Pastor Ken Frey
Luke 17:11-19 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
1. Gratitude takes time
2. Need to grasp grace
As the lepers left Jesus walking down the road they “noticed their white blotches began to leave them and they knew they were being healed. They were elated. Ecstatic. Free. Off they ran as fast as they could go. To see a husband, a wife, that they hadn’t seen for weeks. To see a son or daughter, a father or mother, a grandfather a grandmother they hadn’t seen for months. Off they ran to see their field, their fishing boat, their store, their garden, their oxen that they hadn’t seen for who knows, how long. As fast as they could go, they were so happy to be well after all this time. But...one remembered, only one, returned, fell at his feet, worshiped him, and thanked him.” (Edward Markquart at www.sermonsfromseattle.com)
Gratitude, that is thankfulness, is uncommon. Gratitude is a problem even for Christians because it doesn’t come naturally. Children are not born thankful. That’s why we have to keep telling them to say thank you. Gratitude is not part of our sinful DNA.
Martin Luther once said, “We know from experience that this is a very common failing and that we practice ingratitude toward those to whom we should be most grateful of all, our fathers and mothers.” (Luther’s House Postils, Vol. 2, p. 425) Think about it: How often do parents hear a thank you from their children for the clothes, the cleanliness, the food, the running around?
I overheard two men in the check out line. “How you doing?” one asked. “Oh, just getting by.” “Yeah, me too. Sure is getting bad.” Then I looked at what he was buying: a big sirloin, bags of junk food and plenty to wash it down. Just getting by, he called it. Martin Luther called it the “blasphemy of ingratitude.” And it infects us all. So how do we gain uncommon gratitude?
Three things. First, recognize our great need. All ten lepers could not escape their need. They had a disease that slowly ate away at the body. It started as a white rash. If it was the deadly kind it would spread and eat away at the extremities. After time, the internal organs would be affected and after as much as 10 to 20 years of suffering, the person would die. Because it was contagious the lepers were shut out from family and community. In fact, they were considered walking dead. Yes, these men had great need.
When Luther died, they found in his pocket a note that said, “We are beggars; this is true.” Luther never forgot his need. We are always beggars before God. We have nothing. We deserve nothing. Uncommon gratitude begins with recognizing our great need.
The second thing that will give us the grace of gratitude: Realizing God’s mercy. “The one thing I deserve from God is something I hope he never gives me, damnation in hell. Gratitude that I have a door to open, a slice of bread to butter, a stitch of clothing to wear, fresh air to inhale, a loved one to enjoy, a car to drive, a church in which to worship, and much more, comes only as we’ve learned to say in catechism class, ‘because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven.’” (Richard Lauersdorf, The Northwestern Lutheran, 11/15/91, p. 386)
That mercy is so great that “Christ does not let the ingratitude of the nine lepers who had been cured deter him from doing good to others.” (Martin Luther, The House Postils, Vol. 2, p. 427) And our ingratitude didn’t keep him from the cross. He still did the good of dying for our sins even though we so often take it for granted. But if we will recognize our need caused by sin and realize God’s mercy in Christ, we are on the way to gaining uncommon gratitude.
The third thing that will heal our ingratitude is to receive God’s promise. Jesus told the lepers, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.” He didn’t heal them right then and there. What he did, instead, was give them a promise. They trusted his word and went on. How far? How long? We don’t know. But for at least a few steps all they had was a promise, a hope.
Sometimes, many times, God gives us abundance. But sometimes, all he gives us is a promise. Such as: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) Or “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12) Or “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)
May we walk on in faith, believing that as we go we will receive what is promised. Let us go on to work, to school, to the empty apartment, to the surgery or the nursing home – and let us believe that God will meet all of our needs, that our sins are as far from us as east from west, that we have redemption. How long shall we go with just the promise? How ever long it takes.
Then, let us return and give thanks. “Where are the other nine?” Jesus wondered. Were they really such a bunch of ingrates that they didn’t appreciate what Jesus had given them? Notice Jesus’ next question. Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” We often miss that word, return. They may have appreciated what Jesus did. But what Jesus is saying is that they didn’t bother to give thanks. They didn’t take the time out of their celebration to point to the source of their blessings and make sure people knew where the healing came from.
That’s what the Samaritan did. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. With a loud voice he came back to give proper thanks. How long did it take him to find Jesus? Was Jesus still in the same place? How long had it been? We don’t know. But this one man made the effort to find Jesus. Then he threw himself down in the dirt at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He made sure people knew the source of his new life. Uncommon gratitude isn’t content to just feel thankful. It will give thanks.
We are born with a spiritual leprosy from which, by Jesus’ grace, we have been healed. But the affects of that illness still linger in our systems. It causes us to be self-absorbed, focusing only ourselves. We get so wrapped up in our own business and enjoyment that we forget to take time in our lives for thanksgiving and worship.
Sometimes we come to church and the message of Christ’s uncommon mercy moves us. We feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God. We may even say a prayer of thanks to him. We put a little more in the offering plate that Sunday to thank him. We think to ourselves about how we are going to change our lives—how from now on we are going to live for God. We imagine all the changes we are going to make. But then we get home and are distracted—by the TV or the lawn or work—and those feelings and thoughts quickly drift away. Nothing really changes.
We can enjoy those sports, family and fun, like the rest of the world. But the thing that should be different about us is that we interrupt our lives to say thank you. And not just one day a year on the fourth Thursday of November, but every day, 365 days each year.
We teach our children to say thank you and we make them write thank-you notes so that they learn its important to express gratitude for what they have received. Let’s do the same with God. May we take time out of our job and family, sports and entertainment, to worship God and thank him in in weekly worship and in daily devotions. Let’s take the time to show people the source of all of our blessings.
My friends, don’t settle for the easy thank you. Don’t settle for flippantly saying, “Oh, yeah, we’re blessed. We have a lot of things to be thankful for.” That’s easy to say. Show uncommon gratitude. Let it show in how you worship here at church. Let it show at home and at school and at work. Let it show as you yourself perform acts of uncommon mercy out there in the world.
Ten lepers recognized their need. But only one realized God’s mercy. Only one held out his hand in unwavering faith in God’s promises. Only one received the promise of salvation. Only one gained uncommon gratitude. May we continue to see our need, recognize God’s mercy and trust his promises. Then, with uncommon gratitude let’s not just be thankful, let’s return and give thanks, daily, weekly, 365 days a year.