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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving and Seeing God's Glory (Luke 17.11-21)

Sermon by: Robert Austell - November 23, 2014
Text: Luke 17:11-21

:: Sermon Audio (link) - scroll down for written draft  
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: Rick Bean, jazz piano
Hymn of Praise: "Blessed Be Your Name" (Redmon)
Hymn of Praise: "For the Beauty of the Earth" (DIX)
Song of Praise: "Doxology"
Song of Sending: "We Give Thee But Thine Own" (SCHUMANN, arr. Austell)
Postlude:Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf): 
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript and this is such a week (especially the ending). Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

11 While He was on the way to Jerusalem, He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised 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 were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 “Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” 20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:11-21)
Today we are looking at one of the better known stories about giving thanks. In it Jesus heals ten men with leprosy; actually, he sends them to the priest to verify that they are healed and on the way they are healed. Only one of the ten stops and runs back to Jesus to thank him. This story is often lifted up as an example of the importance of being thankful, and rightfully so. But there is a lot more going on here than we usually realize. For one, and not our focus today, there is a wonderful picture of the interplay between human prayer (“Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”), a godly response that is not instantaneous, but involves our faith and participation (“Go and show yourselves to the priests.”), and a miraculous answer to prayer (“as they were going, they were cleansed.”)

There is also the whole dynamic of the one who returned being a Samaritan. In fact, this was probably the main point for including this story, as Luke includes the reaction of the Pharisees in conjunction with this interaction with a doubly-unclean man (leper AND Samaritan). And I will not ignore that key part of the story, but these things are worthy study for another day. Today, I want to dig into what this story teaches us about giving thanks.

Thanks for God’s Goodness 

Over the past few weeks we have been talking about God’s glory, which I defined as a combination of what God has done (goodness) and who God is (greatness). The most obvious reason and way we give thanks to God is for what God has done, particularly in our own lives, but also as we see what God has done in the lives of those around us. This is what we most often pray for as well, for healing or help or blessing or deliverance. And it is most appropriate, when those prayers are answered or simply when we see God’s goodness, to say, “Thank you, God!”

When the man realized he had been healed of the terrible and isolating disease of leprosy, he turned back from his mission to see the priests and have himself declared healed and he returned to Jesus and “gave thanks to him.” (v. 16)  In response to his prayers for mercy or help, Jesus had responded and God had been good to him. The man was thankful and immediately went to say so.

One of the primary ways to be thankful to God is in response to God’s goodness. But, only being thankful in this way is like only praying and asking for things from God. If you remember that acrostic, ACTS, prayer should at least involve adoration, confession, and thanks in addition to supplication or asking. Likewise, thanks itself is far richer than responding to God’s goodness.

Thanks for God’s Greatness

The man in the story was also thankful for God’s greatness, or who God is. We see this expressed twice: in v. 15 when he is found “glorifying God with a loud voice” and in v. 18 when Jesus describes his thanks in terms of “giving glory to God.” Jesus equates “giving glory” then with thanks. And this shows thanks to not only be a “thank you for what you did for me” but an “everybody look how amazing and awesome God is!” Indeed, the man is public with this expression of thanks, as he offers these words (and perhaps gestures) “with a loud voice” on his way back to see Jesus.

I would describe this as “thanks for God’s greatness” – in other words, the thanks is God-focused rather than self-focused. It’s the difference between “look at what God did for ME” and “look at GOD, who helped me.” In fact, we find that it’s not one or the other, but both that are appropriate.

Said another way, this kind of God-oriented thanks – publicly focusing on who God is – is a form of worship because worship is simply “declaring God’s worth.” We see another aspect of this worshipful thanks after all the public glory-giving, when the man falls on his face at Jesus feet, also an expression of extreme humility and respect, and appropriate to a posture of worship.

So in the past weeks I’ve asked you if you’ve EXPERIENCED God’s goodness and greatness; we’ve heard testimony about how that experience has CHANGED people; and today we read about a person’s GRATITUDE for God’s goodness and greatness: what God has done and who God is.

Seeing God’s Glory (foreigners, faith, and Pharisaical blindness)

As a final point, I’m going to lump several things together for comment. First, Jesus notes that the man is a “foreigner.” (v. 18) Luke has already told us he is a Samaritan. (v. 16) Samaritans were viewed by the Jews as racially and spiritually compromised and most Jewish people held a great animosity towards them.  One of the remarkable things about the inclusion of this story is that it underscores God’s movement among the non-Jewish people, the so-called “nations.” This was always part of God’s promise, but Jesus’ contemporaries seem to have forgotten this. So we see this man – a double-outsider as leper and Samaritan – calling on Jesus for mercy. We see him publicly worshiping God and thanking Jesus. We hear Jesus credit his faith. Truly, the man’s thankfulness showed something of God’s greatness in addition to his words of public praise; it showed God at work in a bigger way than folks expected.

Secondly, over the past few weeks, many of you have asked how to see or experience God’s goodness and greatness. It’s inspiring to hear the testimonies and stories, and I’m interested. How do I see that for myself? Over the past few weeks I’ve suggested looking with “expectant hope.” Another word for that is FAITH. How was it that this man recognized that Jesus could help him and that God had healed him? Jesus says he was full of faith: he was looking and hoping for it. If we could punch a code in our phones or say magic words or perform the right rituals to get God to act, it wouldn’t be faith. It would be something else and it sure would make God a lot smaller. Faith is trust, hope, and expectancy; and it opens our eyes so that we don’t miss God showing up.

That leads to a final comment. The Pharisees were missing it. They had asked Jesus when God’s kingdom was going to come. (v. 20) Jesus said it would not be with “signs to be observed” – that’s stuff like comets and alignment of planets and such – nor would it be ‘here’ or ‘there.’ Instead, he says, “Behold (look!) it is in your midst.” In other words, it is already here and it’s all around you. That’s the assumption behind my favorite question: What is God doing and how can you be a part? I assume, with Jesus’ teaching, that God is at work in and around us, in the church and outside the church. The real question is not, “When will God show up for me?” It is, “How can I be a part of what God is doing?” That is the question of faith and I think God honors that question.

Addendum: Eternal Thanks

I know I said that was my final point; and it turned into three points. But there is one last addendum to all of this and it was found in our Call to Worship this morning from Revelation 4:9-11. Those verses are a picture of the heavenly and eternal worship of the Triune God. I was struck at the parallels to our story today. This is true thanksgiving – worship that is described as “giving glory and honor and thanks” and which declares, “Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and because of your will they existed, and were created.” Do you hear it all in there? You have God’s goodness and God’s greatness together… thanks that is public declaration and also the humbling picture of elders who “fall down before Him who sits on the throne.” And Revelation tells us those gathered will be from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s all there in that glorious picture… as it was in a moment in time there with the Samaritan man. No wonder Jesus said the Kingdom of God was there in their midst!

So as you celebrate Thanksgiving this week and every week, ponder what it means not only to thank God for what he has done, but also for who he is – as an act of humility and worship, in recognition that God is present with you and in the world even now. Amen!

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