Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve, 2018
Text: Luke 17:11–19
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
As we draw deeper into the darkness of winter, we are reminded of the fall into sin that brought death and destruction into a good creation. The leaves fall from the trees, much of the vegetation is dormant, and the life of many creatures slows down. It is a time of struggle for survival for many of God’s creatures, and historically it has been the most dangerous time of year for mankind as well. As we approach the dead of winter around us, the Church year leads us to remember the coming judgment of God. This fallen world is destined to be consumed by fire and give way to the New Creation.
The signs are all around us. Wars and conflicts exist around the globe. The morals of our society decay while those who call sin what it is are rejected by those who refuse to be held accountable for their actions. Sickness, grief, natural disasters, even the guilt of a sinful conscience lead us to be on the lookout for the day of judgment.
We must not overlook the full weight of the first line of our reading from Luke this evening. "On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was passing along between Samaria and Galilee."
Those words on the way to Jerusalem give us important context for Jesus’ words and actions in the text. For ever since He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus has set His face towards Jerusalem, knowing that it is not possible for Him to finish His prophetic and redemptive task anywhere else. Jesus was in a certain respect in a similar position to ours. He was well aware of the approaching day of judgment. But unlike us who look for Judgment Day as the day of our vindication, Jesus knew that He was going to the day of His death. He was going to a day of darkness and death, a day when the barren tree of Golgotha would bear the fruit of His own flesh. When Luke says “on the way to Jerusalem,” he is really saying “on Jesus’ journey to the cross.”
It is in this season of Jesus’ ministry where death looms large over Him that ten lepers cry out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Ten lepers who are dead to society, who have had to walk away from their families and communities to live in the wild and be susceptible to all manners of danger, call out to Him who is going to His own death to have mercy on them, who are as good as dead in the eyes of many. The Lepers could not come into town, they could not share food or drink, or lodging place, or clothing with anyone else who was not also unclean. They were banned even from the temple, until they could show the priests that their leprosy was gone.
We also cry out to God for mercy. In these grey and latter days, our own weakness, our age, our health, our poverty, our loneliness, our grief, and our guilt weigh down upon us. How many people today are overwhelmed with depression and anxiety, and how many more wrestle with guilt, anger, resentment, or unbelief? Where can we turn except to Him who journeyed to Jerusalem? “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
Our gracious Savior heard the prayer of the lepers and He answered them: “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” He sends them ahead of Him to Jerusalem and the temple where He will soon make a sacrificial offering in His own body for the restoration of all creation. He sends them to the place of holiness, and in His sending He prepares them, He cleanses them.
We also are gathered here tonight before Him who cleanses us. We cry out to Him whose mercy endures forever, who has provided for us and watched over us in this past year. We present ourselves to the Great High Priest who has atoned for our sin, cleansed us from all unrighteousness and bore the grief and shame that we have created and have had afflicted upon us. We do not gather this evening to give an empty thanks to God, but to give Him thanks for accomplishing what we were and still are unable to do. For we cannot cause one blade of grass to grow, we cannot cause one drop of water to fall from the skies, we did not light the fire of the sun, or put the moon and stars in the skies. And we certainly cannot remove one transgression from our heart. And we cannot therefore gather to thank God without also calling upon Him for mercy yet again. And we do so firm in the conviction that Jesus hears our prayers and answers us. He who has borne our sorrows and carried our grief, who has suffered for us and died in our place, continues to be with us with His gracious presence, washing us clean in the waters of Baptism, guiding us to verdant pastures and living streams by His Word, nurturing us with His Body and Blood so that we are uplifted in our trials. He does not forget us.
Of the ten lepers, only one comes back to praise the God who reveals Himself in Christ Jesus. Only one sought to glorify the Father through the Son. “One of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” What does it mean to praise God, or glorify Him, but to recount the great deeds He has done? What did this cleansed leper tell people, but that by the Word of Jesus God had made Him clean and whole? To glorify God is to give Him the credit that He is due. To confess that He is who He is. The Samaritan leper returned when he realized he was healed to make known what God had done for Him. His body was the evidence. Being a Samaritan, he had no place with the priests; they may not have even bothered with him, but knew that Jesus would bother with him, because Jesus had bothered to cleanse him.
In a similar way, our clean lives glorify God. No, I don’t mean that we are perfect. But where the Holy Spirit does cause the fruit of good works to be born from our faith, God is glorified. But even more than that, God is glorified simply by the fact that we are forgiven, that we are children of His household, even if that is hidden to our eyes. God’s glory is often hidden in this world, but as the angels in heaven rejoice at each sinner who repents, so also we know that Jesus’ name is exalted in Heaven and earth and under the earth by every new life that is found in Him.
Jesus gives this Samaritan a wonderful invitation. You see, the ESV reads a little too much into the text. Jesus doesn’t tell the man, “Rise and go your way.” He says, “Rise and go.” Which in Greek also means, “Rise and come.” This is the language of journeying. The cleansed leper who has no place at the temple with the priest has a place with the great high priest. He has a place with the Master who has mercy on all who call upon Him. He has a place with the one who knows suffering and death, who willingly enters this fallen world and bears its griefs.
At the close of this church year, on the doorstep of the cold winter, we too look to the One who endures death for us. So let us rise and journey with Him. Let us listen for His voice amidst the turmoil of this world. Let us hearken to the voice of the forerunner who prepares His way with repentance unto the forgiveness of sin. Let us seek Him who was made flesh in order to redeem our flesh, who lay in a manger to make us fit for His Father’s Mansions. Let us follow Him who walked the way of servitude to the cross and rejoice at His blessed ascension. Let us look to His coming again that our entire lives might be in praise of His Name and to the Glory of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Let us thank the Lord, for He hears our prayers and does not forget us.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria