Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
October 13, 2013, Pentecost XXI
Jeremiah 29:4-7, Psalm 66:1-12, II Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
From the Old Testament:
Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
From the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy:
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
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.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Thanksgiving is right around the corner; A time to gather together with family and friends for good food, good fellowship and of course to give thanks to God for the many blessings that we have been given. When you are sitting at the table, have you ever gone around the table and asked each one to say one thing ‘that are you thankful for’? Of course, the usual responses are: ‘I am thankful for the food that is before us,’ ‘I am thankful for my parents,’ ‘I am thankful for my brothers and sisters.’ Does anyone thank God for all He has done for us? Maybe you do; praise God for that! Maybe it’s a situation where God is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ Maybe we take God for granted. Do we show God our gratitude and how often and in what way?
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus is traveling with His disciples to Jerusalem. At the border of Samaria and Judea, Jesus healed ten lepers at one time, and the fact that the miracle involved a Samaritan made it even more significant. Jesus used this event to teach a lesson about gratitude of God.
The story begins with ten unclean men, all of whom were lepers. The Jews and Samaritans would not normally live together, but misery loves company and all ten were outcasts. What difference does birth make if you are experiencing a living death with leprosy? One would think that they would have no hope, but they did!
The Prophet Jeremiah, however, was dealing with hopelessness. The Jews had been conquered and exiled to Babylon. They had lost everything but their lives and what few possessions they could carry with them to Babylon. They’d lost their freedoms and were now captives. They’d been taken from their home and had lost their means of making a living. They were separated from relatives and friends, some of whom may have perished in the long march from Jerusalem to Babylon. No matter how they looked at it, the situation seemed hopeless.
How should we handle such a depressing situation? Accept it from the hand of God and let God have His way. It does no good to hang our harps on the willow trees and sit around and weep, although this may be a temporary normal reaction to tragedy (Ps. 137:1-4). One of the first steps in turning tragedy into triumph is to accept the situation courageously and put ourselves into the hands of a loving God, who makes no mistakes.
Now returning to the ten lepers; these men had hope, for Jesus was there, and they cried out for mercy. The men referred to Jesus as ‘Master.’ Peter referred to Jesus as ‘Master’ when he was first called by Jesus to be one of His disciples (Luke 5:5). The word “master” means “chief commander.” They knew that Jesus was totally in command of even disease and death, and they trusted Him to help them.
Jesus is the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10), and our purpose is to bring honor and glory to Him; to show our gratitude. What an encouragement Jesus Christ is to a suffering Christian soldier! For He died and rose again, proving that suffering leads to glory, and that seeming defeat leads to victory. Jesus was treated as an evildoer: He was crucified on the cross, and His soldiers (believers) have been and will be treated the same way.
The best way to magnify Christ is through the ministry of the Word. St. Paul was bound in prison, but God’s Word cannot be bound. Paul not only suffered for the Lord’s sake, but he also suffered for the sake of the church. There were yet many people to reach with the Gospel, and Paul wanted to help reach as many as he could. And reach them he did, through his evangelism and the many letters he wrote to the churches.
It is faith in Jesus Christ that gives us victory (1 John 5:4). We do not fear the enemies, for He has already conquered them. Through our identification with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection, we have won the victory.
What a pair of paradoxes! Death leads to life! Suffering leads to reigning in glory! We have nothing to fear! The important thing is that we not “disown” our Lord; for if we disown Him here on earth, He will disown us before the Father (Matt. 10:33). In that great “roll call” in glory, when the “medals” are given out, we will lose our reward if we disown His name.
Paul makes it clear (2 Tim. 2:13) that even our own doubt and unbelief cannot change God: “He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” We do not put faith in our faith or in our feelings because they will change and fail. We put our faith in Christ. The missionary, J. Hudson Taylor, often said, “It is not by trying to be faithful, but in looking to the Faithful One, that we win the victory.”
Luke’s account of healing the lepers continues by referring to nine ungrateful men (Luke 17:17). Jesus commanded the men to go show themselves to the priest, which in itself was an act of faith, for they had not yet been cured. When they turned to obey, they were completely healed, for their obedience was evidence of their faith.
You would have expected all ten men to run to Jesus and thank Him for a new start in life, but only one did so – and he was not even a Jew. How grateful the men should have been for the providence of God that brought Jesus into their area, for the love that caused Him to pay attention to them and their need, and for the grace and power of God that brought about their healing.
They should have formed an impromptu men’s chorus and sung Psalm 103 together: “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 as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…”
But before we judge them too harshly, what is our own “GQ” – “Gratitude Quotient”? How often do we take our blessings for granted and fail to thank the Lord? “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31). Too often we are content to enjoy the gift but we forget the Giver. We are quick to pray but slow to praise.
Are we the spoiled or entitled child that expects, if not demands material things from our parents: “I need a cell phone,” “I need a car,” “I need a lap top computer.” Does the child understand and appreciate our parents’ generosity? Do we show our gratitude? Do we show our gratitude towards our heavenly Father? – the One who gave us life – the One who gives us eternal life through Jesus Christ.
Suppose you are a farmer and there has been a dry spell. So, you pray to God for rain. Well, a few days later, it rains. How do you respond? “Boy, are we lucky, Mother Nature came through for us!” Or do you show your gratitude and thank God for the blessings He bestows.
How about, you lost your watch, and you ask God to help you find it. You search and search all over the place and no watch. After a few days, you find it. How do you respond? “There it is, I knew I would find it eventually.” You found it all by yourself, without any help from God. Or you show your gratitude and thank God for helping you find that which was lost.
The next time you sing “Now Thank We All Our God,” try to remember that Martin Rinkhart (1586-1649) wrote it during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) when his pastoral duties were most difficult. Rev. Rinkhart was a German clergyman and hymnist. He conducted as many as forty funerals a day – 4,480 funerals in total, including that of his own wife and two other ministers; yet he wrote those beautiful words as a table grace for his family. In spite of war and plague around him and sorrow within him, he was able to give thanks to the Lord from a grateful heart. Despite all his hardship, he wrote the following prayer to his children to offer to the Lord:
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done, in whom his world rejoices,
Who, from our mothers’ arms, hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
Luke’s account of Jesus healing the ten lepers closes with one unusual man (Luke 17:15-19). The Samaritan shouted “Glory to God!” and fell at Jesus’ feet to praise Him and give thanks. It would have been logical for him to have followed the other men and gone to the temple, but he first came to the Lord Jesus with his sacrifice of praise (Ps. 107:22; Heb. 13:15). This pleased the Lord more than all the sacrifices the other men offered, even though they were obeying the Law (Ps. 51:15-17). Instead of going to the priest, the Samaritan became a priest, and he built his altar at the feet of Jesus.
By coming to Jesus, the man received something greater than physical healing: he was also saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you,” the same words He spoke to the repentant woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:50). This was the woman, a sinner, who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears; dried them with her hair and anointed Jesus’ head with oil.
The Samaritan’s nine friends were declared clean by the priest, but the Samaritan was declared saved by the Son of God! While it is wonderful to experience the miracle of physical healing, it is even more wonderful to experience the miracle of eternal salvation.
Every child of God should cultivate the grace of gratitude. It not only opens the heart to further blessings but glorifies and pleases the Father. An unthankful heart is fertile soil for all kinds of sins (Rom. 1:21ff).
What is your Gratitude Quotient? I am going to give you a homework assignment. I am not going to collect them next week; I am not going to grade them. This is a take home exam – open book (Bible). This assignment will be between you and God. I want you to write down everything that you are thankful for; that God has done for you. Then when you are finished, I want you to show your gratitude to God: to thank Him; to praise Him; to glorify Him; with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your soul!
Let us pray: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. AMEN!