EPIPHANY/364 Days of Thanksgiving Sermon Series
January 7-9, 2017
Pastor Timothy J. Spaude
Text: Luke 17:11-19
UNCOMMON MERCY LEADS TO UNCOMMON GRATITUDE!
Luke 17:11-19 (NIV 1984) “Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance 13and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14When He saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him—and he was a Samaritan. 17Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
Today we begin the Church Year season of Epiphany. Epiphany celebrates and focuses on the many ways Jesus was made known to be the true Savior, especially to Gentiles or non Jews. We are also joining with many of ours sister WELS congregations across the nation in a year long emphasis called 364 Days of Thanksgiving. Both come together today as God’s word has already pointed out how people would be drawn to the light of Jesus, how that message needed to revealed and proclaimed to Gentiles and how Gentile wise men brought gifts for Jesus and his family to use. The message of Jesus still needs to be proclaimed here at St. Jacobi, through our high school and our synod. And that happens when modern Gentile wise men bring their gifts. But something we can never overlook when it comes to Christian living and giving is motive. God wants it to come from a thankful heart. So that we have thankful hearts let’s focus on two things you don’t see every day: 1. uncommon mercy and 2. uncommon gratitude.
As we join Jesus he is heading to Jerusalem to complete His mission as Savior of the world. He came to a village near the border between Galilee and Samaria. Just as he is about to enter the village, ten men suffering from leprosy call out to him from a distance. Leprosy is uncommon today. Cases in the United States are extremely rare. But in Jesus’ day, it was more common. Since untreated leprosy can be spread by contact, in Jesus’ day, a person who suffered from leprosy would be forced to live far away from other people in what were called leper colonies.
These lepers, though, had heard about Jesus. From a distance they yell out to him. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” (Luke 17:13). It would not be uncommon for someone to feel sorry for those who have leprosy. What was uncommon was the mercy Jesus showed. Earlier in his ministry, Jesus actually reached out and touched a man with leprosy to heal him. That was unheard of. They were considered unclean. No one would go near them, let alone touch them. Who wants to look like that? But that didn’t stop Jesus. He told the ten lepers to show themselves to the priest. In those days, the priest was the one who would declare a person clean (or healthy) from leprosy. The priest would declare that person able to return to family, worship at the temple, and rejoin life in society. On the way to the priest, Jesus again showed He was the Messiah as He miraculously healed them. He didn’t just give them a few dollars or say a few sympathetic platitudes. He changed their lives forever. He gave them a new life—a new beginning. The mercy he showed them was uncommon.
Care to differ? Well let’s think about the mercy we show today. We may feel sorry for those who suffer, but what steps do we take to alleviate their suffering? Maybe we will send a few dollars to help those suffering from Ebola in Africa. Few if any of us, would leave our home and job and then fly to Africa to volunteer to be in the middle of the action being with and touching those people. That kind of mercy is uncommon. Maybe we will give a few dollars or some food to a person who is down and out, but how many of us will invite that one into our homes, provide a job, or spend a significant amount of time helping turn that person’s life around? That kind of mercy is uncommon. But that is the kind of mercy Jesus showed—to us. Remember why Jesus came. It was to live with the sin sick that repulsed His holy nature and then to be infected with the sins of the whole world on the cross! Jesus’ mercy is uncommon!
I heard of a church recently that stopped its giving tree. It used to put up a tree where members could bring gifts and toys to be donated to those in need. But they don’t do that anymore. Do you want to know why? The church members got frustrated because the gift recipients weren’t very grateful. Some of them would actually complain about what they received. Can you believe people would be like that?
You better, because we do the same thing--to God. Jesus showed us the greatest act of love ever by sacrificing everything to win for us forgiveness and heaven. He suffered the whippings and beatings and mocking. He suffered the hellish punishment of his heavenly Father for all of our selfish sins that are all too common in each of us. And how do we so often respond? We fall into the same stupid and selfish sins. We seldom thank Jesus like we should. Yes, there are times we remember to say or sing a quick, “Thank you.” But most of the time we take his love and mercy for granted. And then we have the gall to get upset and frustrated when he doesn’t give us everything we want, when we want it. In spite of all that, our God continues to forgive us, to love us.
Wouldn’t it be better to respond to the Lord’s uncommon mercy with our own uncommon gratitude? After Jesus told the lepers to show themselves to the priest, all ten of the lepers left. Can’t you just picture what it must have been like as the lepers went to the priest? They noticed their joints no longer hurt. Their skin cleared up. They were healed. Can’t you just see them pick up the pace and begin to run? Their lives were completely changed. All ten had won the leprosy lottery! But then one of them stopped in his tracks. He turned around and ran back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. He fell at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. We aren’t told anything more about the other nine. We can only assume that they too were thankful. They just didn’t show it. That kind of gratitude is all too common.
Yes, even with us. For example we hear about a 16 year old girl tragically killed as she drove to school after Christmas break. It makes us realize how blessed we are to have people in our lives. We think to ourselves, “As soon as I get home, I am going to tell my children, my husband, my wife how much I love them. From now on, I am going to live each day as if it were their last.” But then a couple of hours pass. We get busy with our lives. By the time we get home, we forget to tell our family how much we love them. Nothing significantly changes. Or 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 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 bills or housework—and those feelings and thoughts quickly drift away. Nothing really changes.
Look again at the uncommon gratitude of that lone leper. He didn’t even make it to the priest. He could have been arrested for that, but he couldn’t help it. He had to go back to the source. He had to thank his Savior and God in an uncommon way. We can do the same. In 2017 let’s not be content with one day of Thanksgiving. Let’s add another 364! 364 days where we will strive for uncommon gratitude, showing our thanks to Jesus in ways that are above and beyond what everyone else does. Don’t miss worship. Don’t just give what’s easy and won’t be missed. Don’t be like the millions of Christians who don’t bother to have the daily conversation with God in Word and prayer. Jesus showed He was the Messiah by word and deed. He has labeled us His Epiphany lights to in our time and our community by word and deed show that Jesus is our Messiah. We have a lot of things to be thankful for. We are recipients of uncommon mercy. We can now show uncommon gratitude. What ways will you pick? Amen.