Thanksgiving Day Sermon, 2021

The gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers.

If you’ve ever wondered why the gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers, it’s because—like people at many Thanksgiving dinners—90% of them are ungrateful.

Of course that’s not literally true, but you know as well as I do that many people will be asked today what they’re thankful for—and we all know that one spiteful person who chooses, every year, to be an ungrateful leper—like there’s a sign-up sheet for it.

For their sake—and for ours—thus says the Lord through St. Luke: 

“Lifting up their voices, [the ten lepers] said, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us’” (cf. Luke 17:13).

And when Jesus saw them, He said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (Luke 17:14).

“And as they went they were cleansed. 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. Now he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:14-16).

At this, Jesus seems to wonder: “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

These are rhetorical questions.

Faith is found where some believe it ought not be, but sometimes, when good is done to you, you just move on and take no time to return and give thanks.

So Jesus says to Samaritan ex-leper, “Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]” (Luke 17:19).

He says that only to the one.

The 90% go away happily, but they are ungrateful.

Now, if I were to ask you to define ingratitude, I’m sure you’d have a very specific example in mind, and I’m sure that example would not be you.

It’s very easy to pick up on ingratitude when other people are ungrateful.

You see the time that goes into the work provided, without a thank you for the work.

You see the effort required to accomplish a task, the effort poured out for another, without a thank you for the sweat it took to do it.

You see the money wasted on an ice-cold heart, without so much as a “By your leave…”

You see it all—that they don’t realize what it takes to give them what they want.

That everyone else suffers to give them joy—and they even gripe about the joy.

You see that if you were them—you’d do it differently.

You see it all—and you hate it.

Now, having said that, it must also be said that the last part of a good definition of ingratitude includes that hatred.

Is hatred not a lack of gratitude?

If you are not thankful, do you not, in fact, despise?

And when you despise—when it’s all said and done—who is your complaint against if not God?

By our own definition, observations, and hatred—we lump ourselves in with the 90% we love to hate.

Repent.

If it’s a good work, give the time, expecting nothing in return, not even thanks, and let God be the avenger.

If it’s a good work, give the effort required and realize, with much thanksgiving, that you still can—while many can’t—and let God give and take away as it pleases Him.

If it’s a good work, waste the money God has given you on the fool God has attached to you, and thank God for your property and income—you won’t go hungry.

God loves a cheerful giver (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7), and we emulate the world when we gripe about it.

You don’t do good for gold stars and retweets.

Jesus didn’t heal the lepers so that they would thank Him.

He healed the lepers because He is God, and God is good.

Jesus doesn’t forgive your sins so that you would thank Him.

And of course I mean that whether you thank Him or not—He’s glad His life hung in the balance for yours.

He’s glad.

He didn’t die and rise only after receiving your thank you card.

It was good that one man should die for the people (cf. John 18:14), and being good—He did it gladly.

If it’s good to thank God or your neighbor when God or your neighbor does good to you—thank God or your neighbor when they do good to you.

Rejoice in it.

God is good to you without your leave.

Without your permission.

Whether you say thank you or not.

Because He is good.

Jesus heals the ten—because Man was created “very good” in the first place—because Man has fallen into sin and is now, by nature, sinful and unclean—because, in Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19).

He gives a good gift, because He knows how.

What God does He does for all, even and especially the ungrateful, unworthy 90%.

All sin is forgiven in Christ.

Not all are thankful.

Some explicitly reject the word and work of Jesus.

Even so—“God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He doesn’t unsay the Absolution when you’re not grateful—He hopes that you hear it again and again.

Whether or not someone is properly thankful has no bearing on whether or not you should do good to them.

Do good to them.

But here’s the difference praise, thanks, and faith makes.

To only the one who turned back, praising God with a loud voice…

To only the one who fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, worshipping Him, giving Him thanks…

To only the one who was found to return—in faith—to God…

To only that one does Jesus say, “Rise and go your way; your faith has [saved you]” (Luke 17:19).

What difference does proper praise, thanks, and faith make?

Before God, if you fail to confess your insignificance, your petty cruelties, and your hatred—you will have the look of the happy 90%.

But you will not be saved.

Only the one who, in humility and faith, returns and gives thanks to God for what God has done, only that one is saved.

Do good to others, as God has done good to you.

Do not despise them for their lack.

Love them.

God has forgiven their sin in Christ—and yours.

Believe that good news of the Gospel.

Rejoice in it.

And then—when God has done good to you…

Thank Him.

When your neighbor has done good to you…

Melt your petty, ungrateful, ice-cold heart, and thank him.

It is—good—and right so to do.

The gospel lesson for Thanksgiving Day is the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers—so that we would learn from the one to receive the gift of God—our salvation—rejoice in it—and thank God for it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Thanksgiving Day, 2021
Luke 17:11-19
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

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