Thanksgiving, Blessing, and Praise

“The Healing of the Ten Lepers” by James Tissot

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First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Thankfulness is to be the general spirit of the season. To cultivate this virtue, some people have joined a challenge on social media to share each day something they are thankful for. The lists often include things like good health, a fulfilling career, and loving family, and those are all good blessings. But what about the person who doesn’t have those things? Do they have nothing for which to give thanks to God or bless His holy name? No reason to praise Him? Of course not! In fact, even if they have none of the physical blessings we so often think of first, they still have much reason for thanksgiving, blessing, and praise.

So, while we should receive with thanksgiving the common, everyday blessings that God provides for everyone, it’s especially important for us Christians to remember the deeper blessings which come from the One who has blessed us. More important than the list is the accompanying prayer by which we move from a vague feeling of satisfaction to the actual giving of thanks to the One who has given us all gifts. There is no true thanksgiving without giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ, the One who gives us heavenly food and offers a water that promises we shall never thirst again. These are blessings that are offered to everyone and without them what many consider to be earthly blessings, like health and material goods, are actually a curse that keeps our eyes from focusing upward to heaven, upward to that Man, God’s Son, upon the cross (Scaer).

Thankfulness is a word that may need revival, especially in this age of entitlement, resentment, and envy. It is a fruit of the Spirit that should permeate our every fiber. With thankfulness comes blessing, the recognition that all we are and have comes from the God who created and redeemed us through His Son. Also, thanksgiving remembers the past, for with gratitude there is an emphasis on memory, the telling of stories of those who have come before us and made possible what we now enjoy. This includes people within our own nation, our culture, but also our parents, forefathers, and spiritual ancestors. Surely, they were not perfect people, and products of their own time, but we can learn much from their struggles and failures, their joys and triumphs, how through God’s grace they carried on, to pass on many blessings we have access to today.

In our Old Testament lesson, we find Moses doing that as he reviews the past forty years of Israel’s wilderness wandering. Moses exhorts this chosen people of God to remember Yahweh as the source of every good thing that Israel has and will have in the new land. The nation’s past, present, and future—all under the care and promises of Yahweh—are filled with Gospel motivation for serving Him. Yahweh is the God who has already saved His people. As Israel hears these words, the nation has already been freed from Egypt, passed through the Red Sea, stood at Sinai, wandered through the wilderness, been fed by bread from heaven, defeated two Amorite kings, and now stands on the verge of entering the promised land.

Moses urges the nation to remember God’s discipline like that of a father for a son whom he loves. The nation is to trust that Yahweh will lead His people into the promised land, and when He does, she is to bless Him for that good land. Moses also cautions that there is a hidden danger in such success. While surrounded by bounty in the land, Israel must beware of pride, self-congratulation, and blindness to the One who is the source of all success. Instead of being narcissistic, she is to remember the deliverance of Yahweh from Egypt, His care through the horrible desert, and His gift of the ability to gain wealth. If Israel forgets Yahweh and His covenant and chooses other gods over Him, the chosen nation will perish just like the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 8:11-20).

Trouble arises when people enjoy prosperity so much that they forget the God who gave it to them. Israel could become proud and take for granted how God rescued them to enjoy this land. It’s easy to boast that we are self-made men and women and take credit for our success because we think we are clever or because we work hard. By giving His people manna in the wilderness, the Lord humbled them; clearly, Israel hadn’t earned it. In this new land, Israel would still need to remember that the ability to work is also God’s gift. An old German proverb says, “You need strong legs to hold up under good days.” Amid great blessing, it’s easier to miss the greater blessing. That’s what happens in our Gospel for today.

As Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Sometimes when Jesus met lepers, He showed His mercy by walking up to them, touching them, and healing them. But this time, Jesus stayed where He was and told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They were to go to the temple, the place of the sacrifices, to confirm that the miracle had taken place, confirming that Jesus is who He says He is: the One who cleanses the entire sin of all humanity with His blood.

So, the ten lepers went by faith, having confidence from Jesus’ previous healing activity that they too would be healed as they followed His command to go to the temple. Their sacrifices would foreshadow Jesus’ own bloody sacrifice in fulfillment of Moses and the entire Old Testament. And as they went, they were cleansed. They were healed and healthy again.

The irony here is this: the ten lepers were happy to journey to the temple with the expectation that they would be cleansed, but only one leper, after the cleansing, was willing to give glory to God—God in the person of Jesus, whose presence in the world and whose sacrifice on the cross would bring an end to temple worship. Nine of the ten were so excited they forgot all about Jesus. Maybe they thought about their families and friends and how wonderful it was going to be to be with them again. Maybe they thought about all the things they could do now that they were healthy again. The nine hurried off and forgot about Jesus, who had given back their lives. And, in so doing, they missed His greater blessings.

But the chief irony was this: the one who returned was a ‘foreigner,” a Samaritan, an outcast! He responded in faith.

One of the chief functions of the holiness code in Leviticus was to separate Israel, the clean people of God, from the unclean Gentiles. Circumcision, the kosher dietary laws, and the many liturgies for different kinds of cleansing all set Israel apart from the other nations. However, just as Jesus crossed the boundary separating clean from unclean when He touched the leper in Luke 5:12-16, so too Jesus’ cleansing of the Samaritan and His reception of the Samaritan’s worship show that another Old Testament boundary had been crossed. Jesus brings a new kind of holiness. It is not holiness based on circumcision, dietary laws, or the Jerusalem temple with its priests and sacrifices. Rather, it is a holiness based on His own person as the sinless Son of God and on His sacrifice as the perfect, unblemished Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. The holiness of Jesus, given to all who will be baptized in His name, will transcend all ethnic and cultural boundaries as it purifies the people of God’s new covenant in Christ.

The Samaritan’s worship is a confession of faith. He returned, giving glory to God; He fell, giving thanks to Jesus. The Samaritan returned to Jesus, glorifying God the Father for the miracles He brought to the world through Jesus. But then he recognized that the glory he gave God is to be expressed in worship and thanksgiving to Jesus, who is God in flesh, and whose cleansing atonement supersedes the cleansing rites of the priests in the temple. Every other instance of  eucαristeω, the Greek verb for “give thanks,” is a giving of thanks to God. This is the only place in the entire New Testament when it specifically refers to the giving of thanks to Jesus!

The Samaritan’s posture is one of worship—falling on his face at Jesus’ feet. It is possible that the Samaritan never made it to the temple, for when he saw that he was healed, he realized that the locale of God’s presence had shifted from the temple in Jerusalem to the body of Jesus. The place to give thanks for cleansing is wherever Jesus is, anticipating worship down until this day.

Finally, Jesus tells the Samaritan to arise and “go your way.” Faith has sealed his salvation. Jesus draws a connection between the Samaritan’s worship of Him as the locale of divine cleansing and Jesus’ final passion, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem, where divine cleansing will take place as the fulfillment of salvation history.

And so, it is fitting we are here in the house of the Lord tonight to worship. We come for thanksgiving, blessing, and praise. We come here because Jesus has promised to be here with us.

In the Invocation, the Lord welcomes us into His presence in His triune name. We are reminded how in Holy Baptism, “[God] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-8).

We confess our sins, including how easy it is for us to take all of God’s blessings granted, how often we get caught up in the earthly blessings God has blessed us with, that we miss the greater spiritual blessings He has for us in abundance, how often we fail in giving thanks to God, blessing His holy name, and praising Him for all His marvelous deeds. We confess our uncleanness, that we are poor, miserable sinners who justly deserve His temporal and eternal punishment. Like the lepers, we cry out, “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!” And through His called and ordained servant, Christ speaks His wonderful, merciful Absolution.

In His Holy Word of Law, the Lord shows us our sin and our need for daily repentance, and the way in which we might follow to lead a God-pleasing life. In His Holy Gospel, the Lord cleanses us from the leprosy of sin, granting us forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for the sake of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

With our offering we return a small portion of the gifts God has given us in thankful recognition of the many blessings God has entrusted to our stewardship.

In the prayers of the Church, we make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. We thank our heavenly Father for our daily bread. We pray that God’s name would be kept holy, and His Kingdom would come among us.

In the hymns of the Church, we join voices with our brothers and sisters to praise God for His many mercies, especially those in the sending of His Son Jesus Christ. We encourage one another to remain faithful and remind one another of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.

In the Lord’s Supper, the Lord invites us to a true “thanksgiving meal,” the Eucharist, where we bow down before the presence of the crucified and risen Christ who gives us His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. This is a foretaste of the feast to come, a reminder that our Lord is leading us into the promised land of heaven.

From there, the Lord sends us out into the world to serve our neighbor and tell God’s praise: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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