Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So, which of the two miracles in tonight’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke do you consider the more amazing? The first one? Or the second? It’s not a trick question; there really are two—maybe even more. We just have to move our eyes and thoughts away from our obsession with the physical things of this life, and turn them to the spiritual.
The first miracle is the healing that our Lord Jesus provides to the ten men who suffered from leprosy. Their flesh, like ours, was in the process of deterioration. It was just happening to them at a more rapid and noticeable pace, and they were probably suffering more discomfort than we usually do.
But make no mistake: Until Christ comes again to rescue and restore our bodies on the Last Day, we will continue to go the way of all flesh, eventually succumbing to the effects of living in a fallen and sinful world.
The second miracle, the one hidden from most people’s view, is the change in the heart of the one man who returned to worship Jesus. He brought words and actions of thanksgiving for the great blessing he had received in the healing. Whether or not you’ve ever had a serious health problem—and whether or not that problem has been healed by the touch of God’s hand—that second miracle has taken place in your life.
I say that with confidence on account of the simple fact that you are here this evening. While many sit in restaurants and bars, filling themselves with passing things, you came here to be filled with eternal things. While some are frantically wrapping up work so they can enjoy a long weekend, you came here trusting that Jesus has done the most important work of all. You were led to begin this national holiday of giving thanks by receiving once again the reminders and the blessings of those things for which we should be the most thankful of all.
Almost all Americans will observe Thanksgiving tomorrow in some way that is slightly different from a normal Thursday. A lesser number will even pause to contemplate the good things in their lives for which they are thankful. A smaller number still will acknowledge that these things have been provided to them and to others by a being more powerful than themselves. Far too few will give thanks and praise to the one, true God who created all things, sustains all things, and who has redeemed all people by the suffering and death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Yet the God we worship and confess—the same God who sustained the Israelites through all things and was confessed by Moses in our first lesson from Deuteronomy—the same God has blessed all people, grateful or not. Jesus showed God’s abundant grace by healing all of the lepers. In the same way, God blesses all people in various ways, even the ungrateful and those who do not believe in Jesus.
Notice that Jesus did not wait for their thanks before healing these men—He acted first. God always takes the initiative with us, whether we notice it or not.
But also notice that faith plays a key role in their healing. All ten of these men had some degree of confidence in Jesus, else they would not have stood by the road calling out to Him for mercy. Likewise, there was an element of trust and hope or they would not have responded to Jesus’ instructions to go and show themselves to the priests, as the Old Testament law required of healed lepers. They were healed in the very act of following His word.
To the one who returned to give thanks, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.” Actually, the words Jesus spoke could more accurately be translated, “Your faith has saved you.”
For Christians, Thanksgiving ought to have special significance, far above and beyond that experienced by unbelievers. Although the American holiday might have some of its origins in a Christian community grateful for preservation through difficult and deadly times, to varying degrees it’s been hijacked by secular commercial and political entities over the years. That doesn’t mean we have to surrender it, however. Our gathering this evening gives us an opportunity to contemplate the many, many blessings—manifestly miraculous or merely mundane—which have come to us by God’s gracious hand.
Some of you may do this tomorrow as you come together with family and friends for that special meal, but let’s take a moment to consider and mentally list just a few of the blessings we have received:
What physical miracles have happened in your life? Not just things that have been given to preserve, protect, and heal your own body, but any tangible thing? How have they come to you? Did God make them just appear in your life one day, zapping them onto your doorstep with a “Let there be.”? Or did He provide them through your knowledge, skills, and labors, and the labors of many others whom you may never meet, much less thank?
We can be thankful even for the seemingly routine things of life. We shouldn’t take for granted even the fact that we are alive and can come here tonight. We shouldn’t take for granted our jobs, our schools, those people we see and interact with every day—even the ones we don’t like. The hand of God is in and upon all of those.
Consider those things that God faithfully and consistently provides without ceasing, even when our prayers about them may be infrequent and faltering: Give us this day our daily bread. Thy will be done. Deliver us from evil. Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins. Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let thy holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me.
Do we only give prayers about the problems, and not the solutions that often come even before we know the problems exist? Do we only give thanks for what we notice, and not what we don’t? Do we pray and give thanks for the things that are going just fine? Those hidden and forgotten miracles still come from God.
We usually remember the special events in our lives for which we ought to give thanks; those times when the mercy and power of God are apparent: Births, healings, confirmations, graduations, weddings, and the like. But do we thank Him often for the blessed deaths of those who have died clinging to Christ, and the eternal joy in which they now dwell? Do we consider that our safe arrival here this evening was not a matter of dumb luck, good automotive engineering, and our superior driving skill, but the shield the Lord has extended around us to preserve us to the time of His choosing?
You have come here this evening to thank God for His many gifts, certainly. That arises out of the faith He has given you, which is a miracle in itself—a spiritual gift for which we ought to be most grateful.
Jesus asked, “We not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” He was asking His disciples—just as He asks us—about the proper response to the gifts He had given. All ten received His healing; only one responded in thanksgiving. All have received His redemption on the cross; most reject the gift of salvation which that redemption offers.
Lots of people today receive many of the same earthly gifts we have received. In some cases they have received more or better gifts. Yet many will not express any thanksgiving to God for these blessings, whether out of ignorance, pride, or both. It’s not our place to condemn them, any more than it is to condemn the nine lepers who did not return to give thanks to Jesus.
Instead, we pray in thanksgiving for the faith God has given us which enables us to give that thanks. We pray for forgiveness for the many times when we, too, have been ungrateful or oblivious to His blessings.
But we also pray that the ungrateful will be given their own miracle and gift: The greatest gift, saving faith in Jesus. And we pray that all who have received that gift will continually thank and praise God in Jesus’ name for all their blessings.
Our giving of thanks is a message not only to God, but to others as well. Seeing the hand of God behind all the blessings we receive, we are confessing our faith each time others see our appreciation. They see it when churches are lighted and parking lots filled with cars on Wednesday nights in November. They see it when we bow our heads and fold our hands over our meals in lunchrooms and restaurants. They hear it when we give glory and thanksgiving to the Lord for even the most ordinary blessings of daily life.
We rejoice not only in the gifts He gives, but especially in the relationship we enjoy with the Giver. Our show of thanks, visually and verbally, is an invitation for others to share in that relationship we have with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
On Sunday, I reminded you that in front of God, we are—as Luther said—beggars, one and all. Tonight, I might include that we are also lepers, one and all. Our thankfulness expresses the reality that we do not deserve the gifts we receive. We are blessed with undeserved love; grace through-and-through.
Our ability to be thankful is a gift from God. Only by the Holy Spirit do we have the faith which leads us to recognize the gifts and praise the Giver. He has given us everything out of His unlimited love. Therefore we, like the healed Samaritan leper, kneel before Jesus—in repentance, in confession, in prayer, in thanksgiving, and in receiving the further blessing of His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
Our thankfulness originates in God’s grace, and leads us back to God’s grace. Not knowing what God has in store for us in this life around the next corner or over the next hill, we are called to trust and depend only on Christ’s death and resurrection for us.
In that trust—that faith—we are freed from our hopeless attempts to save ourselves or generate our own blessings, and from taking credit for our own achievements. Rather than pat ourselves on the back, we throw ourselves on the ground before the King, begging mercy, receiving grace, and thanking God, who has saved us through His Son.
Having the opportunity to give thanks to God provides us with a blessing on top of all the other blessings. When we, like the Samaritan, come here to fall before Jesus and thank Him for His gifts, we again see His grace. Our ability to offer Him thanks springs out of the fountain of His blood at the foot of the cross, and it leads us out into the world. There, we remember all God’s goodness and all His blessings, great and small, and with thanksgiving we lead others back to Jesus’ cross as well.
May God keep your hearts thankful for all His blessings, even as He keeps you trusting in His salvation, now and always. In Jesus’ (X), Amen.