Sunday, November 19, 2017

Thankful Hearts See God: Luke 17:11-19 - Thanksgiving

11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
cornucopia by elaine faith.  Creative commons image on flickr.
When I was a kid, there were a number of dear, sweet church ladies who would send cards to me and my sister—with a five-dollar bill enclosed.  It wasn’t just birthdays and Christmas; it was Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or no occasion in particular.

But my parents had one rule: before we could spend the money, we had to sit down and write a thank-you note.

Years later, I learned that one of the ladies sent us money because she loved getting our notes.

Looking back, this is one of the most valuable lessons my parents taught me, because thankfulness taught me that I am loved.  And God worked through the love of the people from my childhood churches to bring me to everything and everyone most valuable to me: my wife, my daughter, the honor of serving as a pastor in our community.  I’m thankful for the gift of thanksgiving.  I’m blessed to be able to give thanks.

But thanksgiving a terrible blessing to ignore.

Jesus encounters ten lepers during his travels…  In those days, leprosy was just about the worst thing that could happen to a person.  Not only was it excruciatingly painful, it was tremendously contagious.  You were legally required to remove yourself from the community and live out in the wilderness.  They had to cry out, “unclean, unclean!” to warn passersby to keep their distance.  They also suffered the unfortunate condition of being Samaritan—which only added to their uncleanness.  If anyone needed Jesus’ mercy, it was these ten lepers.

They cry out to Jesus for mercy—and they definitely receive it.  Jesus sends them on their way to the priests, who will pronounce them clean and permit them to go home.  But only one turns back and thanks Jesus.  Only one is not so caught up in the relief and excitement of the moment to realize how blessed he is.  The other nine fail to see what is their greater blessing: that Jesus, the Son of God, looked upon their suffering and showed them mercy.

This is why thanksgiving is so critical—because if you’re not thankful, you’re missing out on the goodness of God. 

The way I see it, love and thanksgiving go hand-in-hand.  Love is expressed when you do something or give something valuable to you to another—and not just to get love in return, but because the person is so very valuable to you. Nowhere do we see this more clearly than at the cross: Jesus gives his life away and takes your sin upon himself simply because you are that valuable to him.  What’s more is that God had you in mind at the foundation of creation—and God has been working all throughout history so that you would be born and then baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus!  As Jesus reveals this love, and you receive it by faith, thanksgiving happens!

God will continue to open your eyes to the grace being poured out in your life every single day—most often through the people God brings into your life who love you and do good to you, but also in providing your daily bread.  In gratitude, you will hear God’s invitation to be gracious to the people God puts in your life!  You will become the presence of Jesus in simple acts of kindness as well as in greater acts of mercy and generosity.  It’s no fluke that the people who are the most thankful are also the most generous and the most joyful.  It’s no fluke that those who are thankful see God.

And given the way things are in the world right now, it’s easy to become bitter and angry as the economy does you few favors and as our elected officials battle it out for the heart and soul of our country.   It’s just as easy get swept up into the national shopping frenzy that will begin in five days, powered by the myth that money buys the stuff that makes you happy.

On the other hand, the holidays have a way of magnifying our sorrows like nothing else.  What is the “most wonderful time of the year” may be the most terrible time of the year for you.  Giving thanks may seem unrealistic and impossible.

But thanksgiving begins at the cross, where God’s love for you is revealed.  No matter where you are in life; no matter what you’ve done, you matter to God.  And God’s face is shining on you and being gracious to you to give you reasons to be thankful. 

So challenge yourself this Thanksgiving—and into the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas—to name and count your blessings.  Let thanksgiving be on your mind and upon your when you rise in the morning, when you sit down to eat, when you get dressed, when you enter your home, and when you lie down at night. 

But don’t stop there…  Give someone else a reason to be thankful.  Let God’s goodness live through you.  Let your gratitude of God’s faithfulness in the past be the hope that moves you forward into the future.  With thanksgiving, your joy in the Lord will overflow.

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