Sermon – Thanksgiving, 2015

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Luke 17:11–19

On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (vv 11–19)

There is indeed much for which to be thankful. ’Tis the season to be thankful. And we should be thankful in this season and at all times because God has indeed truly blessed us. He has given us “clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all [we] have. He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life. . . . All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us]. For all this it is [our] duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him” (explanation of the First Article).
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And is this—obeying him—not, in fact, what the lepers do in our text? Jesus tells them to go Jerusalem and show themselves to the priests, and they obey. And on their way, they realize that they are healed. What a profound gift! Not only were the men given relief from their skin irritations, but also, on account of this healing, they were now able to be declared clean by the priest and gain entrance into public worship, where they could serve God and bring him thanks and praise. Without the cleansing our Lord provides, these lepers would not be able to enjoy the privilege of worship you even now enjoy.
So nine of the ex-lepers continue on their way to worship God in the temple in Jerusalem, but one turns back to worship at the feet of Jesus, offering praise to God and thanks to the one who healed him. We learn that this man, who turned back, is a Samaritan.
From the perspective of the Jews, the Samaritans were misfits. They shared a bloodline with the Jews but had intermarried extensively with other nations while the Jews were in captivity. The Samaritans accepted only part of the Hebrew Scriptures and worshiped at their own Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem. The question here, as it was with another Samaritan, the woman at the well in John’s Gospel, is “where is the Father to be worshiped?”
Jesus’ answer to the woman at the well was “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:21, 23).
The hour of which Jesus speaks here is the hour of his Passion and death, the hour when he, as the Great High Priest, will sacrifice himself on the cross, the hour when he will atone for all of the sins of the whole world. This hour is very much in sight as the text reminds us that Jesus was journeying to Jerusalem. Notice, Jesus sends the lepers down the very same path to Jerusalem, to the priests, but the way in which Jesus will be received in Jerusalem and the way in which the lepers will be received could not be more different.
The lepers will likely be met by a pious indifference on the part of the priests. Performing the ritual of cleansing a leper is business as usual for them. Jesus, on the other hand, will be rejected by the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. The lepers will be sprinkled with birds’ blood, shaved, and bathed. Jesus will be scourged till he bleeds; he will be blindfolded and mocked. The lepers will bring sacrifices to the temple after seven days. Jesus will become the once-for-all sacrifice on the cross, the fulfillment of the whole sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Jesus will be killed and on the third day be raised (Lk 9:22).
Perhaps we can begin to see that our text is not so much about who did or did not do what Jesus asked of them, who is or who is not the most grateful for the restoration of health given them. Rather, it is about right worship. The nine lepers are slaves to the Law. They seek God’s gifts in observances and sacrifices. They lack the Samaritan’s God-given faith in the Gospel, the faith that sees that here before them is the one who has come to fulfill the Law completely; here is the one who will sacrifice himself as the Lamb of God; here is God present in the flesh, Jesus, Lord, Emmanuel, which means God with us; here is the living temple that will be destroyed and in three days be raised.
The text is about worship, not on Mount Gerizim or on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but worship in spirit and truth, worship in the name of Jesus, worship where Jesus is present, worship in the faith that clings to Jesus and his saving work. The Samaritan’s act of worship points to what Jesus will accomplish when his journey ends in Jerusalem. His act of worship acknowledges and confesses that Jesus is Lord. This is true worship, worship in spirit and truth, worship that grabs hold of the cross with the faith that Christ died for me. Because of this faith, the Samaritan is not merely healed. “Rise and go your way,” Jesus says to him; “your faith,” it may well be translated, “has saved you” (v 19). He is saved. His faith has saved him.
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We have this same faith. Look how closely the worship of the Samaritan in our text resembles our own worship. Actually, in the first place, the lepers as a whole come to Jesus in the very same way that we do. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (v 13). Are these not the words of the Kyrie in our liturgy? “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” Christians for centuries have offered this simple prayer for mercy as they come together. In this prayer we ask our Lord to hear us and help us in our necessities and troubles.
After the Kyrie, the worship of the nine lepers and the worship of the Samaritan, our worship, diverge quite completely. The nine lepers duck out early. “I got what I came for, now I’m out of here.” Sort of like leaving after the sermon. They hurry off to the priests to be declared clean, while the Samaritan turns back to Jesus, the Great High Priest, to be declared righteous. Jesus is left there questioning, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” (v 17), for Jesus had much more yet to offer. He offers himself on behalf of the whole world in his coming death on the cross. He offers eternal salvation.
In this time of thanksgiving, we are mindful of certain of God’s gifts: memories from this past summer’s vacation, the beauty of the changing seasons, the bounty from our gardens and fields, healing or continued good health. But what about the gifts offered to us right here in this place? We call our Sunday morning service the Divine Service because here in this place God serves us. He serves us in the gifts He gives us here; the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament.
How many of us ignore, or even despise, these gifts by ducking out early, failing to show up at all, or being otherwise unfaithful in our attendance at the preaching of the Word and the reception of the Lord’s Supper? How many of us fail to acknowledge that Jesus is here present with us, where two or three are gathered, where his Word is proclaimed, where we celebrate his Supper? As children of our heavenly Father, from whom we receive every good thing in our earthly lives, we do right to turn back to Christ and join the Samaritan praising God with a loud voice.
We do this very thing in our worship in the Gloria in Excelsis, the great hymn of praise, using the words of the angels at Jesus’ birth, “Glory be to God on high: and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Addressing the Father we say, “We worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory,” this glory that he showed in sending his only Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world.
Next, the Samaritan fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. In this, he acknowledged in faith that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus is God, that Jesus performed this healing miracle and also saved him from all his sins. We confess the same in the words of the Nicene Creed: “very God of very God . . . who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven . . . and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.”
As the Samaritan prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus, acknowledging that he was in the presence of God, some worshipers today bow deeply for the beginning of the Sanctus, acknowledging that Jesus is truly present here where he says he will be. “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” the one who says, “This is my body. . . . This is my blood.”
Jesus finally dismisses the Samaritan by pointing him to his faith, which itself is a gift of God. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” But, yes, Jesus’ words could indeed be translated, perhaps better, “Arise, journey; your faith has saved you” (Arthur A. Just Jr., Luke 9:51–24:53, Concordia Commentary [St. Louis: Concordia, 1997], 648). Jesus is here referring not only to the healing that has taken place but to eternal salvation through faith in him.
Worship in This Faith Is True Worship,
worship in spirit and truth, worship in the name of Jesus, worship where Jesus is present, worship in the faith that clings to Jesus and his saving work. Here is our faith, our worship.
In † Jesus’ name. Amen.

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