Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Pentecost 20

"Surprise by Mercy"

Luke 17:11-19

October 9, 2016

What's a surprise? It's something unexpected. It's something we get when we're not planning for it. Surprises come in two categories. We have happy and pleasant surprises but also the unpleasant ones as well. Today's Gospel reading includes both for the ten men.

The first is the unpleasant surprise. It's the kind we don't like. The men at some point were diagnosed with leprosy. This was a terrible surprise. It meant that they had to leave their homes, their families and their jobs to live in the wilderness away from healthy people. They had to shout, "unclean, unclean!" if they met anyone on the road. They had to depend on the charity of others for food and clothing. They lived a life separated from healthy people. Theirs was a life without hope or joy.

Luke 17:11-19 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. Then 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. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."

The happy surprise was their encounter with Jesus. They knew who He was. They had heard of His miraculous healing power. When they saw Him, once again hope came alive in their hearts. When they cried out to Him, they were not disappointed. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Why the priests? They were the public health officials of the day. It was the priests who made the diagnosis of leprosy and banished the leper from the community. It was the priest who would pronounce the leprosy cured and readmit the leper back into the community.

When the leper was readmitted into the community, there were prescribed sacrifices which were required. After these were made, the leper could return to home and family once again. It was intended to be a time of joy and thanksgiving to God.

These ten men had faith to believe and do what Jesus commanded. It was no problem. They were even more surprised and excited as they realized their leprosy was gone. Oh, the joy! Why, then, did only one return to thank Jesus? Think about your own life. What about a time when you were so surprised and excited that you forgot to thank the giver of the gift?

Actually, in spite of all the reminders from our parents to say "thank you" how often do we forget to do just that? Unfortunately, this is especially true with the Lord. We tend to take His gifts and blessings so for granted that we daily forget to thank Him.

We are blessed. In fact, we probably don't really appreciate how blessed we are. If you would talk to missionaries or aid workers who travel to third world countries, you would hear reports of the poorest of the poor with literally nothing living next open sewage ditches, breathing air continuously polluted with burning garbage. These poorest of humanity are truly beggars. In their poverty, they picture for us our true standing before God. Without the love of Christ, we are like them and the 10 lepers, spiritual beggars who have nothing.

The Good News is that the Lord God has taken pity on us. Just as Jesus healed the 10 lepers, so He offers us spiritual healing. As Mary, the mother of our Lord sang, "He has filled the hungry with good things but the rich He has sent away empty-handed." The Lord has filled us with not only spiritual blessings but with physical blessings. He has provided us with our daily bread and, yet, so much more.

Because we have so much, we tend to begin to take these blessings for granted. Our on-going attitude of gratitude is replaced by "yeah, whatever." When you go to the doctor anxious and afraid and the report comes back ok, do you remember to thank God for the good news? When you pray for safe travel and arrive safely, do you thank God? When the Lord answers any of your prayers big or little, do you remember to thank God? If not, why not?

It seems that nine of the lepers were so caught up in their joy and excitement that that they couldn't wait to see the priests and return home. You can understand how they felt. Maybe, you've experienced the same kind of joy. But, would they have "lost" all that much time to return even briefly to thank Jesus for the great gift of healing and restoration they'd received? Why was this a case of "out of sight, out of mind?"

Why didn't they return to give thanks? You know the answer because you've done the same thing yourself. It wasn't that you weren't excited and happy. It's not even that you were unthankful. You just forgot. But, is that an excuse? No, it's not an acceptable excuse for the wonderful goodness you've received.

Is our thankfulness something like the percentage in the story? Do we perhaps thank God one time out of ten for His many gifts and blessings? When you're surprised by joy, why is it that your thanks to God isn't immediate? What we need is a change of attitude.

It's hard to have a thankful heart when we take the blessings of God for granted. Think about the cross. Jesus surprised us with His love by dying on the cross for our sins. He took our punishment by taking our place. When we think about His great love, do we also remember to thank Him? When we receive our daily bread, do we remember to say "thank you"? The list goes on. As you think about your daily living, who are you more like---the nine who joyfully went on their way or the one who came back?

With the Lord, there is forgiveness. We pray that our thankfulness will not be so long delayed, that it seems like it's an artificial afterthought. Oh, for the joy of receiving the blessings of God as if they were unexpected surprises. That attitude would change our perspective on life. Each breath we take is a gift from God. Each moment here on earth is a gift from God. The people in our lives are gifts from God. As James reminds us [1:17], "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

By God's grace our lives will also become more like the one who returned to give thanks to Jesus. By God's grace we will receive each moment and each blessing as a wonderful surprise. With the joyful leper and the people of God throughout the ages, we say, "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations." [Psalm 108:3] and again, "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!" [Psalm 107:1]. Amen.


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