Fwd: The Lutheran Hour: November 24, 2013

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From: Lutheran Hour Ministries <lh_min@lhm.org>
Date: 11/23/2013 9:15 PM (GMT-06:00)
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Subject: The Lutheran Hour: November 24, 2013

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Sermon Text for November 24, 2013

"Giving Thanks Because We Need To" #81-12
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 24, 2013
By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Giving Thanks Because We Need To)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Luke 17:15-16

Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Anyone who has a mind which thinks, a heart which feels, a soul once condemned by sin should give thanks Christ has risen from the dead. Now, in Him there is forgiveness and salvation for all who acknowledge Him as Savior. For Your gifs, dear Lord, we give thanks. Amen. 

Because of the small, white spots on his eyelids and hands the man had thought something might be wrong. True, they were small spots, but it never hurts to have things checked out. His visit to the priest-physician had not gone well. His diagnosis was hardly what he had hoped to hear. The priest had tried to be compassionate as he told the man 'there was nothing to be done.' No physician possessed a cure for his ailment. His situation was hopeless; he was helpless and his condition was terminal. The patient left the consultation with his mind awhirl at the impact of what he had been told. 

From now on every bit of clothing he wore had to be torn and anything he touched would be unclean. Fear of infecting his family and friends would have kept him from their sides; but he was not allowed to get within six feet of anyone... unless that 'anyone' was also a leper. If anyone gave some sign of wanting to break that six-foot barrier, he had to shout "Unclean! Unclean!" No longer could he go to the temple to make a sacrifice; no longer could he work for a living. The only good thing he had heard in his consultation was that leprosy was not particularly painful. That was because the disease, along with all the other damage it did, would also destroy his nerves. 

Further inquiry had revealed even the blessing of painlessness had a downside. Without the ability to feel pain, there would be no way for him to gauge what was happening to his body. A bone could be broken and he would not know. A scratch could become an infected, festering wound, and he would not know. "Maybe," the man thought, "maybe the people are right. Maybe this disease is a Divine curse for some great sin I have committed." How else could he explain the dreadful destruction which was coming to his body, the desolation which already had taken hold of his soul? He tried to remember all that the physician-priest had told him he could expect. 

He remembered that the small white patches on his eyelids and hands would spread until his entire body was covered in white, shiny scales. Even his hair would be bleached white. There would be swellings on the various parts of his body and those swellings would become sores. The disease would slowly eat its way from the surface of his skin into his tissues, his bone, his joints and marrow. Slowly at first, and then with greater speed his lips, nose, and ears would thicken and become grotesque to the sight of others. His toes and the fingers on his hands would fall off one by one. The ability to speak would be taken away; as would his vision and his hearing. Slowly his body would cave in on itself until finally, at long last welcome death would release him. 

Without thinking and by habit, the man had began his walk with the idea of returning home, but now harsh reality told him he had no home, no wife, no children, no country, no friends, no temple. Although later generations would know otherwise, our man soon came to believe he had been cursed and the only people who would welcome him were others who were also victims of this loathsome disease. 

And so it was, the man found himself in the company of nine other fellows who understood his situation because they were suffering as he was suffering. Together they lived outside a village in the borderland between Galilee and Samaria. There at the gates of the community they kept their prescribed distance from healthier, happier folk who were coming and going into town. There they hoped someone might take pity on them and share a bit of food, a little charity, and most importantly, news of what was going on in the regular world. Yes, that news was important for it made them feel, at least for a few moments, like they were a part of regular society. Those pieces of news were important because it allowed them to think about and talk about something other than their illness and the past lives they had lost. 

I wonder what news these ten had heard about Jesus. Had they been told of how He had healed a cripple and those who were demon-possessed at Capernaum? It is quite likely they may have been given bits and pieces of how Jesus had raised the Centurion's daughter and the son of the widow who lived in the town of Nain. That bit of news would have been of enormous interest to the ten. "Is it not possible," they would have thought to themselves and said to each other, "that a Man who raises the dead also might bring healing to ten lepers?" Of course they had no answer to that question and little hope that the previous thought would ever be more than speculation. 

But all that changed when the forsaken men got word that Jesus was headed their way. Oh, most certainly the news might be just a rumor, but what if it were true? If it were true, it would give them the chance of a lifetime. What should they do? No, they dare not run toward Jesus. Their approach might frighten Him away; it might even lead to something as unpleasant as His disciples stoning them. What should they do; what should they ask for; how should they say it? These were all important questions. Eventually they decided: they would call out to Jesus from a distance and they would not be specific in their request. They would call out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us," and then let Him decide what form His mercy would take. 

The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus did come to that town and the lepers kept to their plan. From the proper distance they shouted, "Jesus, have mercy on us." Now I don't know what those ten men thought would happen, but I am sure they never expected what did happen. Jesus, without conversation or interaction, simply told them, "Go and show yourselves to the physician-priests who gave you your diagnosis. Show yourself to the fellows who can give you a clean bill of health."

It is to the credit of the lepers that they didn't reply: "Why, what good is that going to do? The priests can clearly see, as anybody can see, we are lepers." No, the ten didn't do that. What they did was start out toward Jerusalem, the temple, and a new verdict on their future. Scripture doesn't tell us how many miles they had walked, how much time had ticked by before they realized they had been made well. Without the ability to see their own faces the revelation came when they looked at each other. 

The white scales were gone, the thickening of the facial features was gone; the fingers and toes were back. They had been healed!. And that left these men who had been given a new lease on life with a choice. They could, as they had been instructed by Jesus Himself, continue on the path to the physician-priests in Jerusalem. There they would hear that not only had their bodies been restored, so had their past lives. On that path was a reunion with family and friends, wife and children. On that path was the ability to return home and go back to work and live out their lives in happiness. 

And the other path... the other path would take them back to Jesus so they might give Him thanks for the miracle He had done. Each of the healed lepers probably wrestled with what they should do. Most of them probably ended up thinking something like, "This is great! I'm not going to mess up my miracle by doing something stupid. I don't want to run the risk of appearing to be disobedient and not doing as I was told. Nope, Jesus said, 'Go to Jerusalem' and that's exactly what I am going to do." 

I can't fault those fellows for their logic. To be honest, I think I probably would have come to the same conclusion. I would have gone to Jerusalem, seen the Priest, got a clean bill of health and then find Jesus and give Him thanks. Yup, that would have been my intention; just as it was probably was theirs. Sadly, Scripture never records that any of those nine ever got around to finding Jesus and showing their appreciation. No doubt when they got home, they were instantly immersed in picking up their own lives, loving their spouses, hugging their children, picking up where they left off. The longer they stayed at home, the easier it was to put their thanks to Jesus on the back burner. They wanted to thank Him, they intended to thank Him, but somehow life got in the way and they never got around to making the trip or saying the words. 

And that, too, is something I can understand. I can understand because I have seen it happen. Back when I first entered the ministry, every year when Thanksgiving rolled around, I gave my people the opportunity to say, "Thank You" to the Lord. In the weeks before the official festival rolled around I encouraged them to spend a few minutes, do an inventory of the past year, and write down a specific thing for which they were thankful. They could sign their names or not. Then, on Thanksgiving, I would read those heartfelt expressions of thanks from the altar. The only thing I was worried about was time. I always tried to keep my services to an hour, and I was absolutely positive there would be a ton of thanksgiving prayers to be read. 

How could there not be? After all, throughout the entire church year I had been bringing a laundry list of petitions to the Lord on their behalf. There had been prayers for rain and prayers to stop the rain. There were prayers for mothers who were pregnant and prayers for those women who wanted to be. There had been prayers asking God to heal those who had cancer, heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and all manner of diverse diseases. We had had prayers for people who had been in accidents; those who were afraid of losing their job; for children serving in the military; for those who were in love, wanted love, and who had fallen out of love. You name it, we had prayed for it. And now, on one day we were going to give thanks to the Lord for all the wonderful ways He had had mercy on us. 

And do you know what happened? I can tell you: not much of anything happened. I figured it out. Less than 1% of the folks who had asked God for something, and had gotten what they had asked for, came back to give a public "Thank You." Less than 1%. Boy, I was fried at the ingratitude. Then, by God's grace, I got unfried. I knew these people. They were good people. More than being good people, they were God's people. Indeed, they were some of the best Christians I have ever met. 

They were folks who knew they were sinners and believed with all their hearts that God's Son had come into this world to save them from those sins. They, like God's people in every generation, knelt with the Bethlehem shepherds and gave thanks for the birth of the Christ Child. They were faithful in their worship and, by the Holy Spirit's power, they walked with Jesus and heard how He healed the sick, fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies, and called sinners to repentance. These people were God's people and they readily confessed that they had fallen far short of the perfection which God demands. With gladness they went to Communion and gave thanks for the blood-bought forgiveness that Jesus had won for them on Calvary's cross. And when Resurrection Sunday came around, nobody had to urge them to reply with great gladness: "Christ is risen, indeed." They knew that Jesus' resurrection was the turning point of history and they were glad that because Jesus had conquered death, all who believe on Him would be reunited forever in heaven. What I am trying to say is this: these people were very much followers of the Savior, it's just that I had failed in telling them, urging them, providing the opportunity for them to give thanks. 

It was a good many years ago Pam and I gave one of our nephews a present for Christmas. To be honest, it was a practical present and as often happens with practical presents, it wasn't something which captured his imagination. Still, his mother said "Say thank you to Uncle Ken and Aunt Pamie." By then my nephew was involved opening other presents of far greater interest and the "Thank you" didn't come out. Once again came the urging, "Say thank you to Uncle Ken and Aunt Pamie." No response. That's when I said, "Forget it. It's not important. We don't need him to thank us." My suggestion was countered with a reply filled with deep theological meaning. His mother said, "You may not need to hear it, but he most certainly needs to say it. He will say 'thank you' because it is right, because he should be grateful, and because he will be a better person if he does."

That Christmas I learned a lesson. Never again did I say to my people, "Wait until Thanksgiving and we will read your prayers of appreciation to God." Never again did I wait for their thankful hearts to grow cold; never again did I let the pressures of life get in the way of their gratitude. Instead, when a prayer asking God to do something came in, we tried to ask, "When this prayer is answered, won't you let us know so we as a congregation can give thanks?" Do you know, it didn't take too long before people started doing just that. One person started the ball rolling and soon there were others. Then written prayers of appreciation to the Lord, and for their caring Christian friends, started to show up in the office. "Would you make sure this gets put in the Weekly Information Sheet?" we were asked... and we were glad to do so. 

Following the single leper who returned to Jesus and give thanks, we found ourselves being transformed. No longer were we just a congregation who had a bushel basket of requests; we were also a congregation who knew how to give thanks. To paraphrase that mother, "It's not that God desperately needed to hear us offer a public thanksgiving, He already knew what was in our grateful hearts. On the other hand, we most certainly need to offer up our thanks. We needed it because it was right, because we should be thankful, and because others needed to hear us say it." 

God's people need to offer up thanks because they need to acknowledge they are recipients of countless bounties which come from the Lord. Do you need an example? That's easy. Today we have been talking about leprosy. Did you know that in the last twenty years more than 15 million people have been cured of the disease which once only could be cured by the hand of God? Because those cures are administered by men that doesn't mean the Lord should receive any less thanks. Remember He is the Lord who has given the medicine and it is He who brings about the healing. We have been talking about leprosy today. Do you know that this disease which once brought disaster and devastation to almost every village and town in the ancient world is confined to the treatment of 3,000 cases in all of the United States? In fact, it is quite probable that you have never personally known anyone who had the disease. For this we need to give thanks. 

But there's more... for drinking water and the children's laughter we need to give thanks. For accidents which never have occurred, for a good dentist, and the mail which manages to get through on time we need to give thanks. For a million things that the world does not see, can not see, will not see, our gratitude should be shown to the Lord. For the Savior who has lived, died and risen for us; for the Redeemer who continues to care for us; for the Messiah who has saved us we need to give immediate and ongoing thanks. 

Which is why, today and this Thanksgiving Day, we would invite you to join us in praising God from whom all blessings flow. If that is what is in your heart, I extend this invitation: please, call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.

LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for November 24, 2013
Topic: Giving Thanks Because We Need To

ANNOUNCER: And we're back, with our Speaker Emeritus, Pastor Ken Klaus. I'm Mark Eischer.

KLAUS: Hi, Mark... and a blessed Thanksgiving to you and to all our listeners in the U.S. 

ANNOUNCER: I'm glad you brought that up. Our listeners in Canada celebrated Thanksgiving back in October. In the U.S., it's the last week of November when we have an officially designated day set aside to thank the Lord for all His blessings. 

KLAUS: I have noticed that, with increasing frequency, some people manage to celebrate Thanksgiving Day without anyone to thank.

ANNOUNCER: I've heard that, too. 

KLAUS: At best, they thank themselves or each other for their good fortune.

ANNOUNCER: That's thanks, separated from God.

KLAUS: And in some quarters, they call it "turkey day." 

ANNOUNCER: Which takes the focus entirely off thanks and God.

KLAUS: And for others, it's the day when they wax down their credit cards and get ready for the great holiday shopping spree known as Black Friday. 

ANNOUNCER: You know if we keep spinning this out like this, we'll never get around to the actual question!

KLAUS: Just wanted to make a point. And lest anyone wonder, that point is this: humankind doesn't find it natural to thank or even give credit to God for His bounty. As a result, even the one day set aside to show our appreciation to Him is often stolen and used for something else. 

ANNOUNCER: All of which can serve, perhaps, as the color commentary for today's question. Our listener says, "Why should we thank God?" He's been to many parts of the world where he saw people near starvation. If God is all-powerful... and He's the One who makes the crops grow and provides the harvest, why does God let these children starve? 

KLAUS: Well, since this man had been in places where there were starving children, I wish I could ask him how he helped those starving children while he was there. How much food he bought to alleviate their terrible condition? How many dollars he donated in sympathy for these individuals?

ANNOUNCER: Would you really do that? Confront the listener like that?

KLAUS: Back in the days when I was young and hot­headed, you bet, I would. Now, naw, not so much, I wouldn't do that. On the other hand, I do wonder what the man did when he was given the opportunity. Did these people move him enough to help them or did they move him enough just so he could use their plight to take some pot-shots at God? 

ANNOUNCER: Back to the question. Why doesn't God feed the starving?

KLAUS: You know, Mark, we never did get away from answering the man. I can remember way back in the 1960s when the world population was around 3 billion people. I read all kinds of articles back then about how the earth had reached its maximum capacity as to the number of mouths we could feed. At that time, the experts said we were looking at possibly hundreds of millions of people starving. And when I say "starving", it was more than a bad diet or a sub-standard caloric intake; they were talking about folks having no food at all. 

ANNOUNCER: But now the world's population is over 7 billion and still climbing. 

KLAUS: But we still don't see that starvation taking place on the scale predicted by those learned men so many years ago. 

ANNOUNCER: Okay. What happened? 

KLAUS: Norman Borlaug. Norman Borlaug happened. He's the guy who began the "green revolution", the fellow credited with saving a billion lives. He developed ways to increase food production so many, many people could be fed. I believe God is responsible for that. God created the genetics so that a scientific mind like Borlaug and others like him could perform an agricultural miracle.

ANNOUNCER: But there still are starving people.

KLAUS: There are and many of them are starving not for lack of a God-given food supply; they're starving because of man's sinfulness. Take North Korea. There the government has decided to put all the money into the arming of its troops, not the feeding of its people. In other places, the food is there--but profiteers steal it. In yet other places, war creates a flood of refugees and cuts those refugees off from a food supply. God has provided the food, but it is humankind which has stopped the delivery of that food. 

ANNOUNCER: So, what you're saying...

KLAUS: God doesn't want people to starve. He has given us the means to feed the hungry. If they remain hungry, it's often because sinful humanity lets it happen that way.

ANNOUNCER: God can work through us to provide for those who need it. One example is the Global Mission Fund of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. For more information, go to lcms.org. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

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Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"Come, Ye Thankful People, Come" From Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort (© 2004 Concordia Publishing House)

"We Praise You, O God" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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