Luke 17:11-19 (Thanksgiving Eve)
“Foreigners Give Thanks”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
November 22, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson for Thanksgiving recorded in Luke 17:
On the way to Jerusalem, he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Have you ever experienced one of those “Aha!” moments? It’s a time in your life where suddenly something clicks in your mind. You get it! It makes sense. “Aha” moments can also happen with God’s Word when the Holy Spirit unlocks a truth that you have never grasped before.
The account of the ten lepers is not a new story for most of us. It’s a story from the Bible that many of us first learned way back in Sunday School. At the very least, we hear it read year after year on Thanksgiving Eve. Ten lepers are cleansed by Jesus from their leprosy. Only one returns to Jesus to thank Him. Shame on the other nine! We are glad that we aren’t like them, but are like the one who came back and gave thanks. After all, that’s what we will do tomorrow before we dig into the turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. What a nice story to hear in church about giving thanks. Amen.
But not so fast. I haven’t gotten to the “aha” moment yet. Listen to the Word of God. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned with a loud voice glorifying God, and he fell on his face at His feet giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answered and said, ‘Were not the ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found returning to give glory to God except this foreigner?’” Aha!! If we are to consider ourselves to be like the leper who returned and gave glory to God and thanks to Jesus we must consider ourselves to be foreigners!
Now wait a minute, that doesn’t sound very appealing. After all, we know about foreigners. They don’t often speak our language. They don’t understand our rules. They don’t follow our way of life. They are different from us, not part of us. And they shouldn’t be treated like they are one of us. Precisely! The man who returned to give glory to God and thanks to Jesus was a foreigner. He was a Samaritan. He was not an Israelite. He was not a Jew. The Samaritans were descendants of intermarriages between Israelites and Assyrian colonists. They were termed “half-breeds” and were publicly cursed in the synagogues. As far as the Jews were concerned, these foreigners were excluded even from eternal life.
So to see ourselves as this leper means to see ourselves as foreigners to God. God is holy; we are sinful. Sin is foreign to God. God is righteous; we are unrighteous. Unrighteousness is foreign to God. God is gracious. God is love. God is just. We are none of those things. We are foreign to God. And our foreignness does mean that we are excluded from eternal life. The sinner cannot stand in the presence of the holy God. Sin separates us from God. Sin condemns us to everlasting death apart from God’s presence. The Confession of Sins doesn’t lie. In it we speak what is true: I am a poor, miserable sinner. I have offended God by my sins and I justly deserve both temporal and eternal punishment. I am a foreigner before God who deserves nothing, even as the Samaritan leper who stood before Jesus deserved nothing.
Yet the Samaritan leper received everything. “Arise. Go. Your faith has saved you.” We have here something more than a mere physical healing. We have God granting salvation to a foreigner! Jesus cleanses the man from the disease of leprosy and also cleanses the man from the disease of sin, looking ahead to the cleansing that Jesus would accomplish in His passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the One who also cleanses the entire sin of all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike, all “foreigners” who were separated from God by their sin. It is Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave that makes us no longer foreign to God. We read in Ephesians 2, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. . . . And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. . . . So then you are no longer strangers and aliens [foreigners!], but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:13-20).
The forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for us when He shed His blood on the cross and gave up His life into death makes us holy, without sin, before God. We are no longer God’s enemies because our sins are washed away in the blood of Jesus. God has freely given forgiveness and salvation to us through Christ. He has, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the waters of baptism, given us faith to trust in Christ. This faith receives the forgiveness that Jesus won for us, and so the Spirit makes into the Lord’s family members, children of God in Christ by faith! “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1-2a).
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we freely receive the gift of forgiveness and eternal life. Faith alone in Christ has saved us! We are not foreigners anymore. We are the Lord’s forgiven children. So, how do we respond to this great gift to us? By giving thanks to Christ and glory to God. 1 Chronicles 16 encourages us, “Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!” (1Chron. 16:8-10).
Thanks be to God! He has granted salvation to foreigners! We have been made holy by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus now bids us, “Rise. Go. Your faith has saved you!” As we do, we respond in faith, giving glory to God and thanks to Christ who has done such wondrous things for us. “Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 106:1). Amen.