Sermon for Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 23, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sermon Theme: “How Do WE Worship?”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 25, Part 4, Series B; original ideas and examples; Lutheran liturgy; Prayer by Timothy Keller)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
How do we worship? That question is the theme of my sermon for tonight. Since you are a Lutheran in a Lutheran church, it may seem like an odd question. ‘How DO we worship? Like Lutheran are supposed to!’
But that can mean a lot of different things in the 21st Century. Most of the time our worship is liturgical, occasionally, it is not. Some Lutheran churches have contemporary worship; some have traditional services; some have both. Some Lutheran churches lean heavily one way, while others focus on another.
Sometimes, we, here at St. Paul’s, sing old Lutheran hymns; sometimes we sing contemporary Christian music; sometimes we sing old-time Gospel songs. But they are all songs that are true to the Bible. Sunday, we had a Holy Communion service that was traditionally liturgical; tonight, we are doing a non-liturgical service.
But, you see, that’s not what I mean by the question, “How do we worship?”
What I mean by that question is: What is true worship really all about? That’s an important question to answer on Thanksgiving Eve.
In our sermon text for tonight, nine of the ex-lepers continue on their way to the Temple to be inspected and receive a ritualistic cleansing from the priests. They were already cured by Jesus, but the religious leaders of the people required rites and rituals. People could not associate with lepers unless they were pronounced cleansed by the priests.
One of the lepers turns back to return to worship at the feet of Jesus, offering praise to God and thanks to God’s Son who healed him. We learn that this man who turned back is a Samaritan.
From the perspective of the Jews, the Samaritans were misfits. They shared a bloodline with the Jews but had intermarried extensively with other tribes while the Jews were in captivity. The Samaritans accepted only part of the Hebrew Scriptures and worshiped at their own Mount Gerizim ( ) rather than in Jerusalem. In John 4:21, Jesus told the woman at the well, who was also a Samaritan, that true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, not on this or that mountain.
Like John’s gospel, our text from Luke tells us some things about worship. We worship not on Mount Gerizim or on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, but we worship in spirit and truth, worship in the name of Jesus, worship where Jesus is present, worship in the faith that clings to Jesus and His saving work. The Samaritan’s act of worship points to what Jesus will accomplish when His journey ends in Jerusalem. This ex-leper’s act of worship acknowledges and confesses that Jesus is Lord.
This is true worship, worship in spirit and truth, worship that grabs hold of the cross with the faith that Christ died for us. Not only has the Samaritan’s faith healed him, it has saved him.
We have the same faith. Look how closely the worship of the Samaritan in our text resembles our own worship. In the first place, all ten lepers come to Jesus in the same way that we do. “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Aren’t those the words of the Kyrie in our liturgical services, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” But then the nine lepers duck out early, — they hurry off to the priests to be declared clean. The Samaritan, on the other hand, turns back to Jesus, our Great High Priest, to be declared righteous.
“Where not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” Jesus asks. Like the one who returns to kneel before Jesus, we sing in our liturgy, “We worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory,” the glory God showed in sending His only Son, the Lamb of God “who taketh away the sins of the world,” and to whom we pray, “Have mercy on us,” as we kneel at the rail to receive His body and blood.
Like the Samaritan, we come before Jesus and worship Him with hearts filled with faith, both in our liturgical worship and in our non-liturgical services, like this one tonight.
Whether liturgical or non-liturgical, praise and thanksgiving are a huge part of our worship experience. The famous Christian writer, Timothy Keller, identifies the three basic kinds of prayer as upward, inward, and outward. “Inward” is confessing our sins and asking for forgiveness. “Outward” is asking God to help us and fulfill our needs and the needs of others. “Upward” prayer is praising and thanking God for all He has done. Keller says praise and thanksgiving must come first.
Tonight, we are focusing on praise and thanksgiving, — thanksgiving is actually a sub-category of praise. According to Keller, “thanksgiving” is praising God for what He has done, while “praise proper” is adoring God for who He is in Himself. Psalm 135 calls us to praise the Lord, and Psalm 136 to give thanks, but the two always come together.
Here’s the problem. When we confess our sins and repent, we are driven to do so by circumstances in our life, causing the guilt we feel. When we ask God for things for ourselves and for others, we are also driven by circumstance, — the circumstances being our needs and the needs of others.
Now, when good things happen to us, one should think that this would be a circumstance which would bring us to our knees in praise and thanksgiving. Yet, too often, that is not the case. As Paul writes in Romans 1:18-21, and he is describing many of us in saying, “ For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.” If circumstances in our life don’t fill our hearts with praise and thanksgiving, let us pause, close our eyes and remember how God has blessed us.
Tonight, on this Thanksgiving Eve, and it should be every night, we not only lift up inward prayers of confession and repentance, and outward prayers filled with our greatest needs and the needs of others, but also the upward prayers of sincere praise and thanksgiving.
In this time of praise and thanksgiving, we remember God’s great and wonderful gifts, — the delicious chill of a cold front after a hot, muggy summer, the ripening bounty from our gardens and fields, the tiniest bit of healing we experience in a long illness, a small but steady income that pays for our material needs, homemade cake and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the fluttering of butterflies and the scampering of squirrels in our back yard, news that a loved one is improving, hugs from those who understand our hurts, kind words on a day when life seems to implode, singing the hymns we cherish during worship, experiencing the love and devotion of a purring kitten, the fir or cedar smell of a Christmas tree, — let us continue the list in our hearts, remembering the little blessings of great value.
Years ago, when my health was better, I would visit Mr. and Mrs. Gross and give them Communion in their home. He was bed-ridden and she had very limited mobility. She told me she was sad that she couldn’t attend church anymore, but one of the great joys of her life was opening her kitchen window at 9 o’clock every Sunday morning and hearing the ringing of the old church bell at St. Paul’s. She said she was so thankful she could still do that.
How do we worship? We worship in spirit and truth. We worship in the name of Jesus. We worship where Jesus is present. We worship in the faith that clings to Jesus and His saving work. And always, first off, we worship with praise and thanksgiving. Amen
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.