“Thanksgiving: You Can Drag a Horse to Water But …” Sermon / Luke 17:11–19/ Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 12th 2019 / Season Of Pentecost / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Sunday October 12th 2019, Thanksgiving Sunday “Thanksgiving: You Can Drag a Horse to Water But …” Luke 17:11–19
On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And [Jesus] said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. In the natural course of the year Holidays are an interesting time, Thanksgiving in particular is interesting because the key ingredient isn’t turkey and cranberry sauce: the key ingredient is “Thankfulness” the act of feeling, of being thankful. Now we all have a lot of things to be thankful for but somehow it doesn’t always work out just the way we want. For instance thankfulness is a little like washing dishes or mowing the lawn: Sometimes you want to wash the dishes or mow the lawn and other times you simply have to wash the dishes or mow the lawn whether you want to or not – so in the same way there are times where we want to give thanks and there are time when (like on Thanksgiving) we feel we have to give thanks, whether we want to or not. Maybe your family has a tradition of going around the table and each saying something that you are thankful for and in your heart you feel put on the spot and even though you know there are a million things to be thankful for you rack your brain to find something that hasn’t already been said or doesn’t sound too obvious. Last Thursday we did this very thing with the confirmation kids over supper together.
Before we said grace I asked them if they’d ever been really angry, I’ll ask you the same “Have you ever been really angry?” Then I asked them and I’ll ask you, “If someone says ‘calm down’ does that work?” Does it work to be told to be calm when you aren’t? Maybe for some, but for others it will only make them even more angry. The same can be said for thanksgiving if someone says be thankful and you are not all ready thankful in your heart it might just make you embittered irritated, perhaps even at the one who made you a wonderful thanksgiving dinner and set you there at the table. The fallen nature of mankind and the heart turning in on itself and the unsatisfied mind is a peculiar and perplexing thing or at least it would be if it weren’t so common.
The Divine Service today will conclude with the singing of a hymn that will be familiar to some of you it’s called "Now Thank We All Our God." The first two verses were originally written as a table grace, but there is more to the story than that. This is the first verse:
“Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices; Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices. Who, from our mother’s arms, Has blest us on our way, With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.”
The hymn was born out of real events: At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in the walled town of Eilenburg, Germany. The man who eventually wrote the hymn was Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart, he served as one of those pastors in Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). As the Swedish army attacked the region Eilenburg with its fortifications became an overcrowded place of safety for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffering from epidemic and famine poured in from the countryside. Early in 1637, one of the town’s pastors abandoned his post for “healthier areas” away from the plague ridden men women and children seeking refuge and could not be persuaded to return. After the Swedish army laid siege to the town, and no one could escape, things grew worse and Pastor Rinkhart ended up officiated at the funerals of the other two Lutheran pastors leaving him as the sole pastor for Eilenburg and its beleaguered people.
As the only pastor left, he often conducted funeral services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day–some 4,480 in all. In May of that year amidst all the funerals Rinkhart was conducting his own wife died. And by the end of the year, the many of the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services. Here is the second verse of the hymn:
“Oh, may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us, With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us And keep us in His grace, And guide us when perplexed; And free us from all ills in this world, And the next!”
Finally, the Swedes demanded a ransom (They wanted money) and Pastor Rinkart risking his own life walked out of the walled town of Eilenburg with its protective fortifications into the camp of the Swedish army to negotiate with them. The Swedes were impressed by Rinkart and due to his part in the negotiations hostilities soon ceased and the time of suffering for the people of Eilenburg and the surrounding area ended.
It seems incongruous that a hymn like "Now Thank We All Our God" should come out of such circumstances, war, plague, thousands dead, the death of family and friends, neighbours and collogues even his wife. Yet it did, and in the midst of the ongoing tragedy befalling his town Pastor Rinckart wrote those first two stanzas, and like I said it was not initially meant to be a hymn for public worship, but rather as a table grace for the widower his remaining family. Clearly it didn't stay at the dinner table and by the end of the war this table grace turned hymn had found a home in the voices of many in Germany and was sung to celebrate the signing of the Peace of Westphalia - the treaty that ended the war.
Now you might be able to identify with bits and pieces of the account of that part of pastor Rinckart’s life or maybe you can’t identify with him and his situation at all. To you it might make more sense to write something like this after you are safely out of your suffering, because it’s just too hard to be thankful in the midst of your suffering … but is that always true? There are many people who forget to be thankful once the storm has passed, once the hardship is over and suffering is in the rear view mirror. This in fact is exactly what happened in our Gospel reading today when Jesus on the way to Jerusalem was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. We hear how it was that when Jesus entered a village, He was met by ten men suffering from leprosies. The men stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When Jesus saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went to do as Jesus had commanded them they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks and he wasn’t even Jewish the thankful man was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” The question being “did these nine Jewish men, healed by a Jewish rabbi, not have thankful hearts? Did they have no thanksgiving, no gratefulness in their heart towards the one who healed them?” Surely the insider who grew up in the faith would have eyes to see what they were given by Jesus? It wouldn’t be left to an outsider to be thankful! With bodies cleansed from their leprosies they went on their merry way and never sought Jesus out to say thank you.
What about us? Every year we teach confirmation students, and if you go back a little ways on the wall of photos you’ll see that there are some years with over twenty young catechumens in those photos. Each one given the gift of God’s Word, provided the curb and rule and guide of the law for their daily life, reminded of their baptism and the gifts they received their, taught to pray and welcomed to the communion rail to meet Jesus where He promises to come to them with His Body and Blood in with and under the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper yet having received all of this the majority of them are like the nine lepers who where healed and then went on their merry way failing to return to Jesus to give thanks. It’s sort of like the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink,” even favorable circumstances won't force you to do something you don't want to. Our Gospel doesn’t say that Jesus took away the healing from the nine who failed to return to Him and give thanks but it does say that Jesus looked at the one who returned and said “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Thankfulness then is a faith response. And in the end of the Gospel of Mark Jesus says “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” For all those who have put their baptism in the rearview mirror and live life as if they have no faith at all be warned you are wandering into unbelief. If you believe and you are focused on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, suffering pain and loss will not inhibit or take away your thankfulness and gratitude. If you are tempted into bitterness and obstinately refuses to give thanks or only show your gratitude grudgingly repent and return to Jesus fall down at His nail pierced feet give thanks and ask for forgiveness and Jesus will say to you, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
I cannot give you a thankful heart today or any other day, I cannot give you the faith you need to be grateful to God for the material and eternal blessings that He has poured onto and into your life, neither can your parents the one who does this is the Holy Spirit. He is the one who enters the heart of men women and children by the ear, when God’s word is read and preached, it is He who plants the seed of faith and makes it grow. But you have a will of your own, and that will for a hundred bad or weak reasons may keep you from the foot of Jesus, from a religious life of faith where you would regularly hear this life giving word of God. Samaritans and Jews did not get along; we hear parable of the Good Samaritan and we paint this image in our mind but there was no love between Samaritans and Jews at the time, very little: The original hearers of the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers would have expected that the nine Jews would be the ones to come back with thanksgiving and the one Samaritan would be the one to go on his merry way having received the gift without thanksgiving. Jesus is our constant surprise. Sometimes thankfulness is a surprise, sometimes the one you don’t expect to be thankful is, and sometimes the one you expect to be thankful isn’t.
I am please that you are all here today, maybe you feel like the proverbial “horse dragged to the water,” if that is you take heart remember “the Lord is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” if there is something causing you to refuse to drink from the water forgive it, do not cut off your nose to spite your face. If it is not a thing but a person, forgive them. If it is not a person that is keeping you from being thankful honestly consider your heart and think on your condition, is it a sin rooted there, or multiple sins that are there choking out your faith? If so listen and hear “the Lord is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” your forgiveness is in Jesus Christ lift up your voice and cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” and remember when you come to the communion rail and your heart is heavy with trouble and weariness and your joy is far off and nothing thankful is in you, you can say with confidence, “forgive me Father for not being as thankful as I ought – for the sake of Jesus Your Son be merciful to me: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Dear Christian Jesus has not left your side and He has felt your sorrow and knows your pain, He is steadfast and full of resurrection love and compassion. This is why thankfulness came from the pen of pastor Rinkart as he composed his table grace that later became our hymn of thanksgiving, by faith Rinkart believed knowing that Jesus was right there with him even while the enemy was at the gate and he was burying his wife and death was everywhere he looked, no matter how hard it was Jesus was right there, no matter how dark the road got Christ was with him. It is the same for you; in the hospital bed at the grave side, even if you find yourself walking in the valley of the shadow of death Jesus is right there with you. The Samaritan in our Gospel lesson received not just healing but also eyes to see this very truth and thanksgiving and gratitude come from such a heart, and such a heart comes from Jesus; you do not need to muster it up by your own strength or will simply receive it and stop fighting it. Many of us at different times in our life are like the child who is fighting sleep even when they need it; you've seen this before - they are fighting it - they need to sleep: rest in the arms of Jesus find your peace there and a thankful heart will follow.
Let us pray:
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
 "Now Thank we all our God," Lutheran Service Book #895
 Mark 16:16
 Psalm 145:8