Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 

Text: Luke 17: 15-17
When one of them (the lepers) saw that he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself to the ground at Jesus' feet and thanked him. The man was a Samaritan. Jesus spoke up, "There were ten who were healed; where are the other nine?

Focusing on God's goodness

Bill suffered a massive heart attack and while being treated, a drug he was given caused a severe allergic reaction. His heart stopped for fourteen minutes, and he went into a coma. Twelve days later, he woke up and recovered fully. But the story has barely begun.

In the following year, Bill married the girl of his dreams and proceeded to win not one but two lotteries! Then, he won a new car worth $40,000. As you might expect, a TV station wanted to tell Bill's story. So they asked him to go back to the store where he bought his winning ticket to re-enact the event for the cameras. He was happy to oblige.

As he was being filmed buying and scratching another ticket, the 37-year-old man registered a stunned look on his face. "I just won $250,000. I'm not joking", he cried out. Bill was called "The luckiest man in the world".

Luck is that indefinable and illusive thing that sometimes brings good fortune and sometimes doesnít. You might say the Iraqi terrorist who didn't pay enough postage on a letter bomb experienced some bad luck. It came back with "return to sender" stamped on it. Forgetting it was the bomb, he opened it and was blown to bits.
Have you said when you were almost run down crossing the street - "Boy, that was lucky"
or when you hear of someone having a bad time Ė "Thatís real bad luck".

Other people however, donít believe in luck. They say, "You get what you deserve". Everything that happens to us is a reward or a punishment for the amount of effort that is put in. If you work hard, invest a lot of time and energy into something, you will get back what you have put into it. Someone who is lazy and a slacker can expect to get very little in return. Thatís how it is in the workplace, at school, in fact even some religions work that way.

There are a lot of people think that this is the way Christianity works. If you do good things, donít annoy other people, live respectable lives, pray (when you need help), believe in "someone up there", have your kids done (that is baptised) then you will live a happy and comfortable life. On the other hand, those whose do evil and who live immoral lives canít expect to be happy and prosperous. After all, you get what you deserve! This view of life runs into difficulty when it seems that good people, who donít deserve it, suffer, or a slacker wins a lot money. Maybe youíve heard a person say, "I must have done something terrible". This idea of "you get what you deserve" leaves many people guilty and depressed.

Have you noted that up to this point I havenít mentioned God in this sermon? Thatís because the belief that we get what we deserve and that good and bad are the result of luck or coincidence, has nothing to do with God. There is no room for God who gives generously and excessively even though we donít deserve such abundance.

The biblical concept of our heavenly Father giving us everything that we need is absent from the thinking of many people these days. There is no thought given to what the Bible says about God being the supplier of our daily bread, the giver of our abilities, the provider of everything that we need to live happy and peaceful lives. God is not the generous giver of what I need Ė
I get it because I deserve it.
I am well to do because I have earned it.
I get what I need because I have put in the hard hours working for it.

For those who know God, there is always the thought that somehow God is right in the middle of everything that happens. In a moment, we will confess together what we believe. We will say, "I believe that has created me". We know how babies are conceived and born, but somehow God is involved. He has given me my brain, my ability to think things through, my feelings and my abilities.

"I believe that God protects me from danger". When we have been miraculously spared horrible injuries or even death, we are tempted to say it was "good luck", but we know somehow God has been involved. We know that the expertise of the doctors and nursing staff, as well as medications, x-rays, scans, etc have all helped in our recovery, but we know that somehow God has been behind our return to health again.

"I believe that God gives me everything I need everyday". We know that food comes from the supermarket, our clothes and shoes from shops, and we pay for it all with money from our pay packets. But we also know that somehow God is involved. We know that he is behind everything we need and gives to us Australians generously and excessively. He gives all this to us not because we are better than anyone else and we deserve so much, but simply because he is generous. What is more he wants us to use what he has given and generously help those who are suffering for whatever reason. (Last week I mentioned the millions facing starvation in Africa because of drought and point you to the Lutheran World Service Appeal for Malawi).

This is the way the Bible looks at things. It sees God right in the middle of everything that happens. It is stated again and again that
God is leading me,
God protected me,
God supplies me with daily food,
God healed me,
God is guiding the king,
God is helping his people,
God sends the rain and provides the harvest.
In fact, everything is seen as coming from the generous hand of God. He doesnít give because people have deserved it, in fact we see so often that he gives even when people are downright awful. Look how he provided daily food to the whining and faithless people of Israel when travelling to the Promised Land.

The Bible also says that we ought to recognise God's loving hand even when things arenít going well for us. Even though we canít see it at the time, be assured that God is not handing out what we deserve. Somehow, God will use the present trials to bring us blessing. Meanwhile in the midst of suffering we know that God is nearby, ready to help and support us until we come through to the other side.  He is loving and generous. He abundantly supplies us with everything to the point of giving us more than we need. "God does all this only because he is my kind and loving Father; I certainly do not deserve it." It is proper then to thank God and recognise the blessings he has poured into our lives. To say thankyou is to recognise that God is the giver.

We heard in the Gospel reading before the story of the ten lepers, who called out to Jesus for help and were healed. Only one returns. Only one can see that God is somehow involved in his restoration to health and returns to say thankyou. And Jesus makes a point of it. "There were ten men who were healed." he says, "Where are the other nine?" And then Jesus commends the one who came back to say thanks because in expressing his gratitude he was recognising that not only was he healed, but who it was that had healed him. The ex-leper didnít know how it all happened, it wasnít just good luck and it certainly wasnít what he deserved, but he knew that somehow God had done something marvellous. He put God back into the centre of his thinking.

We put God back into the centre of our lives when we say at the end of hectic week, "Thank you God for helping me through this past week".
When we say grace before a meal, we put God back at the centre when we say, "Thank you God for this food".
We focus on God's goodness when we thank him for our family, our friends, and our church.
When we our good health is restored, we put God back in the centre and thank him.
The cross to many is a simple ornament or piece of jewellery, but when we look at it we see God's hand at work. He gave his only Son to free us from guilt and give us the hope of eternal life and we thank God for his love.
In a way, we can say that we see the things, events and people in our lives in a different way to the rest of the world. We see that God in one way or the other is behind it all.

God has been excessively generous to us. He has been generous for no other reason than to support and promote his work. Whether through a Lutheran World Service Appeal, or the offering plate to support mission work here and overseas, the training of workers for the church, or the work of the local congregation, God has made us rich so that we can richly bless others.

The thinking of the world is that everything is mine to keep and mine to use in whatever way I choose. When God is put at the centre, we realise that everything is his and he gives it to us to use not just for ourselves but for the care of others, the work of his church. As God has given to us, we start giving to others Ė thatís the best way to show our gratitude.

If, for you, things operate on a "you get what you deserve" principle, then you have no need to say thankyou for anything. If everything is purely luck and you are ready to deal with whatever luck brings, there is no need to say thankyou, except "thank my lucky stars!"
However, if you see God as being in everything, generously pouring out his blessings, sometimes in ways that are easy to see, sometimes in ways that are difficult to see, then we canít stop saying -
Give thanks to God and praise him.
The Lord is good. (Psalm 100:4,5)


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
th August, 2002

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