Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. About ten days ago, my family and I were camping in Baxter State Park. One of our favorite things to do there is to rent a canoe and spend time out on one of the lakes. At one point, Matthew and I were in the canoe. He was in the front, and I was in the back. As we navigated around the lake, I was reminded of Saint Jamesâ€™ words from James 3:
Look at the ships: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs (James 3:4).
Itâ€™s amazing when you stop and really think about this reality that many of us know from experience. Depending on what type of boat you are in, the smallest adjustment to your paddle or rudder impacts significantly the direction in which you are heading. An extra hard stroke of the paddle here or a slight turn of the rudder there has an immense impact on where you are oriented. Saint James goes on to say:
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things (James 3:5).
In our Gospel Reading for today, we hear of Jesus cleansing the ten lepers. At the end of the story, as we know, only one of the lepers returns to offer words of thanks to our Lord for the healing he granted. As we reflect on this story further, our Lord invites us to consider how our own words impact the way in which we are oriented.
So, today we will consider further how our Lord invites us to direct our hearts to him by using Lutherâ€™s framework from the Second Commandment:
2. Praise, and
3. Give thanks.
2. As we turn to our Gospel text, notice how this text invites us to direct our hearts to the Lord first through prayer. In verse 13, we are introduced to the group of ten lepers who cry out to our Lord:
â€œJesus, Master, have mercy on usâ€ (Luke 17:13).
It is this prayer for mercy which directed the hearts of these otherwise hopeless men away from themselves and their struggles and onto the one who could do something about their condition. And likewise, it is this prayer for mercy to which our Lord responds with healing. The prophet Micah once said:
â€œWho is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercyâ€ (Micah 7:18, NIV).
Let that imagery sink in for a moment. Our Lord delights in showing mercy. Like a parent who hides their emotions, but secretly canâ€™t wait to watch their children open their Christmas presents, our Lord delights in giving the gift of mercy to those who ask for it. He demonstrated this to us definitively when he took on our human flesh and suffered and died so that our transgressions might be forgiven. If he has already demonstrated his delight in showing mercy to us by giving up his own life, how much more will he continue to grant us mercy when we ask for it? Our Lord desires nothing more than that in our need we would direct our hearts to him through prayer. This is why one of the greatest yet simplest prayers we could possibly pray is: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
3. As our text continues, we also see secondly that our Lord desires that we direct our hearts to him through praise. In verse 15 we read:
Then on of [the lepers], when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voiceâ€ (Luke 17:15).
Notice that the leper praises God before he gives thanks. This indicates that there must be a difference between thanks and praise. The question, of course, is, what is that difference? Admittedly, these terms are often used as synonyms, such as in our Gradual for this morning, which began:
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High (Psalm 92:1).
However, when our text makes the distinction between praise and thanks, what it seems to have in mind is this: To give thanks is to respond to a specific gift. To give praise is to respond to who God is. And we Christians must do both. To praise God is to acknowledge the fulness of who he is. It is to respond to his goodness, even when we donâ€™t feel or experience his goodness in a tangible way. It is in this vein that the psalmist says in Psalm 71:
O God, be not far from me; O my God, make haste to help me! (Psalm 71:12).
And then two verses later, he continues:
But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more (Psalm 71:14).
This is what our Lord desires for usâ€”that we would praise him at all times, even when we donâ€™t feel or experience is goodness. This is extremely difficult. The goodness of God is often the farthest thing from our minds when we are going through a rough time. And yet this is the power of words. Even in difficult circumstances, Godâ€™s promises and our response of praise to him has the power to give us hope so that our hearts can be directed towards him.
IV. Give Thanks
4. Finally, we see in verse 16 how our Lord desires that we direct our hearts to him through giving thanks:
â€¦and [the leper] fell on his face at Jesusâ€™ feet, giving him thanks (Luke 17:16).
Now, giving thanks, as weâ€™ve already established, is our response to a specific gift that the Lord gives. This is certainly the case with the leper. Take careful note of the sequence of events in our text. Jesus is in the area between Samaria and Galilee. As he is entering a village, ten lepers see him and call to him from a distance, asking for mercy. In verse 14, we are told:
When [Jesus] saw them he said to them, â€œGo and show yourselves to the priests.â€ And as they went they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).
Notice that these men were not healed while they were in the presence of Jesus. He didnâ€™t say, â€œYou are now healed, go show yourselves to the priests.â€ He simply said, â€œGo and show yourselves to the priests.â€ And so, despite the fact that they werenâ€™t yet healed, these men had to make a decision to go to the priests. They had to act in faith before the healing was granted. So, as they went to see the priests, they were healed of their leprosy. It is at this point that one of the lepers noticed, â€œHey, Iâ€™m healed!â€ And so, he did the only thing that he could doâ€”he returned to Jesus to offer him thanks for the healing. There are at least two lessons that we can learn from this. First is the need to pay attention. Our Lord works wonders in our world and in our lives each and every day. The question is, are we paying attention. We may pray, â€œLord, have mercyâ€, but are we too focused on our own lives that we fail to take notice of the ways in which the Lord provides for us and answers that prayer? But secondly, if we do pay attention, do we think to give thanks? Do we have an attitude of gratitude like the one leper, or do we just move on with our lives as if we deserve the gifts given to us? Giving thanks is not some kind of a law by which we earn Godâ€™s gifts. Giving thanks is the response of faith. Giving thanks is one of the primary ways in which we direct our hearts to Christ in faith. In doing so, we trust that the one who has provided for this need will continue to provide for all our needs in this life and the life to come. May God by his Spirit grant us the grace to direct our hearts to him always in prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.