Thanksgiving is uniquely an American observance. Despite the current idea of this insurmountable wall that separates church and state. It was established as a Holiday by the US Government in 1863 and Observed as a National Day by George Washington in 1789. It has in its origins the story of a Christian community that was escaping what they perceived to be religious persecution in England in 1621. The pilgrims ironically established a theocracy, that is a community governed by the Word of God, not unlike John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland.
In a theocracy, the church and the state are one entity which really is a return to the Roman Papacy understanding and foreign to the scriptural and Lutheran understanding of the distinct governance of both the kingdom of the left by our ordained nation’s fathers and the ordained church fathers of the kingdom of the right. That is, "pay unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is His."Pastor Springer's Blog
This also would be very foreign to the democracy established by the constitution following the revolution and even further removed from the separation of Church and State as it is being narrowly interpreted by the courts today.
Putting the best construction on it, this civil holy day that the churches in America have adopted, does at least recognize that all good things come from God. So even though nowhere in the Scriptures do we find such an observance commanded or does it originate from the tradition of the Church , it does however give to us an opportunity for hearing God’s word, prayer and receiving his gifts which will result in Thanksgiving for those who take advantage of it.
So unlike other observances and holy days in our church year that mark the life of Christ such as Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and those observances contained within, this observance could easily be misused to focus on our actions toward God or even the looking at America as God’s special set apart nation as if Christ did not die for all. It could be used and often is to teach our children and us to give thanks. It is not unlike at Christmas when our children receive a gift the parent is quick to say to them “now what do you say?” or upon receiving gifts at graduation, “make sure you get those thank you cards out.” It is the courteous thing to do.
But is thanksgiving something we initiate or is it a response. Is it something God commands us to do or is it more spontaneous. Is it even perhaps something that God has worked in us?
It is almost too easy to focus in our Gospel text of the ten lepers on the Samaritan who returned to give thanks and how we like the Samaritan are to give thanks. But one cannot give thanks without having something to give thanks for. This is why this text that the church has connected to the Thanksgiving Observance is really all about Jesus.
Jesus as he traveled through Galilee and even entered parts of Samaria was on His Father mission to seek out the lost sheep of Israel. His mission was to overturn the power of sin, death and the devil. The Lepers were separated from their families, their community and even from the presence of God that was in the temple. They were exiles in their own land.
As lepers according they were unclean and to touch someone else would make that person unclean. Now being unclean does not mean that they were any more sinful than anyone else. However this is impression one could easily get and it certainly began to develop in rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism is what we have today. Its origins are found in the synagogue traditions that developed after Judah was exiled by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the temple was destroyed.
Without the temple, as it is today, Judaism was without the way of sacrifice and atonement that pointed to Christ. Instead they turned to an utter obsession with own ability to keep the Law. Their trust in the Law trumped what the Law was pointing too, for us to trust that is the Messiah who would fulfill the Law for them for us. The Law became a means of salvation rather than a mirror of one’s sinfulness and need for Jesus who would save His people from their sins.
Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement no longer has the killing of bulls or scape goats sent out into the wilderness. There is no longer blood carried by a priest into the Holy of Holies instead today’s Jews use the holiday to focus on doing good works, helpful to the world but not for their souls.
The Hebrew definition and understanding of being clean and unclean began to change. The unclean were a lost cause because they were unable to keep the law and were cut off from the community and the presence of God. The distinctions between being clean and unclean were meant to show us our need and Jesus came to make the unclean, clean.
The ten lepers turn to Jesus as he is coming and cry out from a distance, Jesus Master, have mercy upon us “Lord Have Mercy!” or Kyrie Eleison words the church in its tradition wisely included in the liturgy. It is a phrase one uses as one repents or turns to the King. Like the lepers we come here with the burdens of our sins. Sins we cannot remove ourselves. There is no place for pride or self-esteem or celebrations for we are poor miserable sinners separated from God by our sin and pleading for mercy to hear the words of release and forgiveness from Jesus. So we turn or repent away from ourselves and away from this sinful world and we cry out Kyrie Elison, “Lord have mercy upon us”
The Lepers and you and I cry out for mercy because we are asking for something we do not deserve. We are asking for something that we have not even earned. If the Lepers had cried out for justice then Jesus would have silently passed them by because they were already receiving that and much more to come.
Jesus gives to them what they ask for, mercy and this how he answers our pleas for mercy today. He tells them to go show yourselves to the priest in accordance with Levitical Law. Without Jesus even saying, “Be clean!” but rather saying “Go show yourselves to the Priests” the ten are now clean. They are now freed, released, which also means forgiven to rejoin their families and their community as well as their worship life in the presence of God.
This cleansing is a demonstration of God’s power and his will to save mankind. The Kingdom of Heaven has come and is coming to these men in Jesus Christ. In Matthew 10:7-8 Jesus sends out his twelve apostles to proclaim the “Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons. Jesus the King is coming and has come to release, forgive and save you from your sins.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Rev. Dr. Luther in his explanation writes that “the Kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us also.” I believe this has a rather significant meaning when we pray it just prior to the, “Words of Institution” where are Lord comes to you and I in flesh and blood in, with and under the bread and wine received by the mouth to cleanse you and I and release and forgive us of our sins both spiritually and physically.
We presume that the nine are practicing Jews and they gladly follow the command of Jesus. They follow the law and go to what they believe is the temple and the priests so that from a civil law stand point they can enjoy lawfully return to community life. Would not any of you desire after being separated from your loved ones rush to go see them after being released.
However the Samaritan does not have such civil requirements and he is not permitted in Jerusalem temple. In fact his temple is an imposter temple established by Israel’s Northern Kingdom apostate kings on Mt Gerazim. After seeing that he is healed the Samaritan turns or repents to Jesus and he cries out again in a loud voice this time in praise to God and he falls down a the feet of Jesus giving Him thanks.
You see there is more going on here. The Samaritan by faith recognizes the true temple, that is, God dwelling not in a brick and mortar temple but in the flesh Jesus. In the Gospel of John’s prologue he confesses, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as the only Son from the Father full of Grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The direction and object of the Samaritan’s thanks and praise to God is to Jesus. And Jesus receives this thanksgiving and praise. Would it not be unusual if someone were to say to you, I am so thankful God for what you have just done for me and then at your feet worships you? Would you not say, “Stop that, you are crazy.” Of course if you are depraved narcissist you my rather enjoy it. Rather it is more in keeping with the faith to say I give thanks to the Lord for you, as St. Paul says many times in his letters to the churches.
Despite what modern scholars may say about their ideas of the historical Jesus that you may hear on public television, the history or discovery channel, the eye witness testimony given by the Apostles is that Jesus believes he is God. There is no doubt in this. Since such worship, praise and confession that this Samaritan gives and that of many others indicates that they believe it too.
In John 2:18-21 in his encounter with the Jews Jesus says to them after they request from him a sign that is proof and Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up!” The Jews replied, “it has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it in three days?” But then John writes, “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”
It is interesting to note that our Lutheran confessions that the church is the gathering of the saints where the Gospel is taught in its purity and the sacraments are administered correctly that is according to Christ’s institution. Why is that? It is because that is where Christ promises to be. This is where we may be found in His presence. Where the Old Testament saints gathered before the temple where the Lord placed his name, He is now here where His name is invoked and where we keep His Word.
In our Gospel text, Jesus answered the Samaritan who returned to Him, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God, except this foreigner?”
I am sure that there will be many family gatherings still to feast on turkey and all the traditional fixings that attend a meal. I imagine that many will call upon the Lord and thank Him for His many blessings. But there will be other gatherings where perhaps the focus will be instead turned to one another.
Perhaps the meal will even begin without a prayer. Perhaps the main focus will be to ask everyone around the table what they are thankful for without regard to the source or object of their thanksgiving. Will it be like the nine who rush back to the temple to be released by the priests in order to be with their families. Is that perhaps that all they are looking for to continue on with their lives without regard to the giver or perhaps not.
Jesus said of the woman, who had washed his feet with expensive oil, her hair and her tears before his house guest who had not even offered to wash his feet as was customary, “The one who loves much has been forgiven much.”
Do we recognize the depth of our sins, the sins of both commission and omission, the sins we have done and the sins left undone? Do we actually open are catechisms or the scriptures and look over the Ten Commandments. Put this objective mirror up to our lives. Do we realize how sick and dying we really are? How we have left our neighbors down and those who we are with, in the church. Do we ask the teacher the pastor who God has sent in his stead to give us more of our Lord more of his teaching and more times for prayer? Even during the week? Or are we just fine with where we are.
We are okay with this separation. But it is not okay. These sins separate us from Jesus and each other. They may make us uncomfortable with one another when we are in the presence of Jesus. But this is exactly when we need more of Jesus and not less for He is the one who make us whole and welcomes us back to true community with one another. Turn to Him for salvation for He saves and cleanses you now!
My experience has been that those who are most apt to turn or repent to Jesus are those who have lost control of their lives those with chronic diseases or near death like many of our shut-ins. You may think they are already believers and we should concern ourselves with those who do not know Jesus. But even Jesus on earth limited his mission to the lost sheep of Israel and with the consequence of the Greeks, Samaritans and Gentiles seeking him out too. Let me tell you that the Christian life is a life of repentance and turning to Jesus.
I believe that it would do the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod well to fund and supply deaconesses and ordained ministers to our hospitals and nursing homes in the same way the Roman church does to call on the sick specifically on their patient census where they confess they are Lutheran, but are also able to call on others.
Today however we expect to the hospitals to fund the chaplains and in that case chaplains are restricted many times from what is called "imposing ones faith" and that can even be charged against someone who maintains the truth of scripture, such was my experience at Lutheran Hospital a year ago as I was going through training for the chaplaincy. No, there is better way if the people of our church truly turn to Christ to address these needs.
Likewise to those who are in our jails especially to believers in order that they are ministered too so that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and know that they are not forsaken. I suppose it is much easier to ignore these things than to act on them but this is the duty of the Church.
We too gathered in the Diven Service live a life of repentance weekly turning to receive the grace of our Lord. He supplies our every need with the foretaste of the feast to come.
This Lord’s Supper we are about to receive which is also called the Eucharist, that is, the good gifts unmerited from Christ for our body and soul unto eternal life. This is what rightly results in our great thanksgiving and praise from Christ reconciling us to the Father and our neighbor as faith teaches.
True thanksgiving and praise are a result of joyfully receiving our Lord’s teaching and His gifts. Thanksgiving if it is true never comes before receiving the gift, otherwise it is empty praise.
However, true praise and thanksgiving is in the receiving and bringing to remembrance both the life and death of Christ for our sakes. In this in way, in your hearing, our Lord by the Holy Spirit has worked both saving faith and the resultant thanksgiving in you.
Jesus says to the Samaritan to the foreigner, to us today, “Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you!”