Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Grace Lutheran in Fredericksburg on October 14, 2007. The gospel reading is Luke 17:11-19.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Today the folks at Resurrection are being graced by Pastor Paul as he presents the sermon and I have the honor of leading worship here with you. We think this pulpit exchange is very important as we express our unity in the gospel and we underscore the wonderful truth that you are not alone in mission here in south Fredericksburg. You might just see my presence here today as part of a reconnaissance mission. We need to find more and more ways to work together. How can we help each other for the sake of the kingdom?
Today, we are being invited by the scripture readings to celebrate a mini-thanksgiving. The overarching them of the lessons has to do with an attitude of gratitude. Do we recognize our blessings and do we take time to say thank you to the Lord and to each other, or do we just take for granted what has been given to us?
Greg Anderson in Living on Purpose, tells a story about a man whose wife had left him. He was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God – he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.
In one of the small booths along the window were a young mother and a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, “Momma, why don’t we say our prayers here?” The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, “Sure, honey we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?” And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, “Bow your heads.” Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen.”
That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, “We should do that every morning.”
“All of a sudden,” said our friend, “my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl’s example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn’t have. I started to be grateful.”
Today’s gospel reading presents a time in the ministry of Jesus when a lesson was learned about gratitude. Luke tells us that Jesus is now on his final journey to Jerusalem. So this healing story takes place really in the shadow of the cross. Jesus’ journey takes him near the region of Samaria. He enters a village and those ten lepers approached him, seeking to be healed. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Without hesitation, Jesus told them to go and wash and present yourselves to the priests.” Luke tells us that these ten were cleansed. Luke also tells us that only one of these ten lepers returned to give thanks. He fell on face, praising God, and thanking Jesus.
The surprise of this story has to do with the identity of the one who gave thanks. He was a Samaritan. The other nine were folks who had been raised in the faith of the people of Israel. They should have known better. The one who gave thanks was considered a foreigner and unworthy of God’s attention. Yet he was the one who showed an attitude of gratitude.
I think that part of good preaching is lifting up points in scripture that rub us uncomfortably. Many of us have heard this story numerous times before and we understand that it is a good thing to remember to praise God and say thank you. The rub for me this week is understanding anew that God healed all 10 of them and did not take away that healing, even when nine forgot to acknowledge this great gift. That means that even today, God’s gifts come to the grateful and ungrateful alike. The “wideness in God’s mercy” goes far beyond believers too. That’s a rub because I have often been taught through my life that God rewards those who have the right faith. I have also been taught explicitly or implicitly that God especially favors Christians and particularly Lutherans. And yet, I know people of other beliefs or no belief at all that seem to have blessings. How come?
Perhaps the final words of Jesus in this story are helpful to us now: Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
Your faith has made you well. If we could read that phrase in the original Greek that was written by Luke, we would understand better what Jesus was saying to that man. The word “well” has to do with more than a physical healing in this life. It has to do with salvation and what begins here and now and extends into the next life. That man, healed of his leprosy, is acknowledging, is trusting, that all his gifts come from the Lord. And we hear the words of Jesus and know that the ultimate gift of salvation also comes from the Lord.
Mark Trotter is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church and he was dean of my seminary in southern California. I like something he wrote.
I can recall three rhetorical questions that accompanied me throughout my childhood. The first was, “Were you born in a barn?” That usually came when I left a door open, or didn’t clean up my room.”
The second was, “When will you ever grow up?” which was a question my sisters asked me as a carefully planned, relentless program of persecution.”
The third one was, “Have you forgotten something?” That was the parental admonition, usually for not saying thank you after receiving some gift.
This last question is what I thought of when I read the gospel lesson. Only one comes back to give thanks. Ten were healed, but only the Samaritan came back. If my mother had been there, she would have said to the nine, “Have you forgotten something?”
That’s the question of all of us today. How and when will we give thanks?
Now, as a tag to this sermon I have an invitation for you. The folks at Resurrection want to do more than just send pastors as emissaries. They want to get together with you. The invitation is this: Please join us for a Service of Thanksgiving on the evening of November 18. That’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We begin with a Pie Fellowship at 5:30 in the Fellowship Hall of Resurrection and we have a wonderful Thanksgiving Service at 6:30 in the Sanctuary. We’ll be using a beautiful communion liturgy that was written by a Lutheran clergy couple from Gettysburg. Our instruments will be piano, guitar and oboe. We are inviting Pastor Paul to help lead the service along with Pastor Carol and myself. I’m sure that Pastor Paul will be reminding you of this invitation in the weeks to come.
Now, may the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God of our salvation. Amen!