“Gracious Lord, thank you for cozy blankets and the blessing of hot coffee to start the day.” It usually elicits a few chuckles from the congregation when I include prayers like that in the Prayers of the Church on a Sunday morning. Laughter is not my goal, but I accept it as a byproduct. My purpose is to give thanks unto the Lord and to model what it looks like to praise God for His ordinary gifts as well as for His extraordinary ones.
But the chuckles are telling. The robed pastor behind the altar is supposed to pray for holy things in his priestly intercessions. The congregation expects the prayers to have elevated content. Specific prayers of thanksgiving for mundane earthy things seem out of place. But this motivates me all the more to keep it up. I want the saints of God to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.
So, “Thank you, Lord, for the joy of October baseball and the ability to enjoy community around competition and celebrate healthy bodies that can do incredible things.”
Jesus cares about the daily details of ordinary bodies and creaturely comforts, just as He cares about the eternal well-being of our souls. The ten lepers in Luke 17 cry out for “mercy” and Jesus commends the one who returns thanks by assuring him that his “faith has made [him] well.” What the English Standard Version (ESV) translates as “made well” is from the verb sozo: “Your faith has saved you.” “Mercy” and “salvation” are lofty theological words. What exactly is the miracle Jesus performs around such spiritually loaded words? He heals people of their psoriasis, or rash, or skin boils, or whatever bodily ailment put them in the category of “leprous.”
It is a pretty earthy healing. Forgiveness of sins feels more spiritual. Sight to the blind feels more metaphorical. But healing someone’s skin eruption, that feels a bit different. Yet, for Jesus, it is all part of His gracious will. He came to restore all things. Nothing is beyond His healing touch, and no person is beyond the scope of His compassion.
Notice also, the physical expression of spiritual worship embodied by the thankful Samaritan. Verses 15 and 16 bring the physical and the spiritual realms crashing together: “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.” He saw his skin was healed, he turned around and walked the other direction, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet. The physical details demand we see this embodied and happening in real time. But what exactly is happening in and through these embodied earthy motions? The Samaritan praised God and gave thanks. Praise and thanksgiving to God are expressed by falling face first at Jesus’ feet.
Jesus bridges the gap between high and low, spiritual and physical, heavenly and earthly, clean and unclean, God and man. And the appropriate response of faith is to give thanks in worship and praise.
Jesus bridges the gap between high and low, spiritual and physical, heavenly and earthly, clean and unclean, God and man.
In Luke 17, the faithful response to God’s saving work in Jesus is to praise God by giving thanks to Jesus. The earthly blessing leads to embodied spiritual worship through gratitude.
The “Greater Good Science Center” (GGSC), at the University of California, Berkley, “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.” This is by no means a Christ-centered organization. It very much follows the ways of the world.
Yet, the GGSC offers some great insights on gratitude. One practice they suggest is a “Gratitude Journal.” They recommend setting aside fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, for a couple of weeks. The site offers several concrete tips for expressing gratitude. I found it to be really insightful and I encourage you to read and consider implementing them for yourself, even if they do not make this week’s sermon.
Pause for a second. I am curious. I wonder how you experienced those previous two paragraphs. Did you think, “Oh great, Weber is just grabbing some pop psychology and liberal research instead of proclaiming Christ from His Word.” Or did you think, “Even as a Christian, I can certainly learn more about gratitude, even from people who have a very different background and perspective than me.”
Those are not the only two reactions to the idea of learning about gratitude from UC Berkley’s research. But in Luke 17, Jesus marvels that the nine who should have known better moved on without pausing to praise Jesus for His saving work, while the one outsider modeled for them what gratitude really looks like.
If the GGSC can commit focused effort and energy to helping people give thanks in a generic way, “to whom it may concern,” certainly we can humbly learn how to help our people give thanks to God for His saving work in Christ Jesus!
Ours is not the task of helping people live more personally fulfilled lives through a generically grateful inner life. Rather, we are called to proclaim Christ and to give His good gifts to His people. And in grateful response, we get to help those same people express their faithful gratitude in worship and praise. Whether for the forgiveness of sins or for our favorite flavor of ice cream, we give thanks to the Lord, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Luke 17:11-19.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 17:11-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 17:11-19.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. John Nordling of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 17:11-19.