Luke 17:11-19

Attitude of Gratitude

By The Rev. Dr. James D. Kegel


The Aztec sun god was a horrible deity. In order to rise in the morning and give light to the world, to make crops grow, the sun god needed a fresh supply, each day, of beating hearts. The Aztecs became a warrior race in order to provide sacrificial victims to this god. They built pyramids which can still be visited, in order to provide a fitting place to offer up these hearts, still beating, from the chests of their victims. The famous Aztec calendar stone shows the face of this god in the center of the stone and a heart in each of his hands. In order for the people to live, the god had to be fed fresh hearts. Such a crude and horrible religion was not limited to American Indians. Chemosh, the god of Moab, demanded beautiful maidens be sacrificed to him – and at times in the history of Israel, the Israelites themselves turned to such horrible gods and away from the true, living God.

Religion as a human invention always has notions that people can manipulate the deity by doing something, offering something, sacrificing something. It is one of the ways to determine whether religion is true or not – the God who made heaven and earth needs nothing we can give. The whole world is in His hands. God is not dependent upon you or me. There is nothing we have that God needs.

But God wants us. The triune nature of God reveals that God is only God in relationship – Father, Son and Holy Spirit and by sending the Son to become human flesh and dwell among us, we see that God wants us in relationship. What God wants of you is simply your thanksgiving for the great gifts God has given you. God wants your prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

The nature of God is grace – undeserved love. Everything that the God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus, does is pure and unlimited grace. It was grace that prompted God to create this beautiful world. It was grace which called the people of Israel out from the nations to be God’s own people. It was grace that delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. It was grace which sent judges and prophets who spoke God’s Word; grace which preserved the people through the punishment of their exile. It was grace that sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to save us from our sins, to bring all who believe into His kingdom, to offer us everlasting life.

Our God works graciously and freely to save each one of you. Grace came to you in your baptism – most of us were too young to know anything about it, but it did not matter. God shows love to the little gurgling baby as well as the learned scholar. Grace still comes to us when we confess our sins and believe the word of promise that we ARE forgiven. Grace still comes to us in bread and wine at the table of the Lord. Grace still comes to us through other Christian people who pray for us, comfort us and support us. Grace does not demand any payment or sacrifice. Grace is free and unconditional and limitless. As the Scripture reminds us:

Every beast of the forest is mine.
The cattle on a thousand hills,
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If i were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine. (Psalm 50:10ff.)

The Psalmist is right. There is nothing we can give to a God who has everything already.

Today’s Gospel is found only in Luke, the story of Jesus’ healing of ten lepers. In some ways it is a story for every one of us. We may not have the disease of leprosy – and in Bible times many different diseases were called leprosy not necessarily only what we now call Hansen’s disease. Yet we all have the disease of sin and its effects. We all fall short of God’s intention for us. We are a people of unclean hearts and minds an lips, just as lepers were people of unclean bodies.

The ten lepers approached Jesus as he was traveling through the countryside between Samaria and Galilee. They stood the required distance away – as lepers had to do – but cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The word they used for Master, Teacher, is one used by disciples. They seemed to recognize in Jesus not only one who could perform miracles and had the power to heal them, but also one who would command their allegiance, There was no offer of payment, for they knew that Jesus, as the representative of God, would help them freely and without cost.

This week, I have had two people come to me worried about not getting their flu shot. One prayed with heartfelt concern in our Wednesday prayer group. We hear of drug resistant bacteria which is a cause of concern. I remember as a small child the fear people had of poliomyelitis – people would stay away from swimming pools for fear. And I remember the relief when the Salk vaccine came through. We got our polio shots and didn’t have to worry any more. I read that Dr Jonas Salk, the inventor of the polio vaccine, did not receive any money from his work. He did not get royalties for what he had discovered but said it was enough to save the lives and health of so many children. That sort of attitude is a grace in itself – a free gift for people in need.

Healing, as wonderful as it is for those who suffer, is still not salvation. The ten lepers were told to go and show themselves to the priests – that was the Old Testament Law – and as they went on their way, they were made clean. They were healed of their horrible affliction. It was not that they were better lepers than all others, but simply because in Jesus, God’s power to heal was at work – and God’s power to save.

In his play, Brand, Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, has the character of the pastor trying the most arduous disciplines to meet God’s standards. In the last scene, just before an avalanche buries him, the pastor cries out, “Can nothing avail?” Then he hears out of the thunder of the rolling rocks the words, ” Deus Caritas.” God is love. God is grace! We are like the ten lepers, not worse, but no better. We are like that pastor. Nothing can avail us but the gracious, loving God who will it is to heal and to save.

Ten lepers were healed but only one turned back to give thanks to God. Ten were healed but only was saved. As Martin Luther said, “God does not need our work and has not commanded us to do anything for Him but to thanks and praise Him.” We CAN give thanks and praise God for so many gracious gifts to us. We SHOULD offer our sacrifice of thanks and praise.

The one leper, a Samaritan at that – one benighted in sin and falsehood – returned to give thanks. We presume that the other nine were people of Israel who had the Law and the Prophets and by going to the priests were intent on fulfilling the Law, but they did not return thanks. As Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

The word used for well is the same word in the Greek as saved. Jesus told this one who came back to thank and praise God that was saved by faith. There is no work involved. The leper could not do nothing to earn God’s salvation, but the leper’s faith received God’s gracious gift and he responded in praise and thanksgiving to God. The leper clearly recognized in Jesus of Nazareth, God’s power to help and heal and save. It says in our text that he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. The other nine were healed of their leprosy but they forgot to give thanks. They walked away cured by not saved.

God is worth our gratitude. God has done so much for us that we should not begrudge God an hour of a Sunday morning to come together as a community of faith to thank and praise God. God is worthy – that’s where we get our word, worship. God is worthy of our thanks and praise. We come together to hear God’s word of promise, to hear that our sins are forgiven, to receive the Lord’s Supper to strengthen our faith, to gather with other believers to pray and praise. Everything we have is a gift of God – ourselves, our time, our possessions, our work, home, school, family, friends, our country, our church. Gratitude is important.

Dr Hans Selye in The Stress of Life, has shown in his research that gratitude is the healthiest of attitudes. Dr Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, has written much to show that guilt can make us sick, but grace frees us to live joyful and happy lives. Thankfulness to God can come in spite of even the bad things that happen to good people. It reminds us that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ, that Our Lord will never leave us or forsake us, that we can cast our anxieties on God who cares for each one of us.

What can you do for God. God needs nothing. There is nothing we can give to pay God back. But we can return thanks. We can praise God, pray to God and thank God. Amen.

Copyright 2004 James Kegel. Used by permission.