9-18-22 Trinity 14

September 18, 2022
Passage: Luke 17:11-19
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“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” (Ps. 107:1). Consider with me what great benefits God has given us. He has made us, body and soul. Our very existence is a gift of God. He did not owe us life, but he gave it to us out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy. And he did not speak us into existence as he said, “Let there be” about everything else and it was. No, he stooped down in the moist dirt and formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. And every breath that mankind has taken since is a gift of God, as it says in Job 12, “In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10). If God should gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust (Job 34:14-15). But God doesn’t do this. Instead, even counting only from the beginning of the sermon, the Lord has given you a dozen gifts of breath. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

God gives the gift of breath to all living things, but he has given even more particularly to man. He made us in his image. He made us rational like him. God took something that was unique to himself, the ability to think and to reason, and he lovingly bestowed it on man. We can ponder things, we can grasp abstract concepts with our minds, we can plan, we can ask, “Why?” We are not stuck in this moment, but we can remember the past and examine causes and anticipate the future. God has has raised us above mere animal instinct and given a certain timelessness to the mind of man. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

But this was not enough for our gracious God. He wanted to give more. And so he created man with the gift of speech. It is doubtful whether man ever would have come up with language on his own. Language is as complex a thing as the creation. But rather than speculate about man’s ability or inability to devise language himself, let us turn to Scripture, and what do we hear? We hear the Lord speaking to Adam on the very day Adam was created, and we hear Adam understanding the Lord. We hear Adam naming every creature on the day he was created. We hear Adam composing poetry about Eve on the day of their creation. In short, we learn from Scripture that God created man with the gift of language. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

And why did God give man this gift of language? So that he could give man even more blessings! Through language God speaks his Word to man. What a thrill to receive the words of the living God! Adam must have been beside himself with joy when the Lord said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” when the Lord said, “You may surely eat of every tree in the garden” and warned him not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And can you imagine Adam’s joy when he realized that the gift of language went both ways? Not only could Adam receive the Word of God. He could also speak to God! The Lord has given us the gift of his name so that we can call upon him, so that we can ask things of him, so that we can thank and praise him. How many good things have we received from God through this glorious gift of prayer? How many disasters have been averted through prayer? “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

Time would fail us to meditate on all the good things God bestowed on man in creation. And so we will pass over the gifts of hearing and sight and taste and touch and smell, the blessings of daily bread, of heat and cold, sun and rain, the beauty of the earth, the flowers of the field, which God could have made various shades of gray, but made colorful for no other reason than to give man delight. We will pass over God’s constant defense against danger, his thwarting of evil, his preservation of order, and a hundred thousand other things.

But we shall not pass over Christ. How could we? In the beginning God made us righteous and we made ourselves rebels. God could have justly condemned us to eternal punishment, and instead, out of love for us, miserable, sinful dust that we are, he wanted to reconcile us to himself. And so he sent his Son. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

Now we’ve heard the following a thousand times before, but God help us if we ever lose our delight in it. The Son of God appeared in human flesh. Think of that. The Son of God so loved his Father and you that he joined your nature to his nature and God became a man. He didn’t do this for his own sake, but in order to bless you. He acted as if all the gifts he had already given were nothing, so much more did he give in redeeming you. We were like the miserable lepers, cut off, corrupt to the core, using the last remnant of feeble human speech to cry out, “Jesus, Master, haver mercy on us.” And Jesus did not hesitate. In our reading Jesus said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests,” and it says, “as they went they were cleansed.” One simple verse. And so simple was our entire redemption to Christ. He counted as nothing the mocking the rejection the persecution. He could overlook the flagellation and the crown of thorns and the blasphemy. He could embrace his cross as he carried it to Golgotha, not merely because sinful men made him carry it, but because he cherished our redemption. “For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross.” That’s what it says in Hebrews 12. Just as Jesus put the lost sheep on his shoulders rejoicing, rejoicing to carry it on his shoulders because that meant it was his again and he had it back, so did Jesus for the joy that was set before him endure the cross. For joy he did it, and you are that joy to Christ, so deeply does he love you. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

By the death of Jesus you have cleansing from sin. By the death of Jesus you have deliverance from death and the devil. By the resurrection of Jesus you have eternal life. Moreover, Jesus has given you the gift of pastors to preach the Gospel to you. Jesus has instituted means of grace, plural, means. Jesus has caused Scripture to be written. He has instituted Baptism and Absolution and the Sacrament of the Altar. He has put his Gospel in the mouths not only of preachers but of every Christian so that we can speak it to one another and never lack the comfort of his grace. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!”

Give thanks. We owe thanksgiving to God. “For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.” We know this. We also know that our flesh is stubbornly independent and forgetful and takes things for granted. It does not want to owe anyone anything. The old Adam looks to all the good he has and attributes it to the work of his own hands. He finds it all too easy to overlook the good and fixate on the bad. Because of one blessing that the flesh doesn’t have it ignores a million other blessings that it does have. And because of that one little thing that is lacking the sinful nature likes to play the victim and say “Woe is me” and expects everyone to pity it and pander to it. The old Adam assumes that the good things of life must simply be and ceases to see them as gifts. Breath, light, daily bread―our sinful nature takes these for granted. But far be this from us! We may struggle with these things, Christ forgive us, but we don’t want any of them. We don’t want to be rebelliously independent from God and we don’t want to forget his generosity toward us. We don’t want to be the nine lepers who receive good from Christ and respond with ingratitude. We know we’re dependent on Jesus and we delight in that. We sincerely desire to remember all that he has done for us. We confess, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want,” that is, I shall lack nothing. We want to see all God’s gifts as God’s gifts, and we always want to see them that way.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Ps. 103:1-5).

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). If you’re wondering where thanksgiving will come from, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” That was the whole point of most of this sermon. Too often we do not give thanks because we do not stop to taste. We’ve all rushed through a good meal at some point in life, inhaling it and not realizing how delicious it is. But this morning we stopped to taste. And it has been delightful, has it not? Reflection on the Lord’s generosity and grace brings with it peace and happiness and a carefree heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good,” and seeing that the Lord is good, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” That’s the natural response. We give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. Thanksgiving isn’t complicated. It simply means saying, “Thank you, Lord, for”―fill in the blank. Thanksgiving simply means acknowledging God as the Giver of all the good we have. The prayers and thanksgivings in the Small Catechism show how simple and natural thanksgiving is, “I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have kept me this night from all harm and danger, that you have graciously kept me this day.”

Now when we give thanks to God we are giving him something. It’s the only thing we can give him. But we don’t give him thanks as if he needs something from us. We give thanks because it’s right. And in a wonderful way the Lord takes the thanksgiving that we give to him and uses it as an opportunity to give more to us. Such is the nature of our generous Lord. He looks for every chance to give us something else.

Consider how thanksgiving puts the hardships of life into perspective. Instead of thinking of the one blessing I don’t have, thanksgiving makes me dwell on the hundreds and thousands of blessings that I do have. If I feel that I lack something, whether something trivial, like a night of sleep, or something weightier, like the gift of sight, the apparent lack becomes no lack at all in the light of all the blessings that God has bestowed on me. Picture a set of scales. Place in one side everything that the Lord has not given you or has taken away from you, and place in the other side all the good gifts that the Lord has given and that are still yours. The devil would like you to look at what you don’t have, the side of the scale that is in fact lighter than air. Thanksgiving focuses us on the side of the scale that bottomed out long ago and into which the Lord continually piles his blessings.

Thanksgiving also keeps life rightly oriented. Consider the physical position of the various lepers in relation to Jesus. The nine lepers who respond to the gifts of Jesus with ingratitude have their backs to him, are far from him, and are walking away from him. But the one leper who returned to give thanks is facing Jesus, is near Jesus, is pointed toward Jesus. Thanksgiving has oriented his life toward Christ. This leper looks to Christ and expects all good from him. In time of need, there’s Jesus. In time of joy, there’s Jesus. And Jesus is glad to have us near him. He doesn’t want to cast us off. He doesn’t want us to depart from him. And that’s because he loves us, because he wants to be gracious and generous to us, because he wants to give us more. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever!” Amen.

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