Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Gluttonous Forgiveness

Thanksgiving Eve + Thursday, November 24th
Text: Luke 17:11-19; Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Philippians 4:6-20

Today's sermon has a narrative style to it; it's written as a phone conversation between two Christians discussing thanksgiving and includes occasional third party quotations, some are direct quotes, while others are relayed messages. The discussion revolves around thanksgiving, the Gospel reading for today, and Christ's work for us. Keep in mind this is a rhetorical device. I pray you find it edifying.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"What do you give to the guy who has everything?"
"I dunno?"
"Hmm, what about a custom designer, fancy name-engraved Starbucks mug, a stunning cup fit for a kingly size venti, Arabica bean…wait, what's that?"
"He says He's already got one."
"What do you mean, He's already got one?"
"Yea, and He says it's better too."
"Ok, time to up the ante…how about a diamond studded Rolex– and not one of those knock-offs from Tijuana?"
"No that won't do, He's always going on about the fullness of time and such; guess he just doesn't like watches."
"Well, let's see. Time to think big. A luxury SUV…the best Orange County can offer, Australian leather seats, his and hers climate control, satellite radio, GPS – all the bells and whistles. Wait, what's that? He still says no? What, He's got one of those too?"
"Well, no, but he prefers walking and something about four legged domesticated animals of the humble variety…and he really got a good chuckle out of the climate control and the GPS."
"Seriously, who does this guy think He is? What can I possibly give Him? I can't think of anything. There's nothing I can do to please this guy."
"He says that'll do perfectly."
"What'll do perfectly? I haven't even given him anything yet."
"What do you mean exactly? That makes no sense. I'd better do something or else. Isn't there anything I can do?"
"No. Nothing at all."
"He wants nothing from me? Zero? Zip? Zilch?"
"O wait, there is one thing…"
"Ah, finally. What is it? This guy is really trying my patience. Tell me already, what must I do?"
"He says you can give him your disease."
"My what? You're kidding right? I'm not even sick. I feel fine. Now those 10 lepers. They had it bad. Skin falling off. Outcasts. What losers. Crying out for mercy, looking all pathetic. And only one of them - the double Loser Samaritan - even bothered to go back to Jesus and say thank you. Come on? What's up with those other 9?"
"He says don't worry about them. You're the one with the problem."
"Wooo, wait a minute. First of all, why not? Those lepers were pretty bad, the least those skin-shedding leeches could've done was go back and say thank you. Is it really that hard? I would've at least scribbled a quick "thank you" card or a sent a text…thx J! And what's this about me being the problem? Those other guys are the problem. Remember? I feel fine, great in fact, as long as dinner is on time. Is that turkey ready yet?"
"Well, He said something about missing the point. And the only words I could make out were: unconditional, outrageous, free."
"What are you trying to say, huh? I know how the story goes…Lepers cry for mercy. Jesus heals the lepers. One returns to give thanks. His faith is commended. Now, you go and do likewise. Isn't that it?"
"No, not at all. He said try reading Luke again: "As Jesus entered a village He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests…and as they went they were healed along the way." …So, did those lepers heal themselves?"
"Did they do anything to deserve their healing?"
"Well, no. But the one returned to give thanks…that's gotta count for something, right?"
"Hold on a second; you're getting ahead of yourself. You don't start by giving thanks, that's putting the turkey inside the stuffing."
"Well, ok, that doesn't make any sense, now does it? Come to think of it…neither does Jesus healing those 10 men. The first mistake He made was going to hang out with those nasty sick people, who does that anyway? Didn't His mother teach him to stay away from lepers? And then He goes and just up and heals them willy nilly. And look at all He got in return…only one lousy Samaritan said thanks. You can't go around recklessly, freely giving out gifts and healing everyone who has diseases. There's gotta be some kind of limit on this madness. Standards! Criteria! This is an outrage. Why, if He keeps this up all the sick people are going to be healed and all those guilty – oh I can't even bear to say it – sinners will get off scot-free."
"Now, you're beginning to understand."
"But that makes no sense. Who would give a gift – like healing or salvation - and not expect anything in return?"
"Come on. There's gotta be a catch. There's no such thing as a free lunch."
"That's where you're wrong. He said to tell you everything is given by Him and this is the only free lunch, and it's more like a big fat heavenly wedding feast than a subway sandwich – a feast of rich foods and fine wine…cups brimming with salvation…come, eat and drink without price. Feast on my forgiveness."
    "Sounds like gluttony to me."
    "That's right. Gluttonous forgiveness."
"This giving sounds like risky business."
"It is, Jesus' gifts often go unappreciated. Even abused and sadly, rejected."
"Sounds like He'd be better off not giving at all. Safer that way. At least He wouldn't be disappointed by people's lack of thanks."
"Perhaps, but Jesus takes the risk. He sets no conditions. No pre-healing interviews to see who deserves healing. No surveys to see who is worth dying for. He heals all 10 and then He's off to Jerusalem to forgives the whole world."
"Wow, that sounds great. But that'll lead to chaos…no one will do anything. There must be rules. Can't he just give me a to-do list?"
"But don't you see, that's not love, that's not even freedom; it's a new slavery."
"So, I can sin that grace may abound, right?"
"By no means. But let me ask you this: if you do sin more, will Jesus forgive you?"
"I sure hope so."
"Don't worry. He does."
"It sure sounds like you're trying to tell me that Thanksgiving is not about my thanksgiving at all."
"And I can't do anything to earn God's love? No gifts I can give Him? No life I can live for Him?"
"Right. And stop making yourself the subject of the sentence."
"Sure, whatever, but you're absolutely sure? There's nothing…not even a little bit?"
"That's right; He's given you everything…take it from Him; He's the expert on giving."
"But this is Thanksgiving! I thought the least I could do was go to church (and I went twice btw just to show how thankful I am), tell God how I thank Him for my Xbox I love so much and how I thank Him for my clothes that impress all my friends and how I thank Him and how I praise Him and how I give everything I have to Him."
"But you haven't told me anything about God yet."
"Sure I have…I just told you all the things I'm thankful for."
"He says that's part of your problem."
"So, I shouldn't give thanks?"
"No. Giving thanks is good…but that's the wrong place to start, remember? He also says your grammar problem hasn't gone away. Too many personal pronouns. Cut it out."
"Boy, this guy has a lot of nerve! I don't use too many personal pronouns in my sent…o wait. I see now. Oops, did it again!"
"He says that's a common problem with us."
"What, is?"
"Talking about ourselves."
"Are you trying to say I'm more like those 9 losers than I am the Samaritan? Are you trying to tell me that when I give gifts I'm only thinking about myself, what I'll get in return, how good it will make me look before my neighbors and God of course?"
"Yes, now you're hearing clearly."
"But how else will He know I love Him?"
"He said to say, I don't need your thanks and praise; that's your problem. You think you have something within you or something you can do to please Me. You can't please me. I'm not impressed with your good works. You have a disease, you are sick, you are dead."
"Ouch. That hurt."
"He says it was supposed to. That's the point. Think about it…Jesus doesn't need your thanksgiving. Jesus doesn't love you because you say thank you or because you praise Him."
"Wow, I guess I really am sick. So sick in fact, I don't know how – ooh, I hate to say it – sinful I am."
"Yes, and God gave you that too."
"Gave me what?"
"The proper diagnosis of your sin. You are dead in trespasses. You are worse than those lepers. Those who are well have no need of a physician."
"Well, it sounds like I need more than a physician."
"You're right about that! You need a Savior."
"I feel like a beggar, like a scum of the earth, like a double loser Samaritan."
"Now, you've got it."
"Got what?"
"The whole point of thanksgiving."
"How do you figure? Why on earth should I be thankful for my sin?"
"Because that's all you have to give to Jesus."
"But who would want that kind of person, a poor miserable sinner?"
"Jesus does."
"Yes. He loves sinners, especially the dead ones. That's where He does His best work."
"I don't follow."
"Listen to the words of St. Paul: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord," and, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood to be received by faith."
"He did that for me?"
"Yes, for you and for the whole world, 10 lepers and all."
"That's amazing."
"Not just amazing, that's love. You see, God gives on the basis of who He is. And He does not stop giving. That's who He is; that's what He does, for you. He gives. He forgives. He saves. In fact, He doesn't benefit from our thanking Him."
"Now you're talking crazy again!"
"Nope, just Biblically. The more we thank God the Father through Jesus Christ His dear Son, the more we realize how generously and abundantly He deals with us."
"So, we do give thanks!"
"Yes, we do. But in its proper place. Thanksgiving begins and ends with the cross. First the gift, then the thanks. After all, what else can we say but Amen?"
"I never thought about it like that. But what about our thanksgiving? What do we do?"
"There you go again! Remember, God doesn't need your thanksgiving, or your good works, but your neighbor does."
"So where do I give thanks and help my neighbor?"
"In your vocation?"
"My vacation?"
"No, vo-cation. Wherever God has called you: husband or wife; son or daughter, father or mother, pastor or congregation, employee or employer - the list goes on. In fact we have dozens of vocations."
"Yea, thank God for the plumber!"
"Indeed, thank God for toilet paper."
"Ok, now you're getting gross."
"Seriously. Thank God for toilet paper and all the other ordinary things in life: fresh squeezed orange juice, running water and turkey and canned-cranberry and football, well, maybe not the Lions, but you get the point, right?"
"Yes, I think I do… it's our vocation to receive from Jesus every good gift He has to give us?"
"Exactly. Couldn't have said it better myself."
"Well, I should get going…I think I just heard the timer go off."
"Sounds good…Oh, one more thing…before you fall asleep this afternoon, pull out your catechism…"
"That dusty old thing? I haven't looked at it since confirmation."
"Well, it's good for you…so, turn to Luther's explanation of the 1st article of the Apostle's Creed. And remember, thanksgiving begins and ends with the cross."
"Thanks, it was great talking with you."
"The pleasure was all His… happy thanksgiving; enjoy the turkey; it's gotta be done by now. Oh wait…the static has cleared up on the other line. He has one more message for you. Here, listen, "Rise and go your way; your faith has saved you."

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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