Posts Tagged ‘Thankfulness’

The Art of Thankfulness

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity-HL, August 28th, 2016
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church,
http://www.tlcsd.org and
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
http://orlcsd.org

Click here for audio of this message

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]

Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us.  Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between.  That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.

Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God.  Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives?  Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God.  Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times.  We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God.  Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time.  So how can we correct this?  Well the quick answer is that we can’t.  When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly.  So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.

The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.

When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!

And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word.  When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.

It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.

In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”

This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized.  It is as if He is saying, “Try me out.  Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”

The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ.  That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism.  This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying.  Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.  For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.  Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]

But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him.  So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…

By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.

Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation.  He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43]  But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life.  But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people.  The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!  This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities.  It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.

God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but  He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17]  It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist.  The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening.  God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.

But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us.  This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought.  “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25]  “God who is over all be blessed forever.  Amen.” [Romans 9:5]

You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality.  Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me.  Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]

Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.

God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise.  Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.

Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you!  And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him.  Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His.  Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb.  And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored.  Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!

Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone.  It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake.  When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.

And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts.  It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ.  From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving.  To Him be glory forever and ever…  AMEN.

It’s God’s Way or the Highway!

Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego
Pentecost 24-C, November 3rd, 2013

Click here for audio of this message

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” [Isaiah 1:18]

This morning, God wants to have a discussion with you; don’t worry about anyone else, this is between you and Him.  He speaks to you now through His Word.  You have heard it read.  Those Words were powerful, because they are full of the Spirit of God.  They are spoken for one reason: So that you would see your sin and turn to God who alone is able to restore you and give your life meaning and purpose.  Are you ready to listen?  Is that what your heart desires?  Good, then God is doing something powerful in you this morning.  What you are about to hear is the only message that can save you; it is God’s only source of salvation open to you. In essence it is either God’s way or the highway.  Are you ready to listen?

Hear the Word of the Lord you who rule your own lives; you who say that you are your own man or woman.  Listen to God’s truth and learn.

Do you really think that coming to church makes you right with God?  Do you really think that the money that you place in the offering plate, no matter the amount is what God wants?  If you’re comfortable in these things, then God has a Word for you today, and it is this: “Who has told you that coming before me in worship without faith—real faith is acceptable?  You must stop thinking that your attendance at church gains you something in my eyes.  Your surface-only religion is something that I can no longer endure.  When you lift your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you.  No matter how loud or how often you call out to me, I will not listen!  I can not listen, because your hands are stained with sin.”

Those are strong Words and hard for us to hear; they are strong because they are the Law of God, which thunders against the sin of all mankind.  They are a mirror that shows us the truth about who we really are, and they are a hammer that pulverizes any self-justification we may have brought in with us this morning.  They are harsh words because they are meant to destroy and kill.  The law of God is never meant to bring comfort to a sinner, instead it brings truth!  But that is not the end of our message.  No, God also speaks Words of hope; Words that bring peace, and those Words are called the gospel.  Listen now and let God reason with you.

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your sinful deeds before my eyes; cease to do evil, and learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”  [Isaiah 1:16, 17]  And to this some of you may be wondering how you go about washing yourselves before God.  Is it a change of life style?  You already know that simply going to church is not sufficient in God’s eyes.  You may even be considering becoming more active in your community by doing the things God spoke of.  Being an activist who seeks justice, corrects oppression, brings justice to the fatherless children in our community, and helping out the single mothers who have such a hard time raising children in today’s society, are all good an noble acts that each of us should endeavor to do.  Maybe you are already doing those things?  Do they bring you any real assurance that God is pleased with you; do you know for certain that He has a place for you in His kingdom when your life here is complete?

By now, I trust that you see the futility of self-reliance and a “do it yourself” style of religion?  Isn’t it obvious that this washing that will make you truly clean in God’s eyes is something more; something beyond your ability?  Isn’t it apparent that this cleansing must come from God Himself? This feeling of being lost and hopeless in a sinful world is exactly what led our friend Zacchaeus in our gospel reading (Luke 19:1–10), to find Jesus as His last and only best hope to be right with God.  We can say that he had a broken spirit and a contrite heart.  He was ready to confess his sinfulness to God!

Zacchaeus was a Jew. He was most likely a religious Jew.  He practiced his religion as prescribed by the law.  He paid his tithes and offerings, attended synagogue and probably followed all of the outward traditions.  Yes, Zacchaeus was a Jew, but he was the kind of Jew who was despised by his own people.  Why?  Because he was a rich, political, self-serving Jew who made a living collecting the Roman tax from the Jewish people in Judea.

Everywhere Zacchaeus went people acknowledge his authority; they acknowledged his power to influence their lives; when he passed by people got out of his way and bowed out of respect, but when he was out of ear shot, how they really felt about him was declared loud and clear.  Words like tyrant, traitor, and hypocrite must have flowed freely from the lips of common folk.  Zacchaeus knew about his reputation, and so he turned to his religion to bring him some peace of mind.  He trusted in his circumcision; the sign of God that was instituted to set the Hebrews apart from the other people.  A sign that signified that they were God’s children of Abraham, who by faith were waiting for the promised Savior to come and set the world free from sin, death, and the power of the devil.  And while he waited with the rest of the Jews, he continued to hope not in God’s deliverance but in his own ingenuity and financial security.  He continued to collect more than the allotted tax.  He continued to live his extravagant life style.  While the poor got poorer, he became richer and more secure in this world.

Do you think that Zacchaeus cared what the people spoke about him behind his back?  Maybe, maybe not, but he did care what God thought of him.  He did care that to His God, the true and living God, all of this offerings, all of his works of charity were like filthy rags before God.  He cared that God knew that he had exchanged the promise of forgiveness and peace, with the promise of the world; the promise of pleasure and wealth.

That is why, when he heard that Jesus was coming to his city of Jericho, he had to find Him; he had to see Him, even if it was just a glance.  You see this Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of God was with them in the here and now.  Jesus was preaching that there was a way to be born again, cleansed of all sins, and ensured of an eternity in paradise right now.

What Zacchaeus did not understand then was that the Word of God found in Isaiah was beginning to work within his heart; the Word found Zacchaeus! A Word that spoke a promised hope: “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

Zacchaeus must have wondered if there was still hope for him.  He must have wondered if he could still turn to God’s mercy.  And right there before his eyes came his last and best hope… Jesus the Christ!  “So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.”

“And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” [Luke 19:5] Notice, Jesus did not ask to spend the night at his home.  It was a statement of divine appointment.  “God has determined that I must stay with you this day!”

Don’t ask how Jesus knew which person was Zacchaeus.  Don’t ask how he knew which tree to look up into.  This is Jesus the Son of God.  When He required knowledge it was His at just the right moment.  And for Zacchaeus, now was that moment.  Jesus said, “I must stay at your house today!” Right now, today, if you hear his voice do not turn your heart away.

So he hurried and came down and together they went joyfully to the home of the hated traitor, the Chief Tax Collector, Zacchaeus.  “And when (the people) saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Is there a place for sinners, real sinners in Christ’s church today, or has it become a clubhouse for the redeemed?  Are we willing to concede that even the Zacchaeuses of today can find forgiveness?  Or have we, the church too, simply become a group of redeemed grumblers?

Something wonderful happened in the home of Zacchaeus.  Because of Jesus’ Word, that mansion of the rich and infamous became a temple of the most high.  The humble seat of Jesus became a pulpit, and Zacchaeus’ family table became the Lord’s table where He served His meal of mercy and forgiveness.  As Jesus spoke the Word of God, both the law and the gospel, just as you have heard today, Zacchaeus and his household received the gift of faith… the desire to confess their sins to God so that he could receive the forgiveness of sins.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  They were washed clean.  Though there hands were red with sin they were cleansed through the washing of the water and the Word.

Zacchaeus was a child of Abraham, saved by the shedding of blood through circumcision.  He was saved to be part of a people who were waiting for the coming of the Savior, who would then be a light unto the unsaved so that they too would know the Savior of the world.  But somewhere along the way, like many other Hebrews, Zacchaeus became lost.  He no longer waited for the promise to be fulfilled, instead he sought security through the ways of the world. But Jesus found him, and Zacchaeus was saved from his sin.  His eyes that were once blinded by the light of wealth were now opened by the light of God so that he could turn to and trust in Jesus alone.

We know this is true by what he spoke next: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” [Luke 19:8]  No one required this statement of repentance from Zacchaeus; the money that was offered was not the evidence of a new man, but the desire to do new and marvelous things.  His statement was spontaneous; it leapt from his heart through the work of the Holy Spirit.  It was the declaration of a new man; a man who no longer lived to please himself or build a kingdom in this world, but a man who had been redeemed by God to work for the kingdom of God that was now standing right in front of Him in the person of Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, the life of Zacchaeus is the life of each of you who have heard God speak to your hearts this morning.  You too have heard God reason with you.  You too have seen your sins and heard the offer of God to wash them clean; white as snow.  You have heard the Word that brings eternal life.  You have been shown the powerful work of Holy Baptism that now saves you by bringing you into the church.  The church!  No longer a place where you come to practice your religion and fulfill the requirements of God, but a place where God actually gives you His gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life and the ability and desire to give abundantly out of your time, talent, and treasure.  The church is a place where Jesus actually comes to you at your own table here, and makes it His own; a place where he feeds you His very self for the strengthening of your faith and the forgiveness of sins.

“Today salvation has come to this house, since (you) also (are sons and daughters) of Abraham (by faith).  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:9, 10] He came to seek and save you!  Zacchaeus received the gift of God, Jesus Christ, with an unfulfilled vision of who Jesus was.  He did not yet see the passion that was to come in one short week upon a cross planted on a stony hill called Golgotha.  He did not yet see the Savior of the World dying for the sins of the world, including all of Zacchaeus’ sins.  But you have been blessed to hear of this cross.  And by the power of God’s Spirit, you have been told that all of the sins of the world were put to death on that cross, including your own.

Unlike Zacchaeus, you see that the waters of your baptism are eternally linked to the cross and the lifeblood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.  It is from within this completed gospel, that you have been shown God’s only way of salvation.  Will you follow it or will you go your own way? “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”  AMEN!

Give Thanks

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Thanksgiving Eve’ November 21, 2012
Luke 17:11-19

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Luke 17: “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.” [Luke 17:15-16]

Tonight, God’s Word wants to realign your heart and your faith so that you will leave here not only more thankful, but more importantly  more faithful!

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.  Now, we need to understand that during the time of our Gospel reading, lepers were a common sight, 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 about 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.”  But again, like the 10 lepers, maybe not all of us are 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.

Now this truth 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 have enough faith, God will heal you.”  Here we have an occurrence where faith isn’t even mentioned before the healings, but instead, it comes afterwards. So 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 than health or wealth, he received 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 a 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 upon the cross for the sins of the world?  Are you resting in that completed work as it was given to you in your baptism, or are you still counting on something else?  Friends, faith IS that something else!

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.

This IS the meaning of Thanks Giving.  May God continue to do this great work of faith within each of you and may you continue to always give Him thanks and praise.  In Jesus name… AMEN!

How Are You Thankful?

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Thanksgiving Eve’ November 25, 2009
Click here for audio of this message

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!

Praise and Thanksgiving From a Prostitute?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Thanksgiving Eve-November 26, 2008
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church. San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

INTRODUCTION: What do we mean by thankfulness? What did our forefathers mean?  Our forefathers were not so much thankful for something as they were thankful in something. In bounty or in want they remained thankful. In feast or in famine they were thankful. In joy or in hardship they were consistently thankful. There’s a big difference between being thankful for things and being thankful in all things.

ILLUS: Our sermon hymn, “Now thank We All Our God” gives us a closer look into what I am talking about. It was written in 1607 by a German Lutheran Pastor by the name of Martin Reinkardht. Pastor Reinkardht was the son of a poor coppersmith, but somehow, he managed to work his way through an education. Finally, in the year 1617, he was offered the post of Archdeacon in his hometown parish. A year later, what has come to be known as the Thirty-Years-War broke out. His town was caught right in the middle. In 1637, a massive plague swept across the continent of Europe and it hit the Eilenburg parish hard.  People were dying at the rate of fifty a day and the man they called upon to bury most of them was their dear Pastor Martin Reinkardt. In all, over 8,000 people died, including Martin’s own wife and children.  These were tough circumstances in which to be thankful. But he managed. And he wrote these words: Now thank we all our God…With heart and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his world rejoices.

 

Did you catch the key verse for why thanks should be offered to God: Who wondrous things hath done.”  It takes a magnificent spirit to come through such hardship and express gratitude. Here’s a great lesson; surrounded by tremendous adversity, thanksgiving is still offered up to God, with heart and hand and voices.  That is the kind of Thanksgiving we will be talking about tonight.  In our Gospel reading (Luke 7:36-50), we encounter a sinful woman, condemned by her religious community, and showing intense thanks to Jesus for the wondrous thing He did.

I.  What was this wonderous thing that the woman was so thankfu for?  It had to be something wonderous, because it seems that she had only one thing on her mind: getting to Jesus. But why? What did he do for her?  Well many of Biblical scholars have concluded that the woman was possibly a prostitute.  In all likelihood, she had heard Jesus preach and her life was changed when she received the gift of faith, which caused her to experience forgiveness of her many sins. So now, full of joyful gratitude, and determined to do something for the one who had done so much for her, she made her way directly to Jesus.
ILLUS:  There’s an old story about the Greek Marathon. Every year, conditioned athletes gathered at the starting line, inhaled deeply, and put on their “game faces,” ready to prove that they were the fastest. In the midst of it all, a young stranger took his place next to them. He had an awesome physique. He ignored the other contestants, and stared straight ahead. His mind was on the two prizes that would be given to the winner of the Marathon: a magnificent bouquet of flowers and the honor of standing beside the king. There seemed to be no question in the minds of the other runners that the stranger would most likely be the victor. It was alleged that someone offered the stranger a large sum of money not to run. Someone else attempted to bribe him with property. Refusing the offers, he toed the mark and waited for the signal to run. When the signal was given, he was the first away. At the finish line, he was easily the first to cross.  Latter, someone asked the young man if he thought the flowers were worth as much as the money and property he had refused. He replied, “I did not enter the race for the flowers. I ran so that I could stand beside my king!” And so it was with the sinful woman who “intruded” into the Pharisee’s house; apparently she had the very same thing on her mind. She wanted to be at her king’s side and offer him her gratitude.

A.    Why was this woman’s response of gratitude so extream?  Well, it’s the same reason why many “new adult Christians” today, are so joyful and exhuberant in their praise for Jesus: True thankfulness is displayed as the extream response of the hopeless because they have received the impossible… they received a wonderous thing..forgiveness!  Friends, we are not that much different from that woman.  We too have become hopelessly lost in our sins, yet for Christ’s sake alone, we’ve received the impossible gift of love and forgiveness, through no merit of our own! It’s a temptation of some to say that the woman was forgiven because of her act of love, which was shown by her kissing and anointing the feet of Jesus.  But this can’t be true, and we know this because of our Savior’s own words.  What did he say?  He did not say, I admire your love, so your sins are forgiven.  No, but what did He say?  “You are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  Jesus said it and she believed it!

B.  But for some, it seems hard to just hear and believe.  It’s hard to walk in the simplicity of faith, when everything arround us seems to be telling us the very opposite.  This is a world who’s mantra is, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Or, “you can’t get something for nothing.”  Many Christians will further confuse you by saying things like, “God wants to forgive you” rather than “God HAS forgiven you for the sake of Jesus.” They will place conditions upon your relationship with God by saying, “God is waiting to bless you if only you will let Him,” rather than announcing to you, “God has already blessed you ‘with every spiritual blessing in Christ'” (Ephesians 1:3). But we must not let any conditions stand between our sin and Jesus.  We must boldly approach Him by faith and ignore the opinions of others, because Jesus is doing a wondrous thing!  I am sure that the woman knew that her actions would be considered strange by Simon and his other guests, but that didn’t interfere at all with her acts of thanksgiving.  Friends, when you are ridiculed for your “simple” faith, don’t shrink away but pull closer towards the source of your faith; and like the woman, be content to kneel at Jesus feet and cling to his promise, which says “your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

II. Now maybe some of you here tonight are still struggling with the simplicity of these Words; Simon the Pharisee was. But why?  Because his pride refused to admit his need for absoloute dependency on God.  And those who will not completely depend on God can not expereice His great forgiveness.  Simon the Pharisee had been trapped by one of Satan’s deepest and most ancient temptations inflicted upon man; he felt that he must first do something in order to qualify for God’s forgiveness in Christ. Maybe for us, the temptation may be to say, “I need to first first show God that I want to make amends for the things I have done.” Don’t believe it; this is a lie of the devil which causes us to follow “me” centered thinking and not “Christ centered” thinking.  It’s right to say “Jesus earned forgiveness for me by His death on the cross,” but it is wrong to add, “All I have to do is prepare myself for it, make room for it, and accept it.”  Those five little words-“all I have to do” -are the devil’s greatest weapon which he skillfully uses to crush your faith, destroy your confidence in forgiveness and prevent you from walking with Jesus in a spirit of thankfulness. Friends, remember this, if we must do anything at all in order to walk with God in peace, then St. Paul’s judgment found in Galatians comes true: “Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). 

III.  But if we are so inclined to naturally reject the simplicity of God’s grace, then what are we to do?  Friends, God knows full well the weakness of our faith and the many obsticles that the devil creates to derail it.  That’s why he has provided the means to experience a radical faith.  He does this through His real presence.  Let’s look at the sequence of events in today’s Gospel: The woman first heard the good news, which was the certainty of God’s forgiveness and love, which was hers in Christ Jesus; this preached Word created faith within her; and finally, her God-given faith led her to go to Simon’s house, with gratitude demonstrated in the washing, kissing and anointing of Jesus’ feet.  The woman came to Jesus because she believed that His presence in her life gave her the gift of forgiveness, so her act of gratitude and love was her heart’s (natural) response to His wondrous gift.  Friends, we also come to Jesus because we believe that His real presence in Word and Sacrament provides and ensures us of our complete forgiveness, and like the woman, we too will naturally respond with our own demonstrations of gratitude and love through service to God, to our families and to our community right outside the doors of this church! 

St. John writes in his first letter: “This is love, not that we loved God, but THAT HE LOVED US and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Do you hear how natural these words enter our ears?  But in case we have missed the simplicity of the words, St. John makes it even easier: “We love [God] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Oh dear friends, think about the joy and blessing that this Gospel proclaims to you! You have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness, and His forgiveness does not depend on your prior love for Him or your expressions of loyalty or even on your feelings of worthiness; if it did, what would be so wondrous about that gift? No dear friends, we have the rich blessing of Jesus’ forgiveness just because God loves us, and this forgiveness comes to us from the very heart and mouth of Jesus Himself, unprompted, unearned, and even undeserved. 

CONCLUSION: Our forefathers who came to this country so long ago, and Pastor Reinkhardt who wrote our sermon hymn, all knew this one central truth: We are all exactly like the woman who came to Jesus ashamed and trapped in sin.  And like that woman, they knew that because of Jesus, they would never be the same again… they would no longer be helplessly lost in their sin.  Their reaction to this certainty and our own natural response will always be demonstrated in our ability to give thanks in all things, with hearts and hands and voices for the wondrous things He has done. 

As we enter into Advent, let us enter with a heart of love and gratitude to God for the wondrous things He has done.  May God work continue to work this wonder in each of our hearts, for Jesus sake….AMEN!