Thanksgiving – 2022 LSB #’s 435, 852, 806 Text – Luke 17:18
Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?
NO ONE EXCEPT THIS FOREIGNER
“Come in poverty & meanness, come defiled, without, within; from infection & uncleanness, from the leprosy of sin, wash your robes & make them white; ye shall walk with God in light.” LSB 435:2.
Although the celebration of Thanksgiving is not usually associated with the season of Lent, the opening hymn provided a fitting lyric for the text in the Gospel of Luke. The Samaritan praising God received everything that James Montgomery was thinking of when he wrote Come To Calvary’s Holy Mountain.
In Jesus’ day, someone with physical leprosy lived in poverty & meanness. They were considered defiled without & within. In other words, it was assumed that a person who had leprosy must not be outside the family of God. They lived a horrific life & suffered an awful death. Worst of all, the only companionship they were allowed was with other lepers.
There’s little doubt that all ten lepers were deliriously happy to be healed. The difficulty in this text is that only one of them returned to Jesus to give thanks. And he was a Samaritan. It’s an accurate representation of the people in our nation today. In spite of our outward celebration of Thanksgiving, maybe one in ten bothers returning to thank Jesus for His blessing.
And we would be hard pressed to find anyone in our nation who has suffered like the lepers did 2000 years ago. Day in & day out, leprosy was a living death. Our individual people are far better off than the lepers of Jesus’ day, yet our entire culture seems to be dying an awful death.
At best, Thanksgiving is now focused on family, or possibly on helping others, but
Jesus has been forgotten. Like the other nine lepers who were healed, our people are happy to celebrate their blessings, but have totally forgotten to give credit & praise to the Giver. As Jesus put it, “Was no one found to return & give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18 ESV)
What do those words of Jesus say to worshippers & congregational life in an increasingly unchurched America? The lepers who did not return were spiritual. They called Jesus “master” & looked to Him for a favor, but their failure to thank & praise Him, even when reminded by the Samaritan, makes it clear that their focus was all about them.
America remains a highly spiritual nation; it’s just that more & more of us claim to be practicing our spirituality apart from the institutional church. Like the nine, people today claim to have “faith,” but it’s self-centered & self-determined, not the “obedience of faith” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:5. Current slogans such as “my body, my choice” make that clear.
Jesus praises the Samaritan & declares, “Your faith has made you well.” “Your faith” is not the hearer’s warm, subjective feeling, & it’s not self-centered. Rather, Jesus speaks of an outwardly centered trust in Him as Savior. Such faith is a gift from the Holy Spirit that has nothing to do with a self-determined set of values or beliefs, no matter how sincere.
Trained our entire lives to be consumers of anything that pleases us, many Americans, like the nine lepers, see faith as a means to a better place in earthly life. Jesus is merely the master dispenser of the blessings we desire. Due to our revolutionary heritage, bowing to a king is not high on the bucket list of most Americans.
However, the Samaritan, upon catching up to Jesus, “…fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” (Luke 17:16a ESV) Much of American Christianity today is about bettering life here on earth while refusing to bow our broken lives & empty hearts before Jesus, our King. The Samaritan reveals not only the proud & self-centered nature of people in his day. His humble gratitude reveals our faults in this day & age. Many of the people born & raised in our nation are no longer thankful for what God has provided us. They neither thank God nor even acknowledge that He exists. Our nation, even we ourselves, need from God what Israel received as we heard in the OT reading:
“And [Yahweh] humbled you & let you hunger & fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 8:3 ESV) Only in humility can our hearts worship Jesus as King & reveal true thankfulness.
The Samaritan leper made the others look bad, through his gratitude. Multitudes of foreigners are coming to our land right now. They risk their lives to receive the blessings of living in this prosperous nation. Will they be thankful to God for those blessings, & in the process reveal our ingratitude by contrast? Will Jesus ask them, “Where are the other nine?”
With all the negative news in our media, are we still thanking God for our lives here in the United States? We have lost a lot in our nation these past forty years. Are we still thankful in spite of those losses? The foreigner in the text not only valued the blessing of healing. He valued the Giver. True faith celebrates not just the healing, but the Healer.
True faith begs for not simply the blessing, but for Jesus Himself. This Gospel reading is about Jesus because He is on His way to Jerusalem to treat more than the symptoms, such as leprosy. God’s Son is on His way to destroy the root of all the symptoms of sin. Jesus is more than our Healer. He is our Lord & King. Daily we should seek Him & bow down to Him.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Samaritan revealed a holiness based upon His own person, the sinless Son of God, & upon His sacrifice as the perfect, unblemished Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. The cleansing of the Samaritan was a foreshadowed holiness. As the Lamb of God paid for the sins of the whole world in His death, He fulfilled that holiness for you & for me. The cleansing of the Samaritan also continues Jesus’ ongoing ministry to the marginal people of society. The Samaritan proved to be fruit from seed that had fallen on fertile soil. Have our lives proven to be fruit from seed that fell on fertile soil?
No doubt, each of us is guilty. The solution is highlighted by the opening illustration: “Come in poverty & meanness, come defiled, without, within; from infection & uncleanness, from the leprosy of sin, wash your robes & make them white; ye shall walk with God in light.” LSB 435:2.
Through the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of us who once were foreigners have been welcomed into the family of God. Above all other blessings, for that we have reason to be eternally thankful. And in heaven we will be. Amen.
O God of mercy, God of might, in love & pity infinite, teach us, as ever in Thy sight, to live our lives in Thee. Amen. LSB 852:1.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet