Happy Thanksgiving! I don’t say that because tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving Day; though we do have Columbus Day tomorrow, so we could join our Canadian Lutheran brethren in our English District in giving God thanks for the harvest. But I say Happy Thanksgiving because today’s Gospel suggests it. We’ll hear this Gospel again on our Thanksgiving Day, and the point then will be that we ought never forget to thank God for all His blessings to us.
Today St. Luke bids us to be like The Thankful Samaritan. Historically this Gospel is read on Trinity XIV; on Trinity XIII is read The Good Samaritan. As always, The Church is teaching us a lesson through her Liturgy by doing this. What is it? The Good Samaritan makes us Thankful Samaritans. He found you dead in sin on the side of the road and brought you back to life in Him through His Means of Grace.
Then comes this little statement: “Go and do thou likewise.” Jesus was preaching to a guy who wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him this story to get across this point: you don’t inherit anything by doing something; you inherit something because you’re related to or are friends with somebody else. It’s a gift, 100%. They don’t have to give you anything when they die. That Samaritan didn’t have to do anything for that Jewish near-dead guy. Samaritans and Jews were enemies after all. Yet he did; he even paid for his recovery. It was all a gift. If you want to earn salvation do exactly everything the Samaritan did, and since you never will – and you can’t anyways because you might never come across that situation – you can’t earn salvation.
You can only inherit it. But how does that happen? It is the will of your Lord Jesus Christ. For in the night He was betrayed when He took bread and wine and blessed them and gave them to His disciples to eat and drink, He said to them: “This is My Body, My Blood, This do in remembrance of Me.” This was no time for picture language or parables. This was a time for a serious last will and testament. Jesus’ last will and testament is that through His Death, through the shedding of His holy, precious Blood, your sins be forgiven.
So how do you inherit eternal life? It’s given to you. It’s given to you whenever you hear The Gospel preached. It’s given to you whenever you hear and believe The Absolution. It’s given to you whenever you eat His Body and drink His Blood. You receive it in faith. Christ does the work. He won it for you and He gives it to you. You receive it in faith by believing His Word: “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” So faith saves.
That’s what today’s Gospel says. It does not say it “cleansed” or “healed” him; those words do show up elsewhere in today’s Gospel. It says his faith saved him. That leads us to The Thankful Samaritan. The man The Good Samaritan rescued shows us how to receive God’s grace. The Thankful Samaritan shows us how to act when we have received God’s grace. Surely this man had received it. He alone returned to thank Jesus Our God, going so far as to fall at His feet! And Jesus says to him: “Your faith has saved you.”
What does this mean? All ten of them had believed Jesus could help them. They all cried, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Words like this is why The Church is always having us sing, “Christ have mercy upon us.” But nine of them forgot all about it. As soon as they were cleansed, they took off, never to be heard from again, took off for their old lives with no other thought of Jesus. But this Samaritan returned to Jesus. Jesus sends him on his way, but the way he sends him on is not the way of the world. It is the way of faith, the way of the saved. What is that way?
One of our great Lutheran communion chorales, “Lord Jesus Christ, Thou Hast Prepared,” puts it well when it leads us to sing (TLH 306:7):
Grant that we worthily receive Thy Supper, Lord, our Savior, And, truly grieving o’er our sins, May prove by our behavior That we are thankful for Thy grace And day by day may run our race, In holiness increasing.
Being thankful for God’s grace does not just mean that we say “Thank you” to Him every once in a while. It means we center our life on Him. The first thing is this: We repent of our sins. How often? Every day, yes every time we realize we’ve sinned. Repent and hear God say to you: “I forgive you all your sins.”
But that’s not all. God wants us to live like we are forgiven, like we are freed from sin. Your parents told you, and you tell your kids, to behave! Why? Not just because you want them to be good, but because their behavior reflects on you! If your kids are bad, people will wonder how you’re raising them. You may be doing a great job, but they’ll still think you’re not. You don’t want that! You want people to see you love your kids and your kids love you.
God calls us to live the same way. He wants to be our dear heavenly Father. He wants you to be His own dear child. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t invite you to pray: “Our Father, Who art in heaven.” He wants us every day to boldly and confidently pray to Him, praise Him, and give Him thanks, like a dear child with his dear father. But how is this seen out in public? Our Postcommunion Collect tells us it’s shown in the steadfast love we show one another. Who’s that? Not just the people in this building right now. It’s everybody in your life – family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, everyone and anyone you can think of. But how can you do this, poor, miserable sinner that you are? Not on your own. Only with His help. Another hymn puts it this way (TLH 316:4):
Grant what I have partaken May through Thy grace so work in me That sin be all forsaken And I may cleave alone to Thee And all my soul be heedful How I Thy love may know; For this alone is needful Thy love should in me glow. Then let no beauty ever, No joy, allure my heart, But what is Thine, my Savior, What Thou dost here impart.
So give God thanks! He has not only rescued us from sin, but has given us the ability to not sin and to do what is good. This do not to gain His favor, but out of thanks that you have received His favor. At the same time, do not forget the lepers’ cry: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” For it is only with His mercy alongside you, mercy you find here at His Service, that you can please Him and be thankful.