What Is Your Thanksgiving Like?
What is Your Thanksgiving Like?
Text: Luke 17:11-19
What is Your Thanksgiving Like? I’m sure we would all answer that differently, yet I’m sure most of us would also answer that similarly. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in the morning. Football. Family. Friends. FOOD. Some people have an annual Thanksgiving Day family football game in the backyard. Some have the tradition of going for an early evening walk to burn off just a few of the several thousand calories consumed earlier in the day. Some like to do traditional family recipes. Some like to try something creative every year. Some have that one dish or that one pie that absolutely must be a part of the big feast.
We all have our family traditions and customs for Thanksgiving. Whether it has to do with the people, the place, or the piles of food, I would imagine most of us do similar things every year to celebrate.
However, when something different happens on Thanksgiving, that’s when it often becomes quite memorable and meaningful. That time crazy uncle Larry tripped over his own two clumsy feet and the entire vat of mashed potatoes spilled onto his wife’s head, you remember that. That time you told the joke of a lifetime and your sister squirted milk out of her nose on her dinner plate, you remember that. When I was a kid I remember one year my parents decided not to make turkey but to cook a full little cornish hen for every guest, that was different. We all love our traditions on Thanksgiving, but often it’s when something special or different happens that it becomes memorable and meaningful.
Here’s a good one to try. It’s a little bit different. It’s certainly not the traditional, American custom for celebrating Thanksgiving. But it’s something radically different that can make your Thanksgiving so much more memorable and meaningful. This Thanksgiving try this: Fall on your knees before Jesus and with a loud voice give him thanks and praise.
It’s the story of the ten lepers that gives us that example of a truly thankful heart. The story also shows us what an ungrateful heart looks like.
The story took place in northern Israel. Jesus was slowly making his way to Jerusalem for the final time. Here’s what happened along the way. Verse 12: “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!’”
The ten met Jesus outside of the village and stood at a distance because of cleanliness laws. Part of the ceremonial laws of Moses ruled that those with such diseases needed to stay away from others. And for good reason, too. Skin diseases like leprosy were very contagious. There were various versions of leprosy. Some kinds created numbness and or loss of all feeling in extremities. Some leprosy led to paralysis. Other kinds of leprosy would cause visible skin disfiguration to the worst extreme where body parts or limbs might even fall off. Whatever the kind of leprosy these ten men had, no one wanted it or any other kind.
We could imagine their desperate state. They were secluded from any friends and family they might have had. Some of them may have been seriously ill or dying. They likely had tried any possible remedy or medicine they could get their hands on. They were desperate.
We also would imagine that they had heard about Jesus before. Who wouldn’t have heard about the kinds of miracles and healings Jesus had done? So for them to have such a terrible disease and then to cross paths with Jesus—we can understand why they called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
We don’t hear of any other words from them. We don’t hear any other words of appreciation or adoration for Jesus. No expression of awe for his other miracles. They seemed to have a one track mind. “Help us with our problem.”
Perhaps equally amazing to the miracle that follows is that Jesus did have mercy on them. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests. The priests were the ones to inspect the sick to decide if they were clean or not. But before they even got there, they were cleansed along the way. An incredible miracle that only God could have accomplished.
That’s just it though. Nine of the ten completely missed the point. God had done a miracle for them. Only one came back to thank Jesus—and he wasn’t even a Jew! He was a foreigner, a Samaritan!
I’m sure we could make a long list of all the reasons they might have forgotten to give thanks. Maybe they were so excited to finally be healed they weren’t thinking straight. Maybe they were eager to go and show themselves to the priests to confirm the miracle. Maybe they ran to show their family and friends and embrace them for the first time in a long time. There are plenty of reasons we could think of, but they are all the same thing—excuses for a thankless heart.
We know such excuses all too well: It took me all day to prepare all that food. I got so wrapped up in the fun of the day and seeing family I haven’t seen in a long time. It was a huge football game that had massive playoff implications. It takes a lot of time and effort to plan for those Black Friday sales so I can save money for Christmas. We give all sorts of reasons why our Thanksgiving celebration might have everything except actual thanksgiving, but they are all the same thing—excuses for thankless hearts.
It really is amazing how skewed our view of this day has become. Lately there has been a lot of talk—and complaints—about how early stores are opening up on Thanksgiving for Black Friday shopping. Understandably, people are upset that the day is just become a day for ridiculous materialism. So what do people say? Those stores should close because Thanksgiving is really about friends and family and food and great memories!
How is it that we can lose track of Thanksgiving actually being about thanksgiving? Family and friends and food, and yes even shopping, can be great. But they don’t make Thanksgiving. We could ask ourselves this: If you didn’t have any turkey or stuffing or pie tomorrow, if you were all by yourself, if you couldn’t afford cable and saw no football games, and if you had no money and couldn’t buy one thing on sale—would you still be thankful? Or would your Thanksgiving be ruined?
Or you could keep asking questions: What if you have cancer? What if someone in your family just passed away? What if you’re about to lose your job? What if this has been one of the hardest years of your life? Would you still be thankful this Thanksgiving?
I think all of us struggle with these kinds of questions for the very same reason that the nine lepers didn’t return to thank Jesus. Like the lepers, we often have hearts focused on worldly things: My sickness, my problems, my wants, my Thanksgiving wish list of happiness.
But learn from the nine lepers! When your heart is focused on your worldly wants, your heart will keep you away from Jesus.
Instead, we would do well to learn from the one Samaritan leper what true thanksgiving is like. The man rushed back to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. You get the impression that thanks and joy were bursting from his heart. So was humility. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him some more. He knew he didn’t deserve that miracle. He knew only Jesus had the power and the pity to lovingly heal his disastrous disease.
Clearly this man had a heart that was truly and sincerely thankful. Jesus, who searches all hearts, knew why. “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” It’s not just that his disease was made well and cured. The other nine were made well too, but they didn’t return. So this was the difference with the Samaritan—through faith Jesus had made him spiritually well, and that’s what Jesus meant.
To the nine lepers Jesus was some miracle worker or magic man. He was the powerful guy that got them what they wanted. But to the Samaritan leper, Jesus was his Lord and Savior, and that is why he was so thankful. Jesus had healed him physically and spiritually. We do well to learn from this.
For us, Thanksgiving quickly becomes a very materialistic holiday. Your thankfulness becomes directly proportional to the size of your turkey or the number of calories you consume or the number of family and friends you see. Even if we do take time specifically to give thanks, what do we normally say, “Thank you Lord for my health. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my many blessings, I have so much more than most in the world.”
But a truly thankful heart will come when we realize not how many blessings we have but how many blessings we deserve, which is none. Sinners deserve nothing from an almighty God. Not our house, our friends, our family, our jobs, our possessions, our money, not even one scoop of potatoes on our plates tomorrow. And most of all, we certainly do not deserve his mercy or forgiveness.
You see, when I understand that as a thankless, selfish sinner I deserve nothing from my eternal God, then my Thanksgiving can truly be thank-full. Whether I have a lot or a little, whether I’m sick or healthy, whether it’s good times or bad times, whether I have a houseful for a Thanksgiving feast tomorrow or I’m eating Taco Bell by myself—I can be thankful for anything and everything that I have because I know I deserve none of it and every last thing is a gracious gift from God.
And even better yet, even if I had absolutely no worldly possessions, I still have my Savior Jesus who graciously forgives me and one day will give me endless riches in heaven. That I deserve less than anything else, yet that Christ has given me mercifully with everything else.
What is it that made that one Samaritan leper so different than the other nine? He had faith in Jesus. He knew his sin. He knew his Savior. He knew his forgiveness. He knew all his blessings, including his healing, that came from his Savior.
This is what will make our Thanksgiving different than the madness it often becomes in our country. We have faith in Jesus too. We know our sin. We know we deserve nothing. But we know our Savior and we know his forgiveness. And we know that in addition to giving us his own life for our salvation, he richly and daily pours out endless worldly blessings too.
So what will your Thanksgiving be like then? Have all your fun traditions in good conscience. Eat lots of food. See lots of family or friends. Have lots of fun. Watch the Detroit Lions lose again. But for a memorable and meaningful Thanksgiving, your day will also include a heart of faith bursting with joy and peace. Your day will also include raising loud shouts and songs of thanks and praise. And, your day of thanks will become a life of thanks. When you have faith and Jesus, that’s what your thanksgiving is like.