Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homily for The National Day of Thanksgiving

Thankful Leper


Luke 17:11-19; Philippians 4:6-20; Deuteronomy 8:1-10

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Thanksgiving is a fruit borne of another’s graciousness; it is our response to what another has done for us. Thus, the one thankful leper who returned and fell at Jesus’ feet giving him thanks is a fitting symbol for us this day. However, in our common parlance, where please and thank you are seen as mere platitudes or means to an end, do we truly understand the spirit of true thankfulness and gratitude?

The thankful leper did not return to Jesus merely to offer Him a platitude, but he returned to die to himself at Jesus’ feet. He completely divested himself of all dignity and honor, of all right, merit, and privilege, and he submitted himself completely to Jesus, confessing Him to be the very source of undeserved grace, mercy, and love. The fact that he was a leper placed him amongst the lowest social tier, but the fact that he was a Samaritan leper made him to be of no count or consideration at all, but, on the contrary, he would have been hated and despised by all. And yet, Jesus accepted him, He showed mercy to him, and He healed him. And, when the Samaritan leper saw the fruit of Jesus’ love borne in him in his being cleansed from leprosy and healed, he returned to Jesus to give thanks to the one who showed him undeserved mercy and who restored to him life.

True thankfulness is a matter of life and death. We cannot truly be thankful when we believe that we have earned or merited, deserved or chosen the good things that we have. But, true thankfulness is the fruit of life being borne out of death, of a lifeless branch being grafted into the True and Life-giving Vine.

Our life as Christians must be to recognize this each and every day of our lives, to die to ourselves and to live to Christ each and every day. Let each day begin and end by dying to yourself, by returning to the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness shown to you in Holy Baptism by confessing your sins and receiving God’s gracious absolution anew. Let us say grace before each of our meals, that is, let us recognize and confess that each morsel we place into our mouths, and those that we throw away, are precious, undeserved and unmerited gifts of God’s grace, mercy, and love. And, after our bellies are full, let us return thanks to the Lord for all His benefits, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. To assist us in this life of faith, our father in faith Martin Luther has left us prayers for giving and returning thanks in the Small Catechism and in our hymnals: The Morning Prayer, the Evening Prayer, Asking a blessing, and Returning Thanks. To be a Christian is to return to the Lord in thanksgiving, which is to die to yourself in humility and repentance and to acknowledge the Lord as the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

In a way, it is somewhat unnecessary for the Church of Christ to observe a National Day of Thanksgiving, for each and every Lord’s Day we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, and we fall down at the feet of Jesus, giving thanks and praising God. We bring nothing to Him but ourselves, our praise and thanksgiving, for He alone is the giver of all things. We come as lepers, even Samaritan lepers, for grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness, for acceptance, healing, and cleansing of all our sins. And, the Lord gives us all these things and more and sends us on our way by faith to show His fruits to the world, to bear forth grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness to all in the Name of Jesus, to the glory of the Father.

And yet, there is another fruit borne in thankfulness, and that is the peace and contentment of which St. Paul has written, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus.” For, one fruit of thankfulness is contentment and peace in your life, in your present situation, with what you have. Have you not seen how it is often those who have the least that appear to be the most content and at peace, even happy and free? Indeed, the pilgrims who celebrated the first thanksgiving meal had come through extreme hardship and suffering and were truly thankful for the food and shelter that they had, recognizing that it was all the gracious gift and providence of God.

Thus, let us commemorate and celebrate this annual National Day of Thanksgiving as a unique opportunity to take stock of all the things we are thankful for: Food and clothing, to be sure, family and friends, a devout husband or wife, devout children, our bodies and lives, and, especially, the grace, mercy, love and forgiveness we have received as a free and perfect gift from our Father in heaven through Jesus Christ. And, let us show thanks by dying to ourselves daily and living to Christ in selfless words and deeds toward our neighbors, especially the least of these, in thanksgiving for what Christ has done for us, as fruit borne on us, His branches, mercifully grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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