Thanksgiving Day

Download or listen to Thanksgiving Day, “Daily Bread for Lepers” (Luke 17:11-19)

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

I wonder how we ought to feel when we hear about this Samaritan leper. How should we take this account? How should it apply to us? Well, I suppose it depends: shall we see ourselves as the one leper who returned to give thanks to God in Jesus for his healing? The ten percent who return with loud voices to glorify God? Or, maybe, are we the 90% who take our healing for granted? I don’t know, and it really doesn’t pay to start probing motives and speculating on whether we’re really thankful. How far would that get us? We can’t possibly plumb the depths of our own motivations and separate out what is good and what is bad. The evil and the good lie too closely together. I wouldn’t want to bet on sinners correctly identifying evil and good anyway. Good luck going down that road. I don’t know if you are thankful for what you have. I don’t even know if I’m thankful for what I have. Certainly not as thankful as I should be for what God has given me. I take so much for granted, and even my gratitude is so often out of some obligation I feel. Would I have returned to Jesus? Maybe only after I saw the Samaritan turn back.

Far better to go down the road to and from Jesus. The road on which we are all “foreigners”; actually, more literally, “other birth.” And that’s us: born dead, blind, and under the power of the devil. There is no other road for those who are born from this stock, this family, this father called Adam. But this road ends at Jesus. Jesus is coming down our road, and we are far removed from Him, crying from a distance: Jesus, Master, mercy us. Jesus heals all of the lepers, but one recognizes where the healing comes from. One recognizes that the Presence of God has shifted from the Temple to this Man, and he repents, he turns. The healing has created faith, and the faith has saved, even us.

Our thanksgiving is not praised here. The Giver is praised. The Healer is praised. The Law of receiving and giving thanks in return denies us any credit for what we do. It says to those who do not thank and praise, serve and obey God, “Even what you think you have will be taken from you” (cf. Luke 8:18). There is good news, but it cannot be measured by the law of giving and thanksgiving; the Gospel of faith and salvation is given to those who know that we have nothing except what we have received: “Rather, seek His Kingdom, and these things”–food, clothing, shelter, our daily, physical bread—“will be added to you.” But you don’t have to seek far: the Word of Faith, by which the Reign of God comes, is proclaimed to you this day: “Fear not, little flock, because it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” Now it is near to you, not in heaven where you have to ascend to get it; not in the deep, to which you have to descend; but right here, in our midst; in your heart, and in your mouth (Luke 12:31-32; Romans 10:6-9). This Word of Faith is nothing other than Jesus Himself, given into death and raised from the dead to heal even the absent thankless ones. But more than that. Now He, by His Word received in faith, is our daily bread. The Kingdom is where the King is, and the King is with and for His Church.

In order to strengthen the Kingdom in us, to cause us to pray for His Kingdom, and for His Will to be done, God, in the words of Luther, “attacks the arch-knave, the old Adam, with might and main, inflicts all kinds of adversity on him, thwarts all his plans, and blinds him and foils him on every side. This occurs when God visits all kinds of woe and grief upon us…All this takes place so that our will shall be throttled with all its evil inclinations and so that God’s will may be done in such a way that grace may reign in the kingdom and only God’s glory and honor prevail. When this happens, man finds himself beset by great fear and anxiety and cannot in the least imagine that this experience is related to the doing of God’s will. No, he now imagines that he has been abandoned into the hands of the devils and evil men, and that there is no longer a God in heaven who cares to know and hear him. Then the real hunger and thirst of the soul make themselves known as the soul yearns for solace and help. This hunger is far more tormenting than physical hunger. Now…we long to satisfy our need, and we say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’

“But how is that done? God has allotted us much tribulation in this world, and, at the same time, offered us no other consolation than his holy Word….Therefore, if you are willing to have God’s kingdom come to you and have God’s will be done, do not resort to evasive measures. It cannot be otherwise: God’s will is done only if yours is not done….It has been ordained—and no one can alter this—that in this world we find unrest, [like lepers on a long, empty road] and in Christ we find peace. …

“This petition [“give us this day our daily bread”] teaches you where you may seek solace and how you may find peace in such disquietude. You must say, ‘O Father, give us your daily bread.’ That is to say, ‘O Father, with your divine Word comfort me, a poor and miserable wretch. I cannot bear your hand, and yet I know it works to my damnation if I do not bear it. Therefore, strengthen me, my Father, lest I despair.’ …

“Therefore, it is only the Word of God or our daily bread that must strengthen us. This is what God says through the mouth of Isaiah, ‘The Lord God has given me a wise tongue so that I may know how to sustain them that are weary’ [Is. 50:4]. And in Matthew 11[:28] we read, ‘Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’ And in Psalm 119[:28] David says, ‘Strengthen me with thy word,’ and in Psalm 130[:5], ‘My soul has relied on his word.’ With such teachings the entire Scriptures are full, full, full! …

“[H]ere we are not asking primarily for ordinary bread, which is also eaten by the heathen and given unbidden to all men by God, but are asking for ‘our bread’ because we are children of the heavenly Father. So then, we are addressing a heavenly and spiritual, not an earthly, Father in this petition, and we ask not for earthly, but for heavenly and spiritual bread, which is ours and which we as heavenly children need. … [God’s Word] nourishes [man] as an immortal and supernatural being, yes, far beyond his present existence even as an eternal being. Christ says, ‘He who eats this bread will live for ever’ [John 6:51, 58]. Hence this petition means to say, ‘Father, give us the supernatural, immortal, eternal bread.’ …

“The bread, the Word, and the food are none other than Jesus Christ our Lord himself. Thus he declares in John 6[:51], ‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven to give life to the world.’ So then, let no one be deceived by words or false appearances. Sermons or doctrines which do not bring and show Jesus Christ to us are not the daily bread and nourishment of our souls, nor will they help us in any need or trial….Christ our bread is given…outwardly…in two different ways: first, through words; second, through the Sacrament of the Altar….God confers a great blessing whenever he permits Christ to be preached and taught. Of course, only Christ should everywhere be preached and this daily bread distributed. …

“’O heavenly Father, since no one likes your will and since we are too weak to have our will and our old Adam mortified, we pray that you will feed us, strengthen and comfort us with your holy Word, and grant us your grace that the heavenly bread, Jesus Christ, may be preached and heard in all the world, [including in our United States,] that we may know it in our hearts, and so that all harmful, heretical, erroneous, and human doctrine may cease and only your Word, which is truly our living bread, be distributed” (Luther, “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer,” AE 42:49-62).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/20/12

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