Monday, October 10, 2022

Grace That Yields Thanks and Praise

[Below, you'll find the live stream videos of both the 8:45 and 11:00 AM worship services of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Also in this post is the text as prepared to be shared during the services. Have a good week!]

Luke 17:11-19

Our gospel lesson for this morning, Luke 17:11-19, is particularly well-known among Lutheran Christians, I think because it often serves as the text for our Thanksgiving celebrations.

The lesson does talk about being thankful. But if we come away from this passage thinking that if we’re thankful, Christ will save us from sin and death, we completely miss the point. Such an interpretation would turn Jesus into a new lawgiver who demands that we earn salvation. But you and I know that we cannot be saved and will not be saved by anything that we do. Nor can we be made holy in God’s sight by anything that we do. 

To those tempted to think that we can be saved by works, Jesus says, “​​Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him [God the Father] who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

If we could be saved from sin, death, and futility by good things that we do or by the attitudes we adopt, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to go to the cross to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. And we would have no need of the Word that makes it possible for us to trust in Him or to be claimed by Him in Holy Baptism, where the Word of Jesus meets the water, or to receive Him in Holy Communion, where that Word meets the bread and the wine to yield the body and blood of Jesus Himself.

Christ has done everything needed to save you and me from sin and death in His own death and resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit, preaching the Word about Christ to us in the Word and in the Sacraments, brings us the gift of faith, trust that Jesus did this even for you and me. This is how we are saved and how we are set apart to grow as people of God: by God’s grace through a faith in Christ alone, constructed within us by the Holy Spirit through His Word. 

God doesn’t need our thanks. God doesn’t need our faith in Christ. But when we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, we will be thankful. Thankfulness to God will be present in those who have been saved from sin and death to live with God for all eternity.

We see thankfulness for God’s mercy and grace in Christ in a seemingly unlikely person in today’s gospel lesson. Take a look at it, please. Verse 11: “Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’”

In those days, you know, lepers were forced to move away from their families and communities for fear that others might be afflicted with the same often disfiguring skin condition. They lived in colonies on the edges of towns, dependent on people who, from a distance, might bring them food or other necessities. This particular colony of ten lepers included both Jesus’ countrymen and at least one Samaritan. Samaritans were, as you know, often hated and disdained by Jesus’ fellow Jews. But when people go through common horrors, the petty prejudices we stoke when we don’t feel vulnerable often evaporate.

In my first parish, a man was seriously injured when a barrel exploded and crashed into his skull. In the ICU waiting room were all sorts of people waiting for word on their loved ones. There were African-Americans, Latino Americans, Arab Americans, and people from cities, small towns, and farms. There were people who, in the normal course of life, might not have had any contact with each other. But human vulnerability and pain had thrown them together. It didn’t take long for them to talk together and pray together, finding comfort in God together. Their differences evaporated. (If that sounds like Christ’s Church to you, it should.) The lepers from different places formed a community of the vulnerable, the outcast.

Verse 14: “When [Jesus] saw them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” Leviticus 14 required that a priest had to certify that a leprous person had been cured before she or he could resume their normal lives or be in worship at the temple or the local synagogue. This law would have sent Jews to Jerusalem and Samaritans to Mount Gerizim, where they could offer the necessary sacrifices. That’s behind Jesus’ directive to the men.

But more to the point of today’s gospel lesson, we should ask ourselves, “What exactly did the lepers do to deserve to be healed?” We might all ask: “What did I do, what could I do to be saved from sin, death, and darkness?” The answer to these questions and others like them that we might ask is the same: NOTHING!

There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s grace, His undeserved favor, or any of His blessings.

The other day, my wife and I went shopping. I could tell I was getting on her nerves, which I’ve been doing now for forty-eight years. My impulse was to justify myself and tell her how she had no reason to be upset with me. Instead, I prayed, “Thank You, God, that You gave me a wife who puts up with me.” There is no way I earned such a blessing in my life!

As all ten lepers should have learned that day on the frontier between Galilee and Samaria, the blessings God gives through Jesus are not deserved and cannot be earned. The fact is that while ten lepers were cleansed--or healed, only one of them was saved. At least on that day, only one came to believe in Jesus as God the Son, Who alone, brings salvation from our sins and life with God that never ends. Nine seemed to view their return to normalcy as only their just due.

Verse 15: “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. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’”

Those last words of Jesus in this passage are the key to understanding the whole thing. You see, what He actually told the man, according to the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, was, “Rise [the word Jesus uses here is a cognate of the Greek New Testament word for resurrection. Rise], your faith has saved you!” Friends, you can bet your whole life on this fundamental truth: WHETHER YOU ARE IN GOOD HEALTH OR BAD, WHETHER YOU LIVE OR DIE, YOUR FAITH IN CHRIST SAVES YOU!

Ten of the lepers were healed, but only one of them was saved. Ten received grace; one had faith. Ten heard the saving Word of God in Christ; one believed. Ten had the kingdom of God come to them; only one entered that kingdom.

The thankful Samaritan wasn’t saved because he was thankful; he was thankful because Christ had saved him by giving him the gift of faith.

The healed Samaritan came to faith in Christ the same way we come to faith in Christ: His Word comes to us and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe!

Thankfulness is a hallmark of all disciples of Jesus. The Samaritan was so overwhelmed by God’s grace and goodness that not giving praise to God and falling at Jesus’ feet would have been unthinkable to him. 

When the Word of God came to the leprous Samaritan, he was desperate enough, helpless enough, and vulnerable enough, that when God’s undeserved grace came to him through Jesus, he proved to be precisely the kind of good soil that Jesus says elsewhere is needed for the seed of faith to take root and grow. The gift of faith in Christ made him thankful for being healed and that faith saved him.

Friends, Jesus died and rose to save you, that you would believe in Him as He comes to you in the Word and in the Sacraments, bringing you the forgiveness of sin, the assurance of His love for you, the certainty of His presence with you, and the knowledge that, through Him and your faith in Him, you will live in God’s Kingdom forever. May we, like the leprous Samaritan, be desperate enough, helpless enough, and vulnerable enough to receive Jesus with faith. 

And may we always be thankful. Amen