Given and Forgiven
Luke 17:11-19 // Deuteronomy 8:1-10 // Philippians 4:6-20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our sermon text for today is Luke 17:11-19, and our theme is Given and Forgiven.
Dear friends in Christ,
There is a man not too far away from here having a really bad day, the kind of day where everything is going just about as wrong as it ever could. His wife left him without a word. The job that he loves has still left him lonely. He’s getting sick and has no one to take care of him. The laundry still needs to be done. The groceries need to be gotten, the house needs to be cleaned. The Word of God doesn’t seem to be speaking to him today, and even if it did, he knows it would be hard for him to hear. So, how do you suppose that he could say “Thanks be to God?”
Not too far away from him is a woman whose first inclination is to let the few bad things in her life color all of the good. She is well-paid for her work; she has a husband that loves her; she has friends and coworkers that care for her, but it always seems like she finds something wrong with the way the world is. She knows she’s blessed, but why can’t the thing that she wants just be the way that she wants it? She finds herself often upset about things that she knows do not matter much. So, how do you suppose she could say, “Thanks be to God?”
Not too far away from her is a family that gets knocked down again and again. It seems that every time they get back up again, something lands another blow. Problems always seem to be coming and coming, and yet, you would never know that if you went to their home. Though everything that they are going through would be overwhelming, there is a peace about their home. You might know a family or two like this. Though every problem threatens to bowl them over, there is a stillness in the way they are. How do you suppose they are able to say, “Thanks be to God?”
Today’s text before us is Luke 17, a traditional text for Thanksgiving Day. Jesus heals 10 lepers, and one comes back to return thanks. Now, before we get to the text, let me say the same thing that I said on Sunday morning: remember as we read that we get the benefit of a narrator. We get the benefit of knowing where this story is going and how it’s going to end, but to really understand what these lepers were going through, we have to imagine what it would be like to be them.
They were living out their fate. They were kicked out of the city for their own good and the good of those who loved them. You see if they stayed in the city, there was the chance that they could infect all kinds of others and that a whole city could be wiped out.
And so, they are sent out.
Sent away from loved ones, from those that they care for and who care for them. Sent away, one can imagine with no hope of return. Have you ever been in a place like that?
I think of myself, in Seminary school, coming to grips with the fact that I may never find the Laura Anna Elizabeth Smith of my heart, and coming to grips with the thought that I might be single for the rest of my days. I think of Marcia Schultz, grappling for a few days with the idea that she may never walk or talk again, even though now we know that she is walking and talking and making unbelievable strides. I think of cancer patient that knows he will always be prone to recurrence. I think of the diabetic that knows she can never go back to the way life was. I think of the widow and the widower, staring into the grave of their loved one knowing life will never be the same.
These lepers have been confronted with this disease for life. That’s a bad day.
Now resist the urge just to think at this point “Well, my bad days aren’t that bad so I can slog it through.” No, that’s not the message of the text.
The lepers cry out to Jesus. Jesus hears their request. He gives them what they are asking. They all value what they are given. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have set out for the temple.
And then you get to the point of the text. The Samaritan, the one who had no business knowing better.... he’s the one who did know better, and returned to Jesus. He fell at Jesus’s feet and worshipped – that’s the word “to prostrate, to put your face on the ground” – he worshipped Jesus as God.
He thanked Jesus for temporal gifts, for the gift he was given, but then he did something more: he thanked Jesus for doing what only God can do, for being the giver of eternal gifts, for the gift of being forgiven.
You see, because those lepers would have to deal with their own mortality once again someday. They would grow sick and old and die, even though Jesus healed them of their disease. The temporal blessings, as good as they can be, are temporal. But eternal blessings are eternal. They are the blessings of forgiveness and salvation, of peace and grace come through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So, we return to our original question. How are you supposed to say, “Thanks be to God?” I don’t have a succinct little answer for you, but I do have a story. I have a pastor friend, a guy that I played basketball with and went to Seminary School with. He was born with a hole in his heart, had emergency surgery in the first days of his life. He would get winded pretty easily and take breaks. He had thyroid cancer right when he graduated and started his ministry. He posted this on FB the other day:
Garen Pay: “For four years I got the joy of celebrating being cancer free. Unfortunately I can’t do that this year. It seems that it’s back. While not definitive, I’d appreciate any prayers and support while we do more tests and work to beat “just” thyroid cancer.”
And in response to the prayers and comments he received: “Thanks, everyone, for all your support and prayers - it means a lot. It's never fun to hear bad news, but that doesn't mean there isn't good news - Jesus still lives, so we will be just fine. Thanks again.”
Now resist the urge just to think at this point “Well, that guy’s having a really bad day. My days aren’t that bad so I can slog it through.” No, that’s not the message of the text.
The message is that the good news is as good as it’s ever been. Jesus who died for you is Jesus who is raised for you. The Samaritan leper knew it; my friend knows it; you know it. And the point of our coming together is to say it and know it and rehearse it again and again and again, so that it deepens and widens with every time, with every joy, with every tear, with every ache, with every circumstance. Jesus still lives, so we will be just fine. Thanks be to God.
Amen and amen.
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