"Make Thanks a Priority" (Luke 17:11-19 | Thanksgiving Eve 2015)

Sermon Text: Luke 17:11-19
Date: November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Eve

Luke 17:11–19 (NIV84)

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”


Make Thanks a Priority

Our priorities tend to be fluid and change as needs arise. When the big project is due at work, perhaps getting that done and done right takes priority over nice, family dinners for a week or two. When the family hits the road on vacation, hopefully relaxation and bonding take priority over work for the duration of the trip. Time with a more distant loved one might rise to a higher priority in times of need or when the end of life appears near. Our priorities, for the most part, are part of a continually adjusting list.

But our relationship with God should never shift in our priorities, and especially on this Thanksgiving holiday, but really always, we ought to make thanks not only to our fellow people but to God one of our highest priorities. From God we receive everything we need for body and life, here and through eternity.

In our Gospel this evening, Jesus meets with ten lepers. In Jesus’ day, people who had leprosy or any kind of clearly visible and highly contagious disease were ostracized from the rest of society. They were viewed as unclean. Not only did a leper have to deal with a sometimes irritating sometimes painful disease, but they also were cut off from their family, friends, and community.

Given those hardships, when someone, like Jesus, comes around and is able to offer hope at cleansing, they leap at the opportunity to benefit from it. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” They respect and obey the rules governing their separation from the people, but in faith they cry out to the one who could heal them. “Have pity on us. Heal us, please!”

Jesus doesn’t even promise to heal them or saying anything has happened. He just asks them to trust as he sends them on their way to the priests. The priests would have the final say on whether or not the disease was actually gone and whether or not they could be welcomed back into society. So, for the lepers, the healing should have been a foregone conclusion, and it was. They trusted that Jesus would heal them because there are no questions asked of Jesus, there are no comments of, “But…” recorded for us. Luke is very concise. Jesus says “Go…” And… they went.

As they go, something happens: their disease was cured. They were clean again. We don’t know how long the cleansing took nor do we really know where Jesus was in comparison to where the lepers needed to go. Sometimes the Sunday School pictures make it look like they got 3 steps away from Jesus, saw they were cleansed, and then went off in a selfish rapture. That may not be the case. They may have had some considerable distance between them and Jesus by the time they were cleansed. They might have been closer to their destination than to back where Jesus was at the time. 9 of the 10 might have fully intended to return to thank Jesus after they had done what Jesus had told them to do.

Regardless of the distance and other circumstances, though, one former-leper saw his official clean bill of health as less important and of lower priority than going back to Jesus to thank him for what he had done. He prioritized thanking God for this gift of cleansing, even though he wasn’t even Jewish.

How often is thanksgiving a priority in our lives? Maybe we’ve got plans to gather with friends or family this week or weekend to have a special meal. But how often do we give thanks to the people around us?

Students, when was the last time you thanked your teacher for his or her work for you? Employees, when did you last thank your employers? Employers, when did you last thank your employees? Children, when did you last thank your parents for what they do to take care of you? Parents, when did you take the time to praise and thank your children for good behavior rather than just discouraging poor? Members of Gloria Dei, when did you last thank your called workers and staff, your pastor, teachers, secretary, and volunteers, for their service in our congregation and school? My fellow workers, when have we last thanked our members who support us in good and difficult times?

As we think through a list like this, we’re likely to find gaps in our lives of thanksgiving. We don’t often thank those around us who serve us, help us, lead us, and direct us. It’s not that we don’t appreciate it, per se, but we’re busy. We have things to do. We’ve got to get to the priests; we don’t have time to go back for thanksgiving.

This comes more to a head in our relationship with God. How often do we make thanksgiving to God a priority in our lives? How regularly do we stop and offer a few words of thanks for food before a normal meal during the week? Or if we do stop, how often do we actually think through the words we say rather than just rattling off a long-ago-memorized prayer that has started to lose its meaning? How long has it been since we not only reached out to God in prayer for help, but reached out purely in thanksgiving for his many and varied gifts to us? When have we, if ever, thanked God for difficulties and trials in our lives, knowing that he intends to use those to make us stronger? How often do we thank God for public worship and Bible study, rather than seeing those things as an obligation or something that we see as unnecessary and a waste of time?

If our thanksgiving to each other is lacking, it is undoubtedly lacking even more so when it comes to God. And we haven’t even touched on the single most important thing: how often do we thank God for the forgiveness of sins? How often do we thank God for eternal life? How often do we thank him for his sacrifice that freed us from the leprosy of sin and has cleansed us and made us whole again?

When we note that our thanksgiving to God hasn’t been the priority that it should be, what should we do? Turn around. Go back. Give thanks. We have so much to be thankful for, no matter what the balance in our bank account says and no matter what state our health is in. And so we make thanksgiving a priority.

But how can we, who have been so ungrateful and unthankful, change to being thankful people? Jesus effects that change in us. At his cross, Jesus died for our ingratitude and selfishness. He died because we were so self-centered and self-obsessed that we couldn’t take a moment to thank others or show our thanksgiving by our actions. Jesus died to cleanse us of all sin. That fact alone, and the trust in that fact that the Holy Spirit works through his Word, is what changes our outlook. We are no longer ostracized from God’s family; he’s brought us from the leper colony of sin and death to be his children.

Jesus died. Jesus rose. Our sins are gone. We live now and will live forever. There is our motivation for thanksgiving; there is our motivation to praise God from whom all of our blessings flow. There is our motivation to make thanks a priority, even with everything swirling around us. There is our motivation to stop and take the time to be grateful for what we have, for what others have, and for the good that God works in our lives no matter what headaches and heartaches surround us.

The leper who returned to Jesus praised God. Others heard what God had done for him. Sharing the works of our Savior is the ultimate expression of thanks. So don’t let this Thanksgiving holiday be limited to a special meal at your tables. Don’t let your daily thanksgiving be restricted to the things you can see, hold, or spend. Rather, let your thanksgiving priorities be guided by your life priorities, which say that the gospel of sins forgiven is the most important thing we have in this life.

As you make thanks a greater priority in your life today and always, let the words of psalmist be your guide: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done” (Psalm 105:1). Thanks be to God! Amen.