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A Thankful Leper

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Dearly loved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

Thanksgiving Day is a curious holiday.  It runs against the grain of our culture: inviting people to pause and reflect: to stop and appreciate what they have, taking a break from the relentless pursuit of bigger, better, newer things.

It is also a curious holiday in Canada, where we import decorations and symbols from south of the border:

–pictures and references to the Puritans

– the Pilgrims who came on the Mayflower

– we don’t have home-grown symbols and images for Thanksgiving

Of course, we can’t deny that the statutory holiday that gives us a day off today has its roots in American history.  Thanksgiving Day is a tradition and celebration the United Empire Loyalists brought with them as they settled this part of Upper Canada many, many years ago.

But the old-fashioned buckle hats and turkeys, the pumpkins and the stalks of corn are decorations and symbols that remind us of the Puritans. 

Their Day of Thanksgiving to God arose from their relationship with God.  It is a relationship of dependence on God’s providence that runs deeply through the Covenant of Grace between God and his people.  God’s goodness and generosity and grace invite people into a relationship of dependence and trust.

The Puritans had that relationship of dependence and trust as they settled a colony far from home – some of you know first-hand what such difficulties are like: a new land, sickness, dependence on God to provide crops and protection.  Without help from their new neighbours – Native Americans – the Puritans would have suffered a great deal more.

But they saw the corn and potatoes and wild turkeys that sat before them on the table as a gift from the hand of their God who provided for their needs.  They could think of no better response than to enjoy God’s goodness by eating and drinking and giving thanks.  It is the kind of response you’d expect in the midst of the covenant relationship of dependence on the Lord. 

What does this have to do with the passage in Luke 17? Well, only 1 in 10 of the men with leprosy responded in the same way.  Only one of the men who were healed came back praising God and thanked Jesus. 

That struck Jesus as very odd. 

It struck Jesus as odd, because the Lord had been working with the people of Israel for generations to create a relationship of dependence on God’s providence and grace.  Through the laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God was shaping a relationship of healthy dependence between him and his people:

·        The kind of dependency an infant has with her parents. 

·        The kind of dependency that people in community relying on each other.

·        The kind of dependency when people recognize that unless the Lord builds a house or establishes a business or blesses a ministry, we labour in vain. 

It is a relationship that the Lord wanted to weave into the fabric of Jewish society.

·        At harvest time you take your firstfruits to the temple, offering them to God out of gratitude.

·        On the Day of Atonement, you gather for a celebration of God’s forgiveness because God has provided a scapegoat to bear the curse of your sin.

·        And throughout the law, there are all kinds of provisions for thank offerings and fellowship offerings to recognize your love and dependence on the Lord in all the large and small events of your life. 

I know it’s not always exciting to read through the OT books of the Law, but the fellowship and thank offering that are listed there – these gifts could only be inspired by devotion to God and recognition of dependence on God.

These 9 men with leprosy had no hope of healing.  They were cut off from family, neighbours, and polite society.  They only had each other to depend on.  They were even cut off from the synagogues, the temple, and God.

Yet we can assume that they were raised into covenant dependence upon God – something that was woven into the fabric of culture.  They were raised to see that your life, your family, your nation depended on God for its existence. 

So when these men were cured from an incurable disease, you would expect them to recognize the hand of God.  When they sent to be declared “ritually clean” – ready to enter society, ready to enter that blessed covenant relationship with God once again – you’d expect them to recognize the gift of healing had its roots in the grace and the generosity of God.

But they didn’t.  The nine continued their race to the priest.  None of them was found to return and give praise to God.

Only one returned.  He was a Samaritan. 

You know what Samaritans are like.  They aren’t respectable members of the covenant family of God.  You don’t expect them to appreciate the covenant relationship between God and his people.  They are not the type of people you who can teach good Jews anything about walking with God, can they?

Yet this Samaritan praised God and gave thanks to Jesus for healing, rescuing, saving.

I don’t want to give you a moralistic lesson this morning about Thanksgiving.  You’ll hear enough of that on the radio and TV this long weekend.  Of course you can feel thankful for all the stuff you’ve got.  That’s not hard.  Feelings are easy to conjure up.

But in the Bible – OT & NT – we see a fuller picture painted.  It is a picture of dependence on God – dependence on God for salvation through Jesus, but even more than that. 

Our Heavenly Father invites us to live in a relationship with him:  A relationship where we ask the Lord to provide what we need; A relationship where we feel comfortable going to him and saying, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

·        You are invited to recognize God’s providence and care in the weather and the crops, the medical care we receive and our finances. 

·        You are invited to look for God’s hand of mercy in the kindness of neighbours, in the services of a talented cook, and the mechanic who fixes your car. 

·        You are invited to recognize that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”[1]

And in response to God’s goodness and covenant faithfulness, you are invited to give thanks to God.  This isn’t thankfulness for one day of the year.  It is a covenant relationship where every day you recognize your dependence on God for every good thing.  It is a covenant relationship where every day you overflow with gratitude and grace; every day you praise God and give thanks to Jesus.


[1] James 1:17.

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