Thankfulness: You Are Not At A Distance, For Jesus Reached Out To You

Text:  Luke 17:11-19
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
During this time of year millions of people are making trips to gather together with family and friends. This great gathering of people is to celebrate thankfulness.  Yes, with Thanksgiving we gather together with the intent and purpose to express gratitude.  More specifically, we express appreciation for our health, our material blessings, our good fortune, our families, and so forth. 
Keep in mind though that most of the things that we are grateful for, are a result of a combination of things.  Things like: good family genetics, a little bit of luck, hard work, being in the right place at the right time, and the blessings of other people.  Therefore, it could be technically stated that we express this gratitude with a tip of the hat to the luck of the draw, as well as a tip of the hat to ourselves.  Otherwise stated, each and every Thanksgiving we esteem the feeling and character of ‘gratitude;’ with a very superficial understanding of gratitude.  Yes, our gratitude—to a certain extent—is not totally dependent on the gifts that we receive, but relies heavily upon our luck, our work, and our doings. 
Now, I am certainly not attempting to sabotage your Thanksgiving holiday.  I am surely not attempting to be the Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.  No, my friends, what I am merely attempting to do is to show you that as baptized-forgiven-blood-bought-saints you have so much more to be thankful for.  Yes, as people in Christ you have something to be thankful for, something that is given to you as pure gift, something that brings ultimate gratitude. 
While it would be easy to exhort you now to be more thankful or to simply urge you to express more gratitude as a Christian, I am afraid that merely telling you to be grateful without showing you what you have to be grateful for is futile at best.  To state this in a different way consider our Gospel reading.
In our Gospel reading we are faced with a contagious and hereditary disease.  We see a disease that is easily transmitted and can be conveyed to the third and fourth generations of a family.  It was a disease that produced sores on the skin; it impacted a person’s joints.  It has been said,
“Life still lingers amid the desolation of this disease.  The joints, hands, and feet lose their power; and the body collapses or falls together in a form hideous and awful-ness.”
What am I talking about?  I am talking about the disease of leprosy.  I am talking about leprosy that existed during the first century, a disease that there was no curable treatment for. 
Not only did leprosy dramatically impact individuals, but it had sociological implications as well.  By Law lepers were not able to come near people who were healthy.  The Laws separated them into camps outside the cities.  In fact lepers would be beaten if they came into cities like Jerusalem.  Indeed, lepers were cut off from society.  They could not associate with people and had to yell out the word “UNCLEAN,” so as to warn others that they were passing by.  Many perceived that these lepers were sick due to some mistake that they had made; they were viewed as cursed by God.
But what does leprosy have to do with Thanksgiving and what does it have to do with the idea of gratitude and thankfulness?  Are we to be thankful that we don’t have leprosy?  Well, yes, but there is more to consider in our text.
In our Gospel reading we encounter lepers being healed by Jesus.  After the healing, one of the lepers returns to Jesus with a thankful response.  In story we have a simple and plain picture of the Christian life.  Permit me to explain.
Tragically lepers were ostracized from society and family as they stood at a distance, while rotting away in utter and complete hopelessness.  Leprosy made the individuals stand afar off.  Their defilement distanced them from everyone and everything.  Yet, in our Gospel reading there is one that bridges that gap.  Yes, we even see in the Gospel of Matthew chapter eight that when Jesus encountered another leper that he reached out His hand and touched the man. 
Did you hear that?
Jesus reached out and touched a leper; He bridges that gap. He acknowledges the lepers who stand afar off.  He, who is perfectly clean, perfectly righteous, and perfectly holy, reaches out and touches the man with leprosy saying, “Be Clean!”  In our Gospel text for today, He cleanses lepers, as well. 
Consider how Jesus crosses the great leper divide.  In the New Testament Christ touches and interacts with sinners, tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, and the dead, while often times becoming ceremonially unclean Himself from touching those who were sick or dead.
Otherwise stated, the Lord Jesus Christ gives everything freely to these lepers and does not take nor seeks anything for it.  Furthermore, the lepers receive Christ’s work freely and pay nothing for it. 
Dear friends, like the lepers, mankind is set far off from God because of sin.  We too are unworthy and unable to do anything about our predicament of sin.  We have inherited it, it is contagious, it spreads to our children, and it wreaks havoc on our relationships, and leads to destruction.  We cannot cure our sin problem.  We cannot cleanse our body and souls.  We cannot prevent the rotting.  Thus, mankind hides in the shadows or attempts to cover sin with spiritual cosmetics.
The Lord Jesus Christ though bridges this gap.  He reached out and not only touched sin, but bore it upon Himself at the cross.  Like a person who becomes unclean due to touching a leper, Jesus, for our sake, was made to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
Ponder for a moment the great event of Mount Calvary.  While on the cross, our mighty Lord took the leprosy of sin upon Himself.  More specifically,
“When he took the sins of the whole world upon himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with the sins of all men, that he should pay for them with his own blood. The curse struck him. The Law found him among sinners. He was not only in the company of sinners. He had gone so far as to invest himself with the flesh and blood of sinners. So the Law judged and hanged him for a sinner.”[1] 
Yes, Christ Jesus not only reached out and touched leprosy; He ultimately took the sin-leprosy of the entire world upon Himself, while hanging on the cross, thus making Himself ostracized for a time.  Due to sin, the Father distanced Himself from Jesus as Christ bore hideous sin and while this sin collapsed in on Him.  Indeed, “the Father compelled by His own holiness, distanced Himself from His Son—a distancing more commonly called damnation.”[2] 
In due course, this leprosy of sin crushed Jesus.
What does this mean for you and for me? 
Whenever you feel remorse for your sin or see sores of sin-leprosy, look to Christ on the cross.  Yes, the faith that has been given to you by the Holy Spirit through the Word goes to meet Jesus, “for it knows itself in the reality of truth to be unworthy of [the Lord’s] goodness, and has nothing on which to depend, except [the Lord’s] highly renowned and loudly praised goodness.”[3]  Yes, faith cries out, “Lord Jesus, Master, have mercy on me!” 
And what meets this cry of faith? 
Pure grace and mercy are there, for Christ Jesus not only reached out and touched leapers but went into the domain of sinners; died; and through this death devoured sin so that the God the Father will never stand afar from you again.  Faith receives the Word of God that cleanses you.
The leper’s word of ‘unclean’ is met with the Lord’s Word ‘clean.’
Now, this is all good news. However, we have yet to talk about gratitude and thankfulness.  Ah, but wait?  Have we not been talking about thankfulness and gratitude?  Yes we have.
Thankfulness and gratitude are rooted and dependent on something outside of themselves, they are dependent on what has been given or bestowed upon us.  And what has been given and bestowed upon us?  Indeed, you have been given Christ; the Savior who is for you.  Yes, Jesus healed the leper; He reached out and touched lepers; He reached out and touched sinners.  Today, we hear that Jesus does the same—for you!  Yes, you are not at a distance.  Yes, the Word declares you clean.  Yes, Jesus bridged the gap for you.  All of this is done for you. 
Baptized Saints, you have a better reason to give thanks than any other group of people.  You have Christ. 
You have eternal life.  You have peace with God.  “We Christians have all this, not because of any special merit or worthiness on our part, but because of the Father’s grace for the sake of His Son Jesus Christ.  We have this because Jesus finished the journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.”[4]
“Enjoy all the riches of God.  Enjoy both the earthly riches and the heavenly treasure.  They are all gifts from our dear Father in Heaven who loves us and sent His Son to save us.  We have good reason to give thanks … not just tomorrow … but every day.  In fact, we look forward to giving thanks for eternity.”
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Galatians Commentary.

[2] Francis Rossow, Gospel Handles: Finding New Connections in Biblical Texts (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2001), 241.

[3] Martin Luther, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther: Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1905), 67.

[4] James T. Batchelor, “Thanksgiving Eve Sermon”  (11 November 2014).

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