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Finding the Joy

Luke 17:11-19

Pastor James F. Wright

St John Lutheran Church  
Champaign, IL

Thu, Nov 25, 1999 

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a certain 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? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; our faith has made you well." Luke 17:11-19

Finding the Joy

It is that day of the year again when we come back to thank God for all the blessings of this life. As we gather around the table tomorrow we remember how much good God has given us in this life. It is right that we should thank God in this way. But how much more should we give thanks to God every day of the year?

On the day when Jesus healed the ten lepers only one came back to give thanks. The happy part of the story is that Jesus was merciful to all of them. He completely healed them of their disease. The sad part is that only one out of ten found the joy of thanking Jesus by returning to glorify his healer.

Leprosy was a dreaded disease in Bible times. People affected with it were kept in camps away from the rest of society. When they came near to healthy people, they were required to shout out that they were unclean. Everyone would hurry away, afraid to come in contact with them. You can see how this diseased took the joy out of living.

It is no coincidence that the natural spiritual condition of all people is compared to such an illness as leprosy. We may look healthy on the outside, but the Bible says that we are all afflicted with the disease of sin. The glory that we were created to have has been removed by our disobedience to the Creator. The psalms declare, "You made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet" (Psalm 8:5-6). Sin takes the glory of mankind away and replaces it with death. We are born to work and to die. We may find occasional joys now and then, but they do not last long. The disease of sin has brought the curse of death to every member of the human race.

It is also no coincidence that out of ten lepers one came back to thank Jesus that day. He had worked a miracle for all ten of them. On the way to show themselves to the priests, they all discovered that they were now healed of their terrible disease. Now they could return to their homes, their loved ones, and to the lives they once lived before contracting leprosy. How happy they must have all been! Jesus gave them back their lives!

It is easy for the Christian to see himself here. We were once under the curse of death. Jesus healed us, lifting the curse of death from us. No longer do we exist only to work and die. What perfect healing he has given us. He has given us back our lives.

It is also easy for us to see ourselves in the nine who did not give thanks. In marriage counseling we sometimes ask a person to name some things they give thanks for in their partner. After hearing these things, the other person often replies, "Why donít you ever tell me that?"

It is so common for us to say thank-you to someone without really meaning it, and so often in the home it goes unsaid. How much more do we fail to thank the most important person of all, the Lord God, who created and sustains us each day of our lives, who has healed us from the disease of sin?

The Bible offers many examples of people giving thanks to God. Father Abraham, when he met Melchizedek, the priest of Salem, gave him a tenth of all his possessions in thanks for God defending him in battle. Through Moses God directed his people to give a tithe. "Be sure to set aside a tenth of all your fields produce each year. But if the place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe, then exchange your tithe for silver and take it with to the place of the Lord" (Deut 14:22ff). King David, looking back on all God had done for him, gathered enough gold, silver, and treasures to build the first temple of the Lord. The poor widow only put two pennies in the collection plate, but it was all that she had. St. Paul boasted of the churches in Macedonia for giving to God even more than they were able to give (2 Cor. 8). He also wrote to the Colossians, directing them to give thanks to God through music and hymns. Again and again the Bible tells us to give thanks to God in what we say, what we do, and what we give.

Giving thanks to God through a tithe is not an option that Christians may choose to participate in or not. Tithing is the response of the Christian who sees how God has healed them from the disease of death. He gives because he knows that all things really belong to God. When we give a tenth back to God, it is our way of saying that we recognize how God has cared for us in the past and how we trust God will care for us in the future.

God makes a fabulous promise to us in the last book of the Old Testament. In Malachi chapter 3 verses 9 and 10 God says, "In tithes and offerings you are under a curse, because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

Thatís a promise God makes to us. He is telling us to find out about the joy of tithing. That for ever ten dollars God gives you, return one to Him and see if He will not bless you.

I am not preaching this to you because the church needs money. Godís church will go on even if no one gave anything, because itís power comes from God, not from us. But I want all of you to know the joy of giving. There is nothing like it, knowing the freedom of giving to God the first fruits of what he has given to us in giving his only Son for us. Nothing else in life is quite as satisfying as taking God up on his promise.

It is hard for us to tithe, not because we do not have enough, for as a whole Americans are the richest people the world has ever known. We have the best standard of living of the whole world. We have food, medicine, education, housing.

It is hard for us to tithe because we do not know the promises of God; neither do we trust them. God is ready to bless us richly. He stands at the gates of his storehouse ready to open the door and pour down on us a great shower of good things. But we are so worried about what we donít have that we never look up to him standing there. We wonít let go of the little that we have right now. We do not believe that he will bless us.

We always make excuses for ourselves. The children are small, I must take care of them. Later on the children are in college, and we must support them. Then a little while later we are on fixed income and we must support ourselves. Pretty soon our whole life goes by and weíve never taken God up on his promise.

This is not like an investment, where we try to predict just how much a return on our investment you will receive. When we give a tithe, a regular percentage of our income, this is a gift to God with no strings attached. We give to God, and he promises that he will bless is in some great way. We may give money and be blessed with money, or health, or knowledge, or some other blessing. The return blessing is for God to determine. But he will bless you in ways you do not expect.

Take God up on his challenge. Test the Lord and see if he will not bless you. If you do you, will find great joy in knowing that God is really watching over you. He will continue to supply you with the things you need for living, and he will bless you in ways you never thought possible. But if you donít, you will never know the real joy of giving.

So this Thanksgiving bow your head in prayer and give thanks. Thank the Lord for your birth, life, and childhood. Thank him for your family, health, occupation, and the living you receive. Above all, thank him for the mercy he has shown you in forgiving your stubborn and untrusting heart through Jesus, your Lord and Savior. And throughout the year thank him in words, actions, service, and giving. And you will find the joy of giving thanks. Thatís his promise. Amen.

Copyright © 1998-2011 James F. Wright. All rights reserved.

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