Sermon: Thanksliving: From The Heart Of Christ
Scripture: Luke 17: 11-17
Date: November 15, 2015
We look at this story of the 10 lepers that are healed and we are appalled. How could people be so ungrateful? Leprosy was the cancer of the day. There was not just one disease that was called Leprosy. There were several skin diseases which were called leprosy. Some were just minor skin irritations, appearing as little more than a rash, while others were much more serious, even causing the complete disintegration of the flesh. We know that now, but then they were all lumped together. The minor ones were considered to just be the onset of the more serious cases. And the assumption was that Leprosy was a very contagious disease. And so part of the horror of the disease was the total isolation that was brought about because of it. Lepers were considered unclean from both a secular and spiritual stand point. If you were diagnosed with leprosy you had to stay a prescribed distance away from those who were not infected. You could not worship in the synagogue or Temple. You could not go to the healing baths at the Dead Sea. None of the faith healers of the day would come anywhere near a leper. And the instances of self healing were very rare. A diagnosis of leprosy was a sentence of isolation and death. They were the truly marginalized, isolated, hopeless of society. Some lepers lived in colonies together, but many chose to live lives of complete isolation. It is hard for us to imagine how horrible a life they lived. On the rare occassions that they ventured out into the public they had to wear bells around their necks to warn the unaffected that a miserable wretch was approaching. Stay away. And so one day, ten lepers approached Jesus – well not so much approached Jesus as shouted at him from a distance. They knew their place. And the interesting thing is that they didn’t ask to be healed, they didn’t dare hope for that, as much as they were seeking to be paid attention to. Have pity on us they pleaded. Now, of course, Jesus knew their deepest need was for his attention to end in healing. And so, his instructions given from a distance was for each one of them to go and present themselves to the priests, which was the requirement of one whose leprosy had been healed, and if the priest said that they were clean, then they could resume their place in the world. But they were confused because when Jesus shouted the instruction to them, they were obviously not healed. It was in being obedient that they were healed and so by the time that they arrived at the priest, the leprosy was gone. We can only imagine what a joy filled moment that was. Some of you have fought cancer, and have experienced that moment when the doctor has said that the cancer is gone. The joy of that. And yet only one of the ten lepers, and a Samaritan at that, returned to offer thanks to Jesus. So what does this have to do with Thanksliving? Well one writer says this:
What a pitiful revelation of human nature. What rank ingratitude. Surely this is not typical! This can’t be a picture of 90% of the people in the world. But then again… We now live in a world in which there are more hungry people than there were people 100 years ago. Yet, according to a gallop Poll nine out of ten American families will not utter a prayer as they sit down to their Thanksgiving dinner.
Now I am no math genius but even I can figure that a lot of persons who profess to be Christians will be included in that nine who fail to give thanks at the table. Jesus said: “Where are the nine? Will no one return and give thanks to God?” Are we really that much unlike them? I wonder. I wonder.
How sad it is… indeed, how tragic… that some people see faith as a source of goodness, but not as a source of gladness. How sad that some people see religion as a sensitizer of conscience, but not as a fountain of joy.
Now here’s the question this story leaves us with. Why didn’t the 9 return thanks to Jesus? And I suppose there are several explanations. Perhaps there were those who felt some sense of entitlement. Because their life had been so terrible, they deserved to be healed. God had given them the Leprosy in the first place, so why should they thank Him for taking it away? He owed it to them. When we blame God for the troubles and difficulties, even the tragedies in our lives, then we sometimes fail to see the need for gratitude if things start to go well for us. That’s not a blessing. It’s an entitlement. They were entitled to be healed from their leprosy. Thanksliving? Well what about the misery that we had experienced up to this point? Those who do not live every moment with gratitude, often feel that what they are getting from life is exactly what they deserve, no more, no less, so why be thankful? I have a friend that rarely leaves a tip when they go out to eat. And I asked him why, and he said “why should a leave a gratuity (in other words be grateful) to someone who is just doing their job – serving me my meal. But” he said, “if they go beyond the requirements of their job, then I am happy to express my appreciation by leaving a tip.” Perhaps the nine, or some of them, did not see Jesus healing them as anything more than they deserved. Perhaps some of us won’t offer a prayer of Thanksgiving at the Thanksgiving table because we believe that we deserve to have a feast placed before us and we deserve to be surrounded by family and friends. We’ve earned it. What does God have to do with it? But friends there are a lot of people in this community, even in this church who would take exception to that. Dave Ramsey has one of the most popular syndicated talk radio programs in the country and when someone calls in and asks him how he is, he always answers “Better than I deserve.” Thanksliving is a life with no sense of entitlement. Everything that comes our way is a gift, a blessing from God. It is an acknowledgement that in everything we are blessed beyond measure. One preacher described this so well when he says this about the Apostle Paul:
A truly grateful person spontaneously desires to share. Ideally, in the hearts and minds of Christians is an unending flow of “great thanksgivings.” This is seen so distinctly in the writings of the Apostle Paul. It seems as though he can’t stop giving thanks, especially for what he has found in Jesus the Christ. He overflows with expressions that inspire us, as well as other readers for centuries. He does so, even though clouds of imprisonment and shipwreck hang over him. He is the “Apostle of Gratitude” par excellence. The source (of his gratitude) is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing fabricated or questionable about all of this. It is just there and he wants others to know.
Thanksliving means being grateful for all the blessings of life, those deserved and those better than we deserve.
And then perhaps some of the lepers didn’t return because they didn’t understand that their blessing came from Jesus.
There are three things about this story that set it apart from the other stories of healing that involve Jesus.
*First, there is no physical touch by Jesus. In most of the other miracle stories we are told that Jesus touched the one that was healed in some way, or that they touched him. But Luke makes it clear that these lepers did not come anywhere near Jesus.
And then this healing is different because it is not an individual that Jesus is dealing with here. *It is healing in the the context of the group. All ten lepers were healed in spite of their faith or lack of faith. Thanksliving means being thankful for individual blessings but also being thankful in a much broader sense. Calls us to look beyond our individual needs. We are just as thankful for the blessing of our neighbor, as we are for individual blessings. Thankful for a God who blesses all.
And then thirdly, *this healing expanded Jesus’ ministry beyond just the Jews. In fact, it was the hated Samaritan who recognized that this blessing came from Jesus, and returned to give thanks. In fact, that may have been the very reason that some did not recognize Jesus as the source of their blessing. Surely the Jewish Messiah would not bless a pagan or even worse, a Samaritan. Thanksliving is being grateful for the blessings of your life but also for the blessings of others, because true Thanksliving begins in the heart of Christ, whose desire is to bless everyone. And so ultimately it is not the individual circumstances of our life which serve as the source of our life of thankfulness, but it is our relationship with the giver of all life that we rejoice in. That’s what Paul means when He says Rejoice in the the LORD always. Thanksliving means rejoicing in our life in Christ. Thanksliving means living a Christ like life.
And so what would that look like as it relates to a life of rejoicing in everything. Well, first Thanksliving is a life focused on eternity. Thanksliving means not letting the storms of the present moment rob us of the joy of eternity. When we view life from the lens of the immediate, there are many things which keep us from rejoicing. When Paul says to rejoice in all things, He is not denying the current trials and pain, but rather He is filtering his current trials through the lens of eternity with Christ. King Duncan writes:
(The words “Rejoice always”) were written by a man who somehow learned to put life into perspective. Paul knew better than any of us that life can be difficult. He had been beaten for his faith, shipwrecked, imprisoned. But he knew that Christ is greater than any adversary, any painful emotion, any remembered hurt. He is not rejoicing because of a Positive Mental Attitude. He’s rejoicing because he knows that God is in control. It’s not just any kind of cheerful good mood. He is rejoicing in the Lord (not the circumstances he finds himself in.) When St. Paul says to us, “Rejoice,” he is not talking about a temporary happy fix that is passing. He’s talking about joy that is lasting and all-pervading. It comes from our belief that God is in control of the world, our gratitude for what Christ Jesus has done in our behalf and for our participation in the family of Christ. We are called to rejoice in the Lord.
Thanksliving comes from our life in Christ, not from our life in this world. So don’t let difficult times or difficult people rob you of your joy. Rejoice in the Lord always.
And then I would say that Thanksliving is a life of grace. Grace filled and graceful.
Look again at what Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all . . .” Now that word “gentleness” is an interesting word. What Paul has in mind is showing all a Christlike life through our thankfulness. That our life should show all that the Lord is near. In The Message, Eugene Peterson expresses it this way, Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in Him. Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. What Paul has in mind is not the gentleness that comes from weakness, but from an internal source of strength. The Grace of God.
One writer says:
How do you maintain grace in the face of provocation? In the same way you maintain joy in the midst of grief. You keep your eye fixed on the big picture. God is in control. No adversary can defeat Christ. He is the reason we rejoice. In a hospital bed, we can rejoice. By a grave side, we can rejoice. During the breakup of a marriage, we can rejoice. We are in God’s hands. Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let grace be evident to all.”
A life of thanksgiving testifies to the grace that is received but also the grace that we give.
It is Grace that enables us to be thankful in all things. And it is grace that enables us to be thankful for all people.
And then I would say that Thanksliving is a life of sacrifice. Thanksliving is a life that is given away because Christ gave away His life for us. A thankful heart is a generous heart. Thanksliving is not expressed in terms of how much we have received, but rather how much we give away. Jesus gave everything for us, including His very life on the Cross, and the way we live a Christ like life is by our willingness to give away all of what Jesus has given us. In light of where we are as a church financially, I have been reading a lot about giving in recent days and one writer convicted me when he wrote this:
Holding back or limiting the story and power of the faith can be tragic. We have this timeless gift in the person of Jesus the Christ to share with others.
Thanksliving is letting go and letting God. We cannot truly have peace with God, if we withhold any part of ourselves. A Christ like life is a life of total abandonment. It is living life with a willingness to give of our whole selves because that’s exactly what Jesus did for us.
One writer observes:
Genuine thanksgivings born of a right relationship with God the Father through his Son cannot be faked! Paul understood so well it is in paying the price for us by Jesus of Nazareth that the door opens to an “attitude of gratitude.” Rejection and/or indifference speak for themselves.
Thanksliving is a life that witnesses to the unlimited blessings of God through the sacrificial nature of the Cross. Jesus gave and gave and gave until He had no more to give on this earth. His very life. And God poured upon Him the greatest blessing of all, eternal life. Isn’t that what Paul had in mind when he wrote: Now I am being poured out as a thanksgiving offering. We become a Thanksgiving offering when our lives are poured out in service and earthly possessions. So what about you – are you pouring out your life for Christ? The last few weeks there has been a lot of angst about the deficit that we face as a church. But I know your heart and that St. Luke has always responded when God has challenged you to pour out your lives. So let me challenge you as you think about God’s blessings on your life in the days ahead, are you pouring your life out for Christ. Next week we will be thinking about Thanksliving as the heart of the church. And I’m calling on us to respond with a special Thanksliving offering next week. I believe that if we will all pour our lives out, that God will use that to His Glory. Let’s fill this horn of plenty with the blessings of God on our lives.
We live a life of thanks not when we hold on to the blessings of God, but when we give them all away. When the Rich young ruler came to Christ asking what must he do to live with God forever, He was quick to point out all of the blessings that God had poured into Him, but when Jesus said to gain life, you must be willing to give it away. Give and give and give until you have no more time, no more service, no more money, no more burdens to give so that God can fill you completely and forever with His unlimited blessings. And the peace of God which is so much greater then we can ever comprehend, understand, will be yours forevermore.
The story is told of a great battle of the civil war. In the middle of the battle, a general was mortally wounded and he lay dying on the battlefield surrounded by his aides. He began to cry out: “Give it to me, give it to me.” One of his aides said: “General, we will give you anything you ask for. What is it?” He pointed to a soldier that was dying underneath a tree not far from him. He said: “I would give ten thousand lives to have what that soldier told me he had last night.”
They rushed over to that soldier and discovered just a lowly Buck Private peacefully dying underneath that tree. They said: “You told the General you had something last night and he wants it. What is it? Give it to the General.”
With his last breath, the soldier said: “I will gladly give it away It is the peace of God that passes all understanding.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of peace that I want in my life. And the question is whether I am ready to give everything,- my attitudes, my prejudices, my earthly riches, my burdens – everything I have so God can fill me up with everything He has for me with His peace, His grace, His love, or am I going to continue to hold on to the things of this world and deny God the joy of filling me up completely with His Spirit?
Filling me with a life of thankfulness straight from the heart of Christ.