No one likes an ungrateful person. Calling someone an ingrate is a rather nasty slander, and few things are more uncomfortable than seeing a spoiled child melt down in public. While we do not like thanklessness, I think we often would categorize ingratitude as a minor vice. It's unpleasant but not particularly damaging. But I contend that there are few other things that so clearly show the depravity of the human heart. The Law of God, “Love your neighbor,” is written in all our hearts. Human nature should be naturally moved to love, but sin has reeked havoc in our hearts: whoever is not moved to love even when receiving the kindness of another shows that even the last spark of natural love has been extinguished. Obvious displays of ingratitude make us feel uncomfortable because they confront us with the truly contemptible state of the human heart. In the name of the giver of every good gift; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!
You may recall this evening’s Gospel from two months ago. At that time, you heard me say that the Samaritan returned to give thanks to Jesus because he recognized that Christ's body is the Temple, that Christ is the High Priest, and Christ is God incarnate. Thus this Gospel is more about the Faith of the Samaritan than his thankfulness, but this does not negate the fact that the other nine are ungrateful. They do not give thanks for this miraculous gift of healing they have received. Our Lord says, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (v 17-18) We are tempted to ask how can this be possible? How could these former lepers who are now healed be such ingrates? Be careful in judging the nine lest you judge yourself. The nine do not recognize the source of their blessing so they do not give thanks.
The ingratitude of the nine is the common state of all mankind. Nearly every hour of every day we are overcome by mind-numbing ingratitude. Even we Christians who confess I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of Heaven and Earth are subject to this common affliction. I realized in preparing for this text that I am chief among the ingrates.
God has not revealed himself to be a creator like a watch maker, who creates the universe then steps back to let his machine run. Instead he is the creator and sustainer of all things. The Apostle Paul confesses before the Athenian philosophers, “[God] is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being” () and the preacher to the Hebrews likewise says, “He upholds the universe by the word of his power.” () None of us go a single second without being surrounded by the kindness of God. Every person has received from God; body, soul, eyes, ears, all their members, their reason, and all their senses and each moment of life is a special favor of God. Each breath a gift, every night of sleep a comfort, each bite of food a kindness, each drink a mercy, each joy a treasure. If God removed his hand for a moment all would cease to exist.
In our “enlightened” age how often do we recognize the giver of the blessings we enjoy. We know that food comes from the grocery store not the hand of the Lord. We know that rain is the result of the low pressure weather pattern not a mercy of our heavenly Father. We have pushed away the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and created an idol, we are content to worship the clockmaker god of our imaginations. We are like children who receive a gift and delight in the wrapping paper but pay no attention to the giver. How honestly can we pray with the Psalmist, “The eyes of all look to you, [O Lord,] and You give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing?” ()
Not only are we blind to the source of our blessings like the nine former lepers, but we use the good gifts of God as weapons against him. Instead of praising the name of the one who gives us breath and voice we casually blaspheme it, using his name as a minor expletive. We take the temporal blessings of God and arrogantly try to build for ourselves an earthly kingdom of self sufficiency while paying no heed to the one who gives us home, food, and family.
If we treat these gifts of God that all people recognize as blessings with such disdain, what do we do with suffering? Can we honestly pray with Job “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” () Do we heed the admonishment of the preacher to the Hebrews "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son." () Or is our theology too shallow to account for suffering and to give thanks to God in the midst of suffering.
Happy Thanksgiving! Amen! I’m just kidding. We are not done yet.
God does have room in his Theology for suffering. In his infinite power, and wisdom, and love God deals with our ingratitude in the most surprising of ways. Instead of withdrawing his hand and letting us perish he gives us even more. We try to hold God at a distance, turn him into a clock maker, but the almighty becomes man. He sticks himself into our business and then promises “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” () God will not be distant from us because in Jesus God came to suffer with us, and suffer for us. He came to take upon himself our blasphemies, our arrogance, and our ingratitude. He nails our thanklessness to the cross and he gives thanks. “Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and gave thanks.” For this reason the Church refers to the Lord’s Supper as the Eucharist, that is the Thanksgiving. In the Eucharist Jesus takes all our half thanks, and ingratitude. He purifies it, he sanctifies it, and offers it up to the Father as pure thanks.
In Gospel text, “The Samaritan, 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.” () The Samaritan heard the words of Jesus and received healing. In faith he recognized Jesus as the source of his blessing and gives him thanks. It is not perfect thanks, but Jesus purifies and sanctifies it. In Jesus the Father is praised. You my dear brothers and sister are like the Samaritan. You have heard the word of Jesus, you have received his healing absolution and in faith you recognize him. You give thanks to God for all his mercies, and regret the thanklessness that still dwells in your heart. Christ takes your thanks and purifies them and offers them to the Father.
Happy Thanksgiving! The Lord wants you to enjoy his gifts. Eat turkey, enjoy family and friends, drink some cider and wine and praise God from whom all blessings flow. Amen!