Give Thanks and Praise (Luke 17:11-19)

Eastern Orthodox depiction of Jesus Christ healing the ten lepers

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel story is both joyous and sad. The healing of ten lepers is astonishing and elicits praise and thanks… from only one. Maybe it’s because they stood at a distance. After all, it’s a close connection to God which causes praise and gratitude to arise within us – and not some appreciation from afar. Therefore, methinks we ought to consider what the nature of our own connection is. 

“Thanksgiving” to most Americans is Thanksgiving Day – a holiday filled with food, football, and family, the trifecta of American celebration. I myself admit to liberally indulging in all three. Although Thanksgiving has become a form of secular liturgical worship, I believe that underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and the occasional obnoxious relative, we know why we celebrate: To praise God and give thanks for our abundant blessings. 

It seems that even those who do not readily acknowledge the Divine intuitively know there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves which makes all good things occur.

Celebrations are a spiritual activity. God invented parties. When Israel was preparing for a new national life in the Promised Land, God told them to celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops (Exodus 23:16). The Levitical law prescribed how to go about giving thanksgiving offerings and offering praise (Leviticus 7:11-34).

Gratitude and praise was commanded, expected, and an important dimension of Old Testament worship. King David established a group of 288 full-time musicians to do nothing but praise and give thanks before God day and night (1 Chronicles 25).

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Psalm 95:2, NRSV

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him; bless his name.

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever
    and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5, NRSV)

It ought to have been reflexive for all ten lepers healed by Jesus to offer their worship to Jesus. A Samaritan, considered by many of the time as the lowliest of the low, a “half-breed,” was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with effusive praise and heartfelt gratitude. While the other nine went about their lives, free from disease and glad for it, only one guy took the time to thank Jesus and give glory to God. 

The Samaritan leper alone gives thanks to Christ, by Unknown artist

Sometimes we need to be reminded that celebration is a spiritual practice. It’s important to celebrate Jesus and for the ways God has provided and blessed us. In Holy Scripture, it is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, and the outsiders who lead the way and demonstrate what genuine praise and honest thanksgiving looks like.

We, the Church, who belong to God and possess the Spirit, are to always remember and be mindful of what we truly have in Jesus Christ:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7, NIV)

We, like King David of old, are to establish continual worship of God:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV

Our sacrifice as Christians is not with the blood of animals but with our lips and our lives:

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. (Hebrews 13:15, NIV)

And the worship service is eternal; it will never end:

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.” (Revelation 11:16-17, NIV)

Praising God and giving thanks to the Lord go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. Since God created everything, and since Jesus has brought healing to us through the cross, every juicy morsel of goodness we have is to be received with the full cognizance that God is behind it all.

Our lives need to be punctuated with times of celebration, praise, gratitude, and even blowout parties. Otherwise, we become dull, boring, lifeless, and bereft of Christ’s lifeblood coursing through our spiritual veins. A joyous and raucous group of healed believers jabbering incessantly with thanksgiving of God’s goodness are winsome and peculiar (in a good way and not in the strange way of your weird uncle who wants the turkey neck to gnaw on at the Thanksgiving meal).

Seems to me that Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because we are forgiven people; we know and experience the presence of God; our lives are hidden with God in Christ; we are confident and can approach the throne of God with boldness; and we possess the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.

Remember to give thanks. Plan to praise – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation. Let thanksgiving (not complaint) shape your life. Be the person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise and gratitude – and see how such gratefulness and glory can change the world.

Gracious God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and steadfast love to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all praise you for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages and forevermore. Hallelujah! Amen!

Revelation 19:1-8 – The Time Is Coming

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” Again, they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”

Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.) (Good News Translation)

The past few years, it seems as if the world is upside-down. For many people, living on this earth has become something of a surreal experience of folks dying apart from loved ones, racism rearing its ugly head through microaggressions, as well as overt words and actions, and neighbors killed due to gun violence. The suffering is palpable.

However, things will not always be this way. There is coming a time when disease, death, and poverty will end. In the age to come there will be no more numbing grief, seemingly endless tears, constant oppression, grinding hardship, and silent suffering.

The day will arrive when, together with all saints past and present, and along with the angelic host, we will collectively shout, “Hallelujah!” The end of this present age will eventually come.

Time is nothing more than the relationship between events. When all events are ended, there will be no more time – only unending eternity in the presence of God. For the Christian, this is our hope and ultimate salvation. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be complete.

So, we wait and watch, preparing ourselves for the consummation of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we are truly in an awkward time between the two advents of Christ. It is the already/not yet time. We are already saved, yet not fully; we are holy, yet not completely; we have our adoption papers as children of God, yet still wait for our celebration feast with Christ.

There are few times more impatient, agonizing, joyful, and hopeful than a marriage engagement. It’s as if two people are inextricably connected but not yet completely together.

I still remember the weird feeling of the six months between my engagement to my heart’s love and standing at the altar marrying my bride. Those months included every emotion imaginable, from exuberant happiness to agonizing waiting, along with hopeful anticipation and sheer nervousness.

It was a time, for me, of unique joy and unwanted suffering. Since I was separated by two-thousand miles from my beloved for most of our engagement, it was an unparalleled longing for the marriage to occur.

That is likely how believers have felt throughout the ages as they look forward to the second coming of Christ. In a period of hardship and even persecution, Christians long for their Savior – to be with Jesus forever and be shed of the world’s crud, the sinful nature, and the machinations of the devil.

In this present age, we have received the Holy Spirit as a sort of engagement ring, a constant sign and presence to help us until the marriage happens with Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Since we have not yet experienced this, it is difficult for us to anticipate just how incredible and inconceivable the coming age will be.

Yet, the Christian intuitively knows, by means of the Spirit, that the upcoming marriage supper will be a heavenly paradise – and so we long for it, especially in these days of uncertainty and difficulty.

Presently, the great harlot attempts to seduce the believers, if that were possible, away from Christ. However, along with all God’s holy angels, we will join in the heavenly chorus which continually sings, “Praise God!” to Father, Son, and Spirit.

The book of Revelation describes the end of history for the purpose of encouraging the saints of God in the present moment of hardship. God will, once and for all, destroy evil, and faithful believers will be united with Christ forever in glory.

So, as we plod through the Christian season of Lent, we do so with the anticipation and hope of Easter and new life. Because Jesus is risen from death, we gaze into the future longing for our own resurrection. Presently, we hold both suffering and glory together, the past and the future.

For it is the past redemptive deeds of Christ which guide us in the present and gives shape to our future. Christ shall return – and it will be soon.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

2 Chronicles 20:1-22 – Praying in Desperate Times

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The armies of Moab and Ammon, together with the Meunites, went to war against Jehoshaphat. Messengers told Jehoshaphat, “A large army from Edom east of the Dead Sea has invaded our country. They have already reached En-Gedi.”

Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he asked the Lord what to do. He then told the people of Judah to go without eating to show their sorrow. They immediately left for Jerusalem to ask for the Lord’s help.

After everyone from Judah and Jerusalem had come together at the Lord’s temple, Jehoshaphat stood in front of the new courtyard and prayed:

You, Lord, are the God our ancestors worshiped, and from heaven you rule every nation in the world. You are so powerful that no one can defeat you. Our God, you forced out the nations who lived in this land before your people Israel came here, and you gave it to the descendants of your friend Abraham forever. Our ancestors lived in this land and built a temple to honor you. They believed that whenever this land is struck by war or disease or famine, your people can pray to you at the temple, and you will hear their prayer and save them.

You can see that the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Edom are attacking us! Those are the nations you would not let our ancestors invade on their way from Egypt, so these nations were not destroyed. Now they are coming to take back the land you gave us. Aren’t you going to punish them? We won’t stand a chance when this army attacks. We don’t know what to do—we are begging for your help.

While every man, woman, and child of Judah was standing there at the temple, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly spoke to Jahaziel, a Levite from the Asaph clan. Then Jahaziel said:

Your Majesty and everyone from Judah and Jerusalem, the Lord says that you don’t need to be afraid or let this powerful army discourage you. God will fight on your side! So, here’s what you must do. Tomorrow the enemy armies will march through the desert around the town of Jeruel. March down and meet them at the town of Ziz as they come up the valley. You won’t even have to fight. Just take your positions and watch the Lord rescue you from your enemy. Don’t be afraid. Just do as you’re told. And as you march out tomorrow, the Lord will be there with you.

Jehoshaphat bowed low to the ground, and everyone worshiped the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohath and Korah clans stood up and shouted praises to the Lord God of Israel.

Early the next morning, as everyone got ready to leave for the desert near Tekoa, Jehoshaphat stood up and said, “Listen my friends, if we trust the Lord God and believe what these prophets have told us, the Lord will help us, and we will be successful.” Then he explained his plan and appointed men to march in front of the army and praise the Lord for his holy power by singing:

“Praise the Lord!
    His love never ends.”

As soon as they began singing, the Lord confused the enemy camp. (Contemporary English Version)

King Jehoshaphat and Judah were about to be attacked. War was imminent. Anxiety was high. The people were on edge. What were they going to do in the face of a combined army that seemed as if they’d steamroll over the nation of Judah? 

Here’s what Jehoshaphat did: He admitted his fear, sought the Lord for help, and proclaimed a national fast for everyone in Judah. Then, the king prayed, and God responded.

A most unconventional method of defeating the enemy was put into motion. The king and the people of Judah put together a praise team and a worship gathering to go before the army; they believed God was good for divine promises and would deliver them.

The king’s prayer was a deeply felt and sincere belief that God could and would answer, according to ancient promises to the people. The meat of the prayer affirmed both the powerlessness of their situation and the power of God to transcend even the most difficult of circumstances. They didn’t know how deliverance was going to come; they simply believed it was going to happen. 

This is, indeed, the kind of prayer God delights to answer! It was a prayer born of great need and desperation – a prayer upholding the name of God and discerning that unless the Lord showed up, all would be lost.

The foundational basis of all prayer to God is the recognition that we do not know what to do, other than look to the Lord. 

We pray because we desperately need God to show up and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

We cry out to God in our affliction and believe that the gracious ears of the Lord will hear and save us from our terrible plight. 

And once we pray, we are to stand firm, hold our position, and see the salvation from God on our behalf. 

If we need some inspiration for prayer and find ourselves in need of faith to believe what God can do, then take the time to read carefully and prayerfully over today’s Old Testament lesson several times. 

Then, let the prayers arise to the God of deliverance so that our stressful and worrisome pressure is transformed into praise for the Lord’s steadfast love.

Almighty God, you rule over all the nations of the earth. In your hand are power and might, so that none are able to withstand you. My eyes are fixed on looking for you to act on my behalf so that I might declare that your steadfast love endures forever, through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.

Job 1:1-22 – A Better Way Through Impossible Suffering

Satan Going Forth from the Presence of the Lord by William Blake, 1825

In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would arrange for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them, and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
    and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (New International Version)

Much of life is a mystery. We simply do not know why some things happen. And it’s likely we won’t have answers to many of our vexing questions, this side of heaven. From our limited human perspective, **** happens, and that’s about all we can say about it. 

There are times in Holy Scripture, however, when the veil between heaven and earth is peeled back long enough for us to catch a glimpse of mystery. Today’s Old Testament lesson is such a story. 

Job was a wealthy man and had everything this earthly life could offer. What’s more, he was a pious godly person of faith. It was commonly understood that those two things always went together. So, when we see behind the curtain and are privy to a conversation between God and Satan, the devil himself points this out – that Job only praises God because of how good he has it.  Even with this understanding of what was behind Job’s misery, we still see the mysterious God allowing Satan to operate with only God-knows reasons why.

Whenever calamity strikes, or bad news causes us to slump in our chairs, or adversity hits unexpectedly, or trouble smacks us upside our life like a sledgehammer, it’s only human to begin wondering what we did wrong or what we did to bring on such a terrible set of circumstances. 

But the truth is this: We just don’t always know. 

Yes, I fully understand that statement is hard to swallow; it even sucks. For example, no amount of understanding why my grandson has a rare form of epilepsy will make the pain go away. All my wonderings about his future isn’t going to help my daughter. It’s an impossible emotional place to be. It’s sad and it’s frustrating.

Yet, there is a better way.

Although there is so much we don’t know, we do know Job’s inconceivable response to the mystery of God. He made an incredible confession of faith, despite the most awful of circumstances. Job made the affirmation:

“When I was born into this world,
    I was naked and had nothing.
When I die and leave this world,
    I will be naked and have nothing.
The Lord gives,
    and the Lord takes away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”

Job 1:21, ERV

Rather than spending all of our emotional energy trying to figure out an answer to our “why” questions, perhaps the more sage response is to confess our faith in a radical trust of God. 

Using these actual words from Job can be a necessary start to navigating the troubled waters of evil which swirl around us, even if we have to say them over and over again to believe them.

I know I do.

Almighty God, every good thing I have in my life comes from you. It is your prerogative whether I continue to have those things, or not. Whatever happens, whether it causes heartbreak or happiness, is completely known to you. I trust that you know what you are doing, and I completely throw myself upon your mercy through Jesus Christ, my Savior. Amen.