I pulled double duty this week.  The following was preached Sunday night, November 23, 2008 at the Van Buren Ministerial Association Thanksgiving Community Service hosted by Veedersburg UMC.  The text for this message is Luke 17:11-19.

Tonight’s Scripture takes place as Jesus is working his way towards Jerusalem.  This narrative takes up the majority of Luke’s gospel.  It is a section that begins in 9:51 which says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and it ends with the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem in 19:28, which we celebrate as Psalm Sunday.  What I find interesting about this is that Jesus is constantly moving towards his ultimate destination, but there is no break in the action, so to speak.  During the whole journey, Jesus is ministering to others.  There are literally hundreds of miracles, healings and times of teaching during this journey, but what is very interesting, is that there is only one instance when somebody comes to Jesus and gives thanks.  But before we look at that a little deeper, let’s see how the text gets us to that point.

In verse 12, we are told that Jesus is met by ten lepers as he was entering a village.  It is noted that the lepers stood at a distance, which was necessary out of observance of the Torah.  Leprosy at this time was understood as any type of skin condition, not strictly leprosy as it is dianosed today.  According to Leviticus 13, anyone who had a skin disease must make it well known that they did have this disease and they were to be totally separate from the rest of the camp, dwelling alone on the outside.  Now this really wasn’t to ostracize them from the community, but to ensure that the disease did not spread all over the community. 

We must be intentional about doing this as well.  We need to make sure that the sin of others does not infect us.  I’m not saying that we should totally cut ourselves off from those who we would consider “sinners,” but we do have to be intentional about not allowing the sin to infect us.  For some, that may well mean avoiding sin altogether.  It is not the best idea for a recovering alcoholic to start a ministry reaching out to people in bars.  There is important ministry that needs to be done in the bars around America, but we have to be careful not to place a stumbling block in someone else’s path.  If your church wants to do a bar outreach ministry, that’s great!  But don’t put a recovering alcoholic in the midst of his/her greatest weakness.  We have to know our limits and we have to set boundaries, but we also have to make sure that we are reaching out to those who need Jesus’ healing touch more than anyone else.

Jesus tells the ten lepers to go show themselves to the priests.  This also is based on the commands in Leviticus.  It was the priest alone who could officially declare a leper clean and allow him to enter back into the community.  But notice that it is not until they are obedient to Jesus’ command to go to the priest that they are healed.  Officially, the priest was the one who restored them to the community, but realistically, it was Jesus who truly healed them and restored them to full relationship.  In the same way, Jesus is the one who heals us and restores us to full relationship.  Again, we are lepers of a different sort.  We are lepers plagued with sin, and it is only through Jesus’ healing that we can be declared clean and enter into full relationship with the Father.

The Greek word that is translated as “to give thanks” is eucharisto.  Now, that is a word that probably sounds vaguely familiar.  Often we will refer to communion, or the Lord’s Supper, as the Eucharist based on this Greek word.  It is used four times in the gospel of Luke.  Two of those times are recorded in Luke 22 – first, when Jesus takes the cup, and second, when he takes the bread.  Another time that it appears is in Luke 18, when Jesus is telling a parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.  It is actually the Pharisee who uses the word, but does so in a less than flattering way.  He thanks God that he is not like other people who are sinners.  Okay, just to summarize quickly, this word appears 4 times in Luke’s gospel, and three of those times, it is found on the lips of Jesus.  There is only one instance in Luke in which someone besides Jesus gives thanks, and it is here, in tonight’s Scripture reading.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I often forget to thank God for all the things in my life.  I have gotten better in the last few years, and I try to be intentional about thanking God in my prayers, but it is a growing process.  As a whole, how often do we really take time out of our days to reflect on what the Lord has done for us?  I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that more often than not, we forget to thank God for the things in our lives that he has given us.  Usually, we stop to think about what we are thankful for when we are around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and the conversation has died down some… and the football game is not on in the background. 

I’m not saying this to make anybody feel guilty, I’m just saying that is a simple fact of life more often than we would like to admit.  But on the other hand, it is a common problem in the human condition.  Think about it for a minute, Luke is 24 chapters long, and for 10 of those chapters, Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem performing all sorts of miracles – feeding thousands of people, healing diseases, raising people from the dead, but only once does somebody come back to Jesus and give thanks.  And I don’t think it is because people were ungrateful for what Jesus did, I think that all too often, we simply forget to say thank you.  But did you notice who it was that did come back to give thanks?  The Samaritan – the one who would have been most despised; and the one that the reader might expect to be the least likely to give thanks, especially in such a manner as he does here in Luke 17.  You see, there’s something else that is fairly significant about the use of the Greek word eucharisto.

In nearly every single instance that I looked at in the New Testament, whenever eucharisto is used, it is used specifically to give thanks to God.  Now, you can’t tell me that isn’t significant when it comes to the fact that a Samaritan (who also has different worship practices than Jews, as we can see from Jesus’ discussion with a Samaritan woman in John 4) is using a particular word that throughout the New Testament is reserved for God’s handiwork.  This Samaritan, one who was seen to be so far off base when it came to Jewish practices, recognized that there was something different about Jesus; something so different that he recognized Jesus for who he was – God incarnate, deity in the flesh, the very example of who the Lord is.  He comes back with gratitude when he sees the handiwork of God and gives thanks.  How’s that for an example for us to follow today?  How often do we see the handiwork of God and pause just long enough to give thanks and praise?

I want to encourage you this week not just to set aside some time to give God thanks for the things in your life, but do make it a daily practice.  Each day, spend just two minutes listing the things for which you are thankful.  I guarantee you that in the light of what God has done in your life, the difficult times will seem less so.  I’m not saying that everything will be easier because you take two minutes to thank God every day.  However, if we begin the day with an attitude of thankgiving, we are better equipped to handle the difficult things that are thrown our way each day.  Let’s use this Thanksgiving as a catalyst for a new daily routine in which we remember to say “Thanks.”