Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sermon for 9/5/10: Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Leprosy was a prevalent disease in the days of our Lord; and a terrible disease it was, literally eating away human flesh until death finally came. Jesus came across a colony of them in our text. There were ten of them, and all ten were healed. But, nine of them failed to say “thank you.” As we hear the account of this miracle of healing, the ingratitude of the nine is striking. And yet, if we really think about it, there are no surprises here. Through our own personal experiences we know how often gratitude has been due us, but seldom delivered. More difficult to remember may be the moments of our own thanklessness; taking our parents for granted, taking our spouses for granted, taking our teachers for granted, even taking our friends for granted. Are good manners the only lessons to be learned from the lepers? Are we too narrow if we look only for role models of ingratitude or thankfulness?

When Jesus responded to the praise of the one leper, He did not point to his gratitude, but to his faith. Faith in Jesus Christ allows true gratitude and thankfulness in the heart of the Christian for two reasons. For one thing, faith knows that no good thing we receive is deserved by sinners, such as ourselves. And then, too, faith believes that what we receive is solely by God’s grace, and for our spiritual good.

Why was there no expression of gratitude from the nine? They had called out to Jesus, just as the one had done. All ten of them received the same gift of healing as they made their way to the priests, as Jesus had instructed them. What reasons could account for their ingratitude? Perhaps their ingratitude was rooted not in what they believed about Jesus, but in what they believed about themselves. Gratitude is not necessary when you are only receiving what you have deserved all along. The winner of a lawsuit who is to receive a huge amount of money from an insurance company does not usually thank the insurance company; that sum of money is simply owed. He has it coming to him; it is what he deserves for what he has borne. Such an attitude is common.

Perhaps these nine lepers thought of their healing as justice, something they were entitled to have. No doubt they appreciated this sudden change of condition; any of us would. But to be grateful for it is another matter. If it is merely justice, why be grateful? We are only getting what we have coming to us any way. Indeed, rather than gratitude, these lepers might well have thought, “If healing was this easy, why didn’t God do it sooner? Why didn’t God give me what was mine all along?” With a mind set like this, anger over lost years rather than joy over future years, is what follows. And, of course, anger will never give birth to gratitude.

Then, again, this picture may be too complex. Maybe these nine lepers were ungrateful from the beginning. Maybe there is no need to account for their behavior at all. There are some who are never satisfied. It matters not what is done for them, it is never enough, it is never at the right time, and it is never good enough. Do any of these scenarios fit any of us? Has ingratitude been a problem for any of us because we have felt like God’s gifts were blessings we rightly had coming to us to begin with? Could our ingratitude toward God be rooted not in what we believe about the goodness of God in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, but in what we have wrongly believed about ourselves?

Now, by way of a complete contrast, why was there such a sincere expression of gratitude on the part of the one leper? And to complicate the matter even further, he was a Samaritan, an outcast, a heretic without the assurance of a gracious God. If ingratitude comes from our perceptions of what we think we ought to have, it is a wonder that any one says, “Thank you.” What does the gratitude of this one leper have to teach us?

As Jesus pointed out, it was “faith” that made him well. What did Jesus mean by this? It was not that the Samaritan leper’s faith created the miracle that healed him. Faith never creates anything; faith receives what God gives. This one leper understood by faith that the healing he had been given was not something he had coming to him. It was not merely a matter of justice being done. It was not even that he deserved his healing. To the contrary, he knew that he, along with all other sinners, deserved nothing but God’s wrath and punishment against sin. If we were given what we really had coming to us, if justice were truly done in our case, we would have been nailed to the cross instead of Jesus. And somehow, this one leper knew this. He knew that his healing was an act of grace, and not justice. With great clarity he understood the true relationship between fallen creatures and a perfect and holy God.

This faith believes that Jesus is its only hope. That was surely the case then, when there was no earthly hope for a cure for leprosy. But that is the case also now, even when healing has become commonplace for diseases that were once dreaded. There is still disaster and tragedy and death that we must deal with in turn. And for such things we find no earthly answers. There is no hope found in men for these things. Jesus, and His love and mercy, is our only hope, as it was for those lepers. Anything we receive from Him is by grace alone, and in no other way. And out of that flows gratitude.

Apart from God’s action in our lives, we are dead in our sins, and without hope in this world, and in the world to come. We have earned nothing of the good that has been given us. As Luther put it in the meaning of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “For we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them, but that God would grant them all to us by grace . . .”

This faith knows that every gift of God comes by grace. Whether it is health or wealth, whether it is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, or anything else, it is all by grace. True faith knows this and rejoices in it. The gratitude that comes through faith is one that sees and knows the love of God. And it knows that the love it receives is unearned and undeserved. Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through His resurrection, we have received the forgiveness of sins and salvation, life now and life eternally. And with this faith we have been given, we are able to respond to our Lord with a heartfelt and grateful “thank you”. Even as the leper was cleansed and made whole and returned to glorify God, we, too, have been cleansed from the stain of sin and the death it deserves; we have been made whole, before God, both in body, and soul. And so it is ours to return to Him daily, to praise and glorify Him for all that He has done. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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