Archive for November 26th, 2009

How Are You Thankful?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Thanksgiving Eve’ November 25, 2009
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Luke 17: 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.

INRODUCTION: Allow me to pose a question to you:  Are you “Faithfully thankful” or “Thankfully faithful?”  Now this may seem like a play on words, but how you answer can have a great impact on how you approach God.  Tonight, it’s my hope that by the end of this message God will realign your heart and your faith so that you will leave here not only more thankful, but more importantly more faithful! 

I. Aside from our Savior, the main character in our Gospel lesson this evening is a Samaritan.  He is one of 10 lepers that cried out to Jesus for mercy.  We must understand that during the time of our Gospel reading, lepers were common and they usually wandered in groups.  They were required to wear a bell or clang a symbol or beat a drum and call out “Unclean, I am unclean.”  In this condition, they rarely could find work and relied on the charity of others.  The assumption then is that they were expecting food or money from Jesus and His disciples; all but one that is!  You see, the Samaritan saw past his immediate need and he set his heart on something more than just temporary help; he was centered on spiritual things; he needed a clean heart and a right relationship with God.

While this encounter was a historical occurrence, it also can be used to teach us something of ourselves.  The Samaritan leper represents you and me, and indeed all of mankind, who are according to Jesus’ appraisal of the Samaritan in verse 18, foreigners.  We really are foreign to God’s perfect righteousness, and considered unclean or unholy because of our common disease, “sin.”   Just as the 10 lepers together cried out to Jesus for mercy, we too cry out to God for help, but the cry of a true Christian, like that of the Samaritan is one that seeks something more than just help with physical needs.  In our worship on Sunday morning, we all call out to God this way when we sing the Kyrie, which means “Lord have mercy.”  Like the 10 lepers, maybe not all of us were asking for the same things.  Let me show you what I mean.

 If you notice in verses 16 and 17, there were 10 lepers who cried to God for mercy, but only one returned to Jesus to thank Him and glorify His name.  We read: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him–and he was a Samaritan.”  I submit to you that this Samaritan leper was asking God for much more than money or food.

 Now, while it’s true, that all 10 were healed of their leprosy, only one found the gift of faith and only one returned to worship Jesus.  Only one heard Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.”  So what about the other nine? What healed them? Obviously, the answer is Jesus, but it would seem that faith was not a requirement to receive healing from Jesus! It would seem that the nine received a miracle without faith.

This teaching is in contrast to a common false teaching of the “word of faith movement” or the “name it and claim it” crowd, who say that “If you just had enough faith, God would heal you.”  Here we have an occurrence where faith is not mentioned before the healings, but comes afterwards. Did the other nine, who are not told, “Your faith has made you well” suddenly have their leprosy return?  I doubt that!  No, what we have here is a story of ten being healed and only one being saved.

 The Samaritan was not only cleansed, but on account of faith he gained something much more precious, salvation through Christ Jesus.  Somehow, Jesus removed the veil of the world from the eyes of the Samaritan; the veil that hides the truth that Jesus is true God.  He allowed the Samaritan to see Him as Lord and Savior, and as God and Redeemer.  This seeing comes only after God grants us the eyes of faith.

Christianity is a walk of faith, and faith is the gift of seeing Jesus Christ as He truly is; as He has revealed Himself to Christians in the past and as He still reveals Himself to us, the living yet crucified and resurrected Son of God.  This seeing things as God says they are and not as they appear, is not something that people outside of Jesus can understand.  It is completely foreign to them.  Try explaining to your unsaved family and friends that in communion, while we receive bread and wine we also receive the body and blood of Christ.  This eating and drinking of our God is a difficult thing to grasp without the eyes of faith.  We Christians see differently because God sees things differently, and that is why our prayer, our worship, our actions, our whole way of being in the world, has its own distinctive accent and flavor.

 Why did the Samaritan leper return and worship God at the feet of Jesus?  Because when the Samaritan cried out “Have mercy,” his heart was crying out to God for much more than a healing from a skin disease, he was searching for right relationship with his God.  Do you see a need for the love and forgiveness of Jesus in your life?  Do you have faith to believe that God hears your cry of mercy and accepts that as praise?  How is crying out to God “Have mercy” a cry of praise?  Because you are confessing to God that you are broken in sin and that you need His help.  You are praising Him for being your only hope.    Do you have faith in the completed work of Jesus or are you still counting on something else?  Friends, faith IS that something else!

 II. OK Pastor…this is Thanksgiving! So what about Thankfulness?  Well let’s look at that.  In our text this evening, we see God consistently acting with how He always acts, namely, FIRST! When we see this truth, then our proper response to God’s actions is praise and thanksgiving – because we see God’s hand in what has happened.

 God did not tell us, “If you only had enough faith, I would send Jesus to suffer and die for your sins.” No, it was because we had no faith that he sent us Jesus. As Paul writes in Romans 5:8: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.”  God doesn’t wait for us to have enough faith. God acts first. God’s actions lead to a faithful response.  Are you being led by faith?  Are you truly thankful for what God has done for you?  Have you like Naaman and the Samaritan lepper, laid your time, talent and treasure at the feet of Jesus?

Do we as Americans take God’s blessings for granted?  I know I do!  I remember in 1984, after a four year tour of duty in the Philippines and Thailand, I finally returned to the United States.  I had become so much more thankful for many things we often take for granted in America: flush toilets, running water, drinkable water, gasoline stations, paved roads. Shouldn’t we thank God that we have such good things in our lives?

 All people have been created by God. Many people (and most Americans) have food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that they need from day to day. I believe that God protects many people — believers and non-believers alike in times of danger and He for the most part, guards them from a lot of evil. No one deserves this, yet God’s “fatherly and divine goodness and mercy” touches many, many people. How are believers different from the rest of humanity?  Well, we are like that one leper; when we recognize God’s hand in the good that we have, we respond with thanks and praise to Him through Jesus Christ. We respond by loving God and serving Him.

 III. Do you remember when I asked you if you were faithfully thankful or thankfully faithful?  Perhaps by now you have figured out which is the correct response or which one applies to you.  If not let me apply it to all of us.  If I am continually remembering to thank God for all of the “blessings” or good things in my life, I am being faithful in performing the act of thankfulness.  On the surface, this seems to be a good thing; anyone who observes this would quickly agree that I am a good Christian.  But does that make me a Christian?  Does that really make you a Christian?  No, it makes you religious.  Mormons, Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses and Buddhists are continually thanking their god for the many blessings in their lives.  They do not realize that God’s goodness is expressed to everyone of His creatures, even if they have rejected Him! 

 Now let’s reverse the order and look at it from a different perspective.  What if you came to the realization that you, the real you, the one that no one else really knows but you, was completely sinful.  You realized that your thoughts continue to give you away as a sinner.  Perhaps you have said this to yourself before: “Thank goodness no one knows what I was just thinking.”  Maybe you also realize that some of the things you do when no one else is around are shameful and self serving.  If all of us are honest with ourselves and God, we must all admit that we are sinful.  If this is your true confession, then you are crying out to God for help, because faith has let you see that you are caught up in sin and you can’t get out of it on your own—by faith your heart knows that you need God’s help!  This same heart of faith then hears the Gospel Word of God’s love and forgiveness and it clings to His love through the work of Jesus Christ alone.  This same faith then leads you to hear the Word of God spoken through the pastor, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and it grabs onto it and finds eternal peace with God.  This then is what makes us thankful, believing in and trusting in the completed work of Jesus Christ!  And when God does this work friends, you’re never the same! Friends, believing in Jesus, having faith in He who is faithful, is what frees you from your worries and you become eternally thankful that you have been given the gift of faith; you then are thankfully faithful!