Stand Out--Give Thanks!

November 28, 2019

Sermon 1685                          Luke 17.1-19                                             November 28, 2019

We are getting to that time of year.  With half of America’s college football teams not bowl eligible, the sports commentators have to keep everybody watching, so they are cranking up the hype for the post-season awards.  The Heisman, the Outland.  There are awards for almost every position.  There’s lots of football talent in our country, many of them head and shoulders above the rest, but who is outstanding?  Who consistently stands out week after week?  Oh, the glory and the honor we heap upon these players!  Oh, that all of us could stand out like these heroes of the gridiron!

I think we can.  Oh, not according to the ESPN commentators, but according to a higher authority.  Yes, there is a higher authority than ESPN.  According to our God, each one of us can stand out.

Stand Out—Give Thanks!

  1. Though the Lord is good to all (11-15),

  2. Only the forgiven notice (16-18)

  3. And grow from it (19).

You know the story.  As Jesus is on the outskirts of a town, ten lepers cry out to him at a distance.  They are obeying the rules.  Back then people thought leprosy was contagious (it isn’t), so lepers could not live in towns or even approach people who were not lepers.  I guess this is why leper colonies started and, because the disease is so disfiguring, that is why leper colonies continue in some parts of the world.  These ten lepers must have had some trust in Jesus, because they shouted out to him to help them.  “Jesus, Master, have pity on us (3)!”  He does.  “Go, show yourselves to the priests (14).”  It doesn’t mean a lot to us, but this is what you did in Jesus’ day if you were cured of leprosy.  You go to the priest and he certifies you as leprosy-free.  Then you can go back to society.  Then you can go to a show.  Then you can return to the wife and kids, or mom and dad.  Implicit in the command to go and show yourselves to the priest is the promise they will be healed.

They all take Jesus at his word.  They all high-tail it to show themselves to the priests.  So far, so good.  It gets better.  The Bible says, “The one who trusts in him will never be put to shame (1 Peter 2.6).”  “As they went, they were cleansed (14).”  Jesus healed them.  Without vaccines, without retrovirus injections, without any medicine at all, by the power of his word, “Go, show yourselves to the priests,” Jesus heals them all.  All were healed.

Isn’t it an interesting day today?  There’s going to be rain!  That’s like a snow day in the rest of the country.  The temperature is so cool, why, you can leave your pies in the outdoor grill to save room in the refrigerator for turkey leftovers and your holiday punch.  Even with gray skies, it is colorful outside--the last of the leaves are clinging to the trees.  Maybe later tonight we’ll see a movie or sing some Christmas carols.  For all the gloom and doom, it has been really a rather nice year.  And it’s been a pretty nice year for all the world.  The rain is falling on believer and unbeliever, the good and the bad.  The Lord is good to all as he lavishes his physical gifts upon this world without discrimination.

I suppose that’s what you would expect of God.  He is good in every sense of the word.  Any good adjective you can think of, it applies to God.  Any wonderful virtue there is, God has it.  He would not be so petty as to withhold the sun and the rain.  He would not be so heartless as to send unrelenting hail and flood to the parts of our world that have irritated him.  I don’t suppose unbelievers notice.  Not believing or caring about God, they expect nothing from him.  Chance rules all.  Their highest hope is that today will be their lucky day.

I would like to say believers are different.  I would like to say believers stand out because they do notice, but I would be lying.  We abuse and ignore God’s good gifts.  My high school English teacher used to say, “Youth is wasted on the young.”  I’m will not point the finger at anyone but me.  Thought I would live forever.  Never appreciated what I had.  Just another lousy day in paradise.  But life seems to be wasted on me when I am old, too!  There is so much beauty out there, so much to live for, but my sinful human nature wants to fixate on what I don’t have, on what is wrong.  There is a reason grocers reject perfectly good fruit when it has one imperfection on it.  I would notice that one, tiny spot.  I’m surprised there isn’t a food cosmetology industry to make apples look redder and shinier.

I never saw that in Jesus’ life.  He has two small fish and five pita loaves of bread to feed five thousand.  A stand-up comedian would have a half-hour of material bellyaching about it.  Jesus gave thanks.  After an evening of healing that stretched into the wee hours, Jesus gets up early and prays.  Jesus stood out—he was thankful.

And then he laid down that outstanding life, that thankful life, on the cross to pay for all our kvetching and griping.  The nails were too sharp.  The wood was too rough.  But your will be done, Father.  He bore our sins in his own body on the tree and by his wounds we are healed.

Hmm.  That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?  What I need most is not plentiful harvests in the Midwest or a good quarterly jobs report from the Labor Department.  What I need most is not a normal cholesterol reading or a structurally sound knee.  What I need most is forgiveness of sins.  With forgiveness of sins, I will have life and salvation.  If I have that, everything else is gravy on the mashed potatoes.

Stand out—be thankful!  Only the forgiven notice.

All of the ten lepers noticed they were healed.  But one of them stood out.  He returned to Jesus, “praising God in a loud voice (15).”  Wouldn’t you know it, he wasn’t even Jewish!  He was a Samaritan, somebody the Jews despised as a half-breed, religious fraud.  “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner (17-18)?”  No doubt about it, all ten were cleansed.  Though the Lord is good to all, only the forgiven notice.  This Samaritan, a man who deserved nothing from the Jewish Savior, this Samaritan comes back to give thanks to the one who healed him.  He recognizes God’s goodness.  The rest?  Probably tickled pink, but, you know, they’ve got a lot of work to do to restart their lives.  Busy, busy, busy.

Only the forgiven stand out.  They recognize all good gifts come from the hand of our Savior.  All these good things we have, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, land, cattle and all we own, and all we need to keep body and life, we have it all, not because we have earned or deserved it, but only because he is our good and merciful Father in heaven.

So no more thinking because of the strength of my arm I have these good things.  No more thinking because of my keen intellect I am outstanding.  I have these things, things which I do not deserve to have and daily show I do not deserve to have them, I have them anyway by grace, the free and undeserved gift of love from my merciful Father in heaven.  He looks at Jesus and rewards me.  Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His mercy endures forever.  We stand out when we recognize that.

Stand out—give thanks.  Grow from it.

The best of this story is yet to come.  Jesus says to the Samaritan, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well (19).”

The Samaritan knew it wasn’t dumb luck, it wasn’t pushing the right buttons or saying the right words.  He believed in Jesus.  Against all odds he trusted in Jesus and Jesus rewarded that trust.  Faith saves.

Every time we look at the good things our Savior has given us, that’s Gospel.  God is a good God.  He is a generous God.  He loves us and will take care of us better than any earthly father ever could.  Every time we see the good in what God has given us, we recognize the giver of those good gifts is also good.  I’m not saying thanksgiving is a sacrament.  A sacrament is what God does for us, connecting a promise of the forgiveness of sins with earthly elements, like the water of baptism, or the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, according to his command.

But I will second the sentiment, in keeping God’s commands there is great reward.  By keeping God’s commandments, say, protecting the reputation of those around us, we find people protect our reputations.  By giving our government leaders honor and respect we tend to have a government that also respects us.  We are blessed in keeping God’s commands.  By recognizing all these good gifts come from the hand of my Savior, my faith and trust in him grows even more as I recall all he has done for me.  “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things (Romans 8.32)?”

“Your faith has made you well.”  We have a wonderful heaven to look forward to.  That alone makes this Thanksgiving special for us.  But because God gave us such a great gift, we stop and think that our Savior has even more to give.  So every day we look for his good and gracious hand.  And we find it.  We find it in our families, that new baby, that boy who is a chip off the old block, that little girl who so wants to imitate everything her beloved momma does.  We find it in our country, a land of opportunity and freedom.  We find it in this big, beautiful blue marble of a planet God has put us on.  Everywhere we look, blessings.  Everywhere we look, reasons for thanksgiving.

That’s outstanding.

Stand Out—Give Thanks!

  1. Though the Lord is good to all (11-15),

  2. Only the forgiven notice (16-18)

  3. And grow from it (19).

I don’t know if you even follow college football that much or how tuned in you are with the races for the Heisman and other coveted collegiate awards.  I know the television stations are pulling out all the stops so that you know all about it and care intensely.  Who will stand out?  Who will be remembered forever, that is, until he bombs in the NFL?

I do know that each one of you could go home today and, come to think of it, will go home today with a coveted award.  You stand out because you give thanks.  It is not something you do once a year, but something you display every day of your lives in response to a Savior who has given us all so much.  We go home as Christians.

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