Pastor Aaron Steinbrenner delivers a sermon entitled “Give Thanks to the Lord for He is Good His Mercy Endures Forever” at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, 2019
Oh Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. Amen.
That’s probably one of the first prayers we ever learned. We still speak it before or after meals. From early on we were taught to say thank you. If my kids ever go out to eat with another family or spend the night at someone’s house, one of the first questions I ask: Did you say Thank you?
In our communion liturgy the pastor says, Let us give thank to the Lord…and you say, It is good and right so to do. It is good and right to say thank you. It is particularly good and right to say thank you to the Lord. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do or that we always remember when and how to say thank you. In our Gospel for today we see a fine example of gratitude and we see forgetfulness and ingratitude on display. And maybe there’s something we can learn from these ten lepers, and how Jesus treats them.
There are some little details we won’t want to skip over.
Now on his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus had traveled to Jerusalem before…but this time it would be different. This time his trip would include his arrest, cruel mockings, brutal beatings, and excruciating death. So much must have been on his mind and heart. When I have a lot on my mind…when I have a gut-wrenching event about to take place in my life I find that I often have tunnel vision – I think about me and my feelings – and I inadvertently block out and ignore the needs and concerns of those around me. Not Jesus. He takes the time and gives the attention to these ten men. They were hurting and burdened and Jesus, even with his own gut-wrenching event right around the corner, was there for them.
A word about leprosy – you would want to it. Today there are treatments that can reduce or take away the symptoms, but 2000 years ago these ten men didn’t have those medical advancements. Leprosy was considered incurable and contagious and unclean. Not only did these men have the pain and physical discomfort associated with the disease, they were also considered social outcasts. They needed to keep their distance from society. They lived with pain and shame and embarrassment…and all this in isolation. That explains why they stood at a distance.
And yet Jesus wasn’t too busy or too distracted. In fact, traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee…going into a village…it appears Jesus is arranging his travel plans to accommodate these men…to have his path intersect with theirs. They, by law and by their own infirmity, needed to stay away. So what does Jesus do? He draws near.
I’ve always heard and read that one of the symptoms of leprosy is a loss of voice, a deterioration of the vocal chords. And so with all their might, they cry out in a loud voice: Jesus, Master, have pity on us. A beautiful prayer…not just from the mouth of a leper but from the mouth of a sinner. Jesus, we are empty…fill us. Jesus, we are helpless…save us. Jesus, we are unable to heal ourselves or make ourselves clean…but you can. Jesus, Master, our only hope is you…have pity. A broken and contrite heart, our Lord will never despise. And he didn’t.
Jesus heals them. I imagine those ten men were relieved…happy…grateful…ecstatic to be healed…to be reunited with their families…to re-enter society. What a blessing. Only one man took the time to express his relief…his happiness…his gratitude…and to direct a whole-hearted Thank You to the One responsible for his good fortune. He praised God in a loud voice…threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.
It’s way too easy to use our hands to catch and grab all the good blessings God gives…it’s much harder to take the time to fold those hands and say thank you. It’s way too easy to throw ourselves at hobbies and jobs and families and upkeep of property…it’s much harder to throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet and say thank you for giving me all those things. Ingratitude and forgetfulness is in our blood…it’s our natural tendency…it’s our default setting. And it takes a miracle to change that.
In our Gospel we see two big miracles. One, Jesus heals ten lepers. Another, Jesus ignites the faith of that Samaritan leper and moves him to be grateful. Jesus can do the same for you and me. The more we focus on his mercy, the more we are moved to say thank you.
CNN published a story called: Places to Find Gratitude. It highlighted five or six individuals and asked them, Where do you find gratitude and serenity?
- Pat – he lives just a few minutes from Shenandoah National Park. He goes hiking and surrounds himself with waterfalls and mountains and foliage. That gives him peace and gratitude.
- Anne – she turns her living room into what she calls a Cruise Ship. She uses her fancy glassware, makes a tropical drink, plays relaxing music and loses herself in a good book.
- Lysa – when she needs grounding, she drives to the Dream Center in Los Angeles and volunteers at a shelter for people who are down and out. It helps her appreciate her job, her home, her meals, her life.
Can I end today by offering some suggestions of places you can go for peace and serenity?
(especially as we celebrate Thanksgiving)
- I suppose you could walk to the parking lot. There you’ll likely hop into a car that can take you home, to work, to church, to a grocery store.
- Drive down Main Street – and be thankful for the freedom and safety we often take for granted.
- You could pull that car into your driveway. And take a look at that home or apartment. Those walls protect you. That roof covers you.
- You could step into your kitchen or pantry and be thankful for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
I have a few other places…even better than those.
- Take a daily journey to the baptismal font. There, Jesus – not too busy or too distracted, came to your little village…he drew near to you and made you his own.
- Hike up Calvary’s mountain and stand at the cross. And see that same Jesus bleed and die so you could live in his forgiveness.
- Wake up every morning in the shadow of a tomb that is empty – and say it silently or out loud – “He lives, my victory’s won!”
- Turn your living room not into a cruise ship but an ark. Get your fancy glassware if you’d like and play some quiet music. And then find yourself in the Good Book.
And then throw yourself at Jesus’ feet…not just because it’s Thanksgiving and you are a good, polite and thankful Christian…but because he found you…loved you…cleansed you…had mercy on you. Give thanks to the Lord because his mercy endures forever! Amen.