A Thanksgiving Sermon: “Risky Giving”
+ Thanksgiving Eve & Day – November 21, 2012 +
Day of Thanksgiving: Deuteronomy 8:1-10; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Luke 17-11-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Oh, you shouldn’t have. It’s too nice. It’s too expensive. I don’t deserve it. You shouldn’t have bothered…“You bought me a present? Why would you do such a thing? Oh, I know you think you’re being generous, but the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift. You’ve given me an obligation.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)
And that’s how our world – and our sinful nature – understands gift-giving, no matter when it happens: not a gift, but a transaction, a bargain, a deal. We give in order to get in return. To our old sinful nature, gifts are marked Free with an asterisk. There are always conditions or strings attached to our gift giving. Now I’ve gotta do something for you. Give something back. Measure up.
And we treat a day of Thanksgiving no differently. Obligation. Duty. Somehow, we must give God a gift of equal measure – a thank you note worthy of his appreciation.
But there’s the hang up; you can’t. What could you possibly give that Jesus doesn’t already have? If life and forgiveness with God is a transaction, our sin leaves us dead every time; sorry, but your card is denied; your credit is no good here. We’ve got it all backwards.
For man’s ways of gift-giving are not God’s ways:
In the fullness of time God gave His only begotten Son, to be born of a Virgin, to be born under the Law to redeem us who are under the Law. He was given up, betrayed. He gave his hands to the nails and his head to the thorns and his body to the cross. Thus he bowed his head and gave up his spirit in order to give you life. Jesus is the gift. The same body born of Mary, the body that healed and taught and suffered and died and rose – is the same body given to his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed. And He gives you that same body and blood in the holy Eucharist, the only Thanksgiving Meal in town you’ll feel better after eating and drinking; there’s always room for more Jesus.
This is how God gives. No strings attached. No asterisks or fine print. No deals. Jesus gives unconditionally. Without any merit or worthiness in you. It’s not a deal, it’s a gift. Undeserved. Free. In a word: love. God loves the world in this manner: He gives us Jesus. And Jesus gives himself on the cross, selflessly, in utter humility for the world, for you. A gift given. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. Hung on a cross. Raised from the dead. It’s a fact whether you believe it or not, want it or not, like it or not.
And that’s how Jesus gave to those 10 lepers. Jesus didn’t ask for permission or if they had decided to be healed or not. He just up and healed all ten out of pure divine goodness without any merit or worthiness in them at all.
But look what Jesus gets in return. See! I told you so, Jesus; that’s not how gift giving works around here. How many came back? Nine. That’s right! Nine! Nine never returned thanks. Didn’t even take a few minutes to say, “Thanks Jesus! Really appreciate it! You’re a life saver!” No thank you card. No email note. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.
Maybe this teaches you a lesson Jesus! You just can’t go around indiscriminately loving and healing people, let alone lepers! You just can’t recklessly give out gifts to anybody and everybody that hangs around street corners. You have to have limits. Standards. Criteria. Percentages. Nine Jesus! Nine out of ten didn’t come back to even say “Thanks.”
Giving is risky business. The high priestly gifts of Jesus and His high priestly benevolence often go unappreciated. Abused. Sadly, even rejected. Maybe it would be safer and smarter to not give at all then. No discouragement. No obligation. But also no love.
Thankfully, Jesus takes the risk. Takes the chance. Sets no conditions. Does no pre-healing interviews to see who deserves his grace; who’ll say a proper thank you. He heals all ten. Then off He goes to Jerusalem, to Good Friday, to His High Priestly work of dying for them. For you and for me. And some, even many don’t’ give a flying . . . Nine to be precise.
Except for that Samaritan. The most unlikely and unworthy recipient of Jesus’ healing also happens to be the one who understands Jesus’ gift most clearly. He returns
thanks. Not out of obligation or to cut a deal. But in faith. He fell at his feet. With a loud voice and gave thanks.
And that’s what faith does: Faith praises Christ and His gifts. Faith gives thanks. Faith looks to the Giver and the gifts and cries out with the lepers, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”
And like the Samaritan we stand before Jesus tonight, as we do every Sunday, always as beggars with empty hands, unlikely and unworthy recipients though we are. We receive everything as an undeserved gift from Him. Giving thanks simply shows that we have heard the gospel and have actually received God’s grace. That we believe that Jesus risked everything for us and for our salvation.
For Jesus doesn’t benefit from our thanking Him. We do! It’s the other way around. The more we thank God the Father through Jesus Christ His dear Son, the more we recognize how generously and bountifully He deals with us.
And how abundant Christ’s forgiveness truly is: In Jesus death you are given life. And Jesus’ cross is the giving tree. From his death He washes you in blood and water, giving you new life and new birth in Baptism (just as Aubrey received tonight).
From his death, he proclaims his verdict over your sin once more in absolution: “it is finished! I gave my life for every one of your sins.”
From his body broken in death on the cross he gives you His Holy Supper, His death destroying, sin forgiving, life sustaining body and blood given you in your own mouth, His words ringing in your own ears. “Be of good cheer, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Now, go and show yourself to your Great High Priest. For he has shown his sacrificial death before the Father. He is risen and ascended to the throne. And you stand in his presence cleansed. Holy. Forgiven. Healed. Made well. Saved. And, yes, thankful.
For God can’t help Himself. He loves to give. He loves giving out gifts to His children. And He loves when His children receive His gifts. It is the Father’s joy that you receive the gifts of creation, the gift of His Son, the gift of salvation, the gift of the Spirit and new life and adoption and the opportunity to call Him Father with delight.
And what do you say to such gifts? What can you say on any day to give thanks – today or any day? “Oh, you shouldn’t have?” Of course not! Simply Amen! Gifts received with joy and thanksgiving. That’s the best thing you can do to give thanks: keep receiving Jesus gifts, his word, his body and blood with joy.
So, rise and go your way – to your homes and families, to the couch the dinner table or the shopping mall, to the backyard or the park, wherever you go – go your way in the peace of Christ Crucified. For your faith – and that is Jesus’ great gift to you – has made you well.
A blessed thanksgiving to you all.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.