we sometimes forget to return to thank him? We're too busy. We have planes to catch, kids to fee, jobs to do, people to see, places to go—and we forget to make time to thank him.
Or perhaps we think nothing so great as what happened to these lepers has ever happened to me. If God would only take away my pain, my sickness, my debt, my problems, then I'd have cause to rejoice like the one. Then I could thank him from the bottom of my heart. But when we think that way, we're forgetting about the cross.
Look again at the blessings we have from him. We have so much to be thankful for! Every one of us! Look again at the cross! See our Savior pay the price for our ingratitude! See him remove every time we've acted more like the ten! See him erase every time we've remained silent for the amazing gifts he gives us every day! Look again at the font! Remember how he's washed your every sin away in the waters of Baptism! Look again at the altar! There he gives us his very body and blood to assure us of sins forgiven—again and again! What gifts we've been given!
And these gifts from our Savior fill our hearts with gratitude and love! We can't just go on with our lives, enjoying these blessings he pours on us without stopping to take time to say "Thanks!" We can't help but rejoice and praise God with a loud voice as we worship him and sing his praises. We can't help but shout out loud of the things he's done for us, telling all who will hear of his grace and mercy! We can't help but respond with action from hearts that overflow with love as we live to serve him in all we do.
Martin Luther put it so well, when he wrote in his explanation to the 1st Article of the Apostles' Creed: "All this God does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it. For all this I ought to thank and praise, to serve and obey him. This is most certainly true." And recognizing all he's done for us, and all he's given to us, we can't help but thank and praise, serve and obey him. We can't help but shout with the Psalmist, "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." (Psalm 107:1) Amen.