Friday, November 27, 2020

"Thankful Foreigners" (Luke 17:11-19)

Sermon for Day of Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Eve), 25 November A+D 2020 at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Kingsford, MI

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.  (Philippians 4:7, ESV)

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Ephesians 1:2, ESV) The Word of God from today’s Holy Gospel found in Luke 17: Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ (Luke 17:18, ESV)

Legend says that the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrim settlers from England, along with members of the Wampanoag tribe of native Americans who had taught newcomers to how to farm the Massachusetts soil and live off of the land. How those events actually unfolded is the subject of much debate. Some argue that Thanksgiving is a racist holiday owing to the white Europeans taking over a land which didn’t belong to them. If you’re already feeling crummy about how Thanksgiving 2020 is playing out and want to further down the rabbit hole, go ahead and Google, “Is celebrating Thanksgiving racist?” Last year, The New York Times launched a controversial effort called The 1619 Project, whose thesis is that rather than celebrating the birth of our nation as the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620…or the Declaration of Independence in 1776, we should rightly mark 1619—the year in which African slaves are alleged to have first been brought to the New World—as the birth of a nation founded on genocide and white privilege.

Regardless of how you view the origins of our nation, it’s an undisputed truth that the entire world and its history consists of people leaving one place and going to another: sometimes by choice and other times by force. Before Anglo-Saxons appeared in the western hemisphere, land changed hands from tribe to tribe. Groups of people with a shared identity and culture tried to build and protect what was important to them. And it could be that the events of this year have left you longing to hold on yourself to something that seems to be slipping out of your grasp. The land that you’ve come to love throughout your life seems like a shell of its former self. You’re forced to ask questions that last Thanksgiving would have seemed ludicrous. “Is it safe for me to leave my house this year?” “Should I invite people into my home? Or would that be irresponsible?” You’re wondering where the general civility of American society has gone as that seems to have long passed beyond our reach.

Each year, we take time on this night and tomorrow to give thanks. But maybe thankfulness doesn’t come as naturally to us this year. God bless you if it still does…but bear along with those who are struggling. And take heart in this reality that all too many of us have forgotten: we do not belong to this world.

Many people at Christian funerals love to sing, “I’m but a stranger here; heaven is my home.” That’s a biblical sentiment right out of the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV) Christians have a decidedly different outlook that makes them different from the people of the world. The world looks at what it is losing and tries like mad to hang on to it. The child of God rejoices and give thanks for what he or she has already been given in Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who had already told his disciples, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23, ESV)

Jesus holds before you this evening the example of a Samaritan…or as He calls him, “a foreigner.” Here is a man who had no reason to go to the temple with the other nine, presumably Jewish, lepers. As a Samaritan, he was a person who wouldn’t have really known where he belonged. His people were descended from the old tribes of Israel that we read about in the Old Testament. It was to the tribes of Israel, about to enter the Promised Land nearly 1400 years earlier to whom Moses spoke in our Old Testament Reading. “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deuteronomy 8:1, ESV) That Samaritan whom Jesus healed? He was a “foreigner” in a land that long ago belonged to his people…but his people had rejected God and the promise was taken away.

Instead of looking for God in the temple where the other lepers went, he “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” (Luke 17:15-16a, ESV) Who needs a temple in Jerusalem when the Lord God stands before you…the One who has mercy on you and heals you? The land promised to Israel…the land that the Samaritans forefathers had lost…the temple where the Jews went to worship God? All of it pointed to something greater: the God of mercy would heal sinners and “foreigners” and give them His kingdom that lasts forever. Or as Jesus had promised to His disciples in the Sermon on the Plain, a “reward…great in heaven.”

Dear friends in Jesus Christ, our Lord God has indeed blessed us in the land where we live. As we confess in the Small Catechism, God our Father has created us and given us “body and soul, eyes, ears, and all [our] members, and still takes care of them. He also gives [us] clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land animals and all [we] have. He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life.” You and I have received good things in this world.

But we don’t belong to this world. All of the good things that God gives us here and now simply serve to remind us that He has far better things that await us in His heavenly kingdom. We are indeed foreigners in this land…not because we’re trespassing on territory that belongs to another people, but because we belong to an even greater land: “a new heaven and a new earth.” (Revelation 21:1, ESV) In that land, “[The] dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV)

A Samaritan…a “foreigner” found a greater reward in the One who had the power to show him mercy and heal his illness. We are likewise “foreigners,” not belonging to this land, but to a greater land…a “reward…great in heaven” bought for us by the blood of the One who has mercy on those sick with the leprosy of sin. We are “thankful foreigners” who—no matter what we’ve lost in the past year…in the past decade…in our past lifetimes…or whatever we might lose in this world—the One who receives our thanks this night and tomorrow is the One who hears our cries for mercy. We come as humble, leprous sinners, lifting up our own voices and crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke 17:13, ESV)

Mercy is what you have. Sins are forgiven. Body and blood given and shed for you are fed to you this very night: a feast that surpasses anything you might find on your Thanksgiving table tomorrow. “Citizenship in heaven” is yours. You are children of God…children of Abraham…children of the promise made to him long ago. You have a heavenly land to which you belong that never disappoints…never fails…and can never be snatched away from you by any force: physical or spiritual. Dearest friends in Jesus: give thanks tonight that you are a “foreigner”…that you are but Samaritans in this world who know that our true home is with our Lord and that He gives us our share in His kingdom tonight and for always. Amen.

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