Thanks Living (Luke 17:11-19)

By | November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Sunday


     A number of years ago I had the privilege of being the pastor a little boy by the name of Robert. Robert was about 2 ½. His parents shared with me that Robert was learning what giving thanks to God is all about. His mother told me that during their family prayer time, Roberts older brother and sister decided they wanted to say their own prayers during their family prayer time rather than just praying the simple prayer which they all said together. After they prayer, Robert made it known that he wanted to pray, too. So, Mom and Dad agreed thinking, “What can a two year old know about prayer.”

     Well, you decide. This is the prayer Robert offered. “Dear God, Thank for the lady who gave me chocolate. Thank you for candy. Thank you for ice cream. And thank you for Bandaids. Amen.”

     I don’t know about you but I was pretty impressed. For a first prayer, that’s pretty incredible and incredibly thankful. We are all called to have that same attitude of thanks all year long but especially at this time of year. If we live our thankfulness all year long, then it’s not just Thanks Giving, it becomes Thanks Living And that’s our topic for today. Thanks Living.


     This morning you’ve each received a 3×5 card. Here’s what I want you to do. Take just a minute and write down 10 things for which you are thankful. It shouldn’t be too hard and shouldn’t take too long. So let’s begin.

     Now that you’ve written those things down, step out a little; turn to your neighbor and quickly share your thankfulness.

     Because you shared your thankfulness, you have just participated in Thanks Living. Let’s look at the passage for this morning and see how Thanks Living plays out there.

Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

[11] On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  

[12] As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance,  

[13] they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  

[14] When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean.  

[15] Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.  

[16] He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.  

[17] Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?  

[18] Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  

[19] Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”  


     A. There’s always been something very disturbing about that passage. It’s hard to believe that only one of them came back to thank Jesus. And, as the Scripture reminds us, he was a Samaritan. The very name Samaritan was always said with a sneer of derision. The Jews looked down upon them and treated them as second class citizens. No wonder Jesus responded like He did.

     This is one of those passages where you actually see Jesus a little bumfuzzled by the people around him. “Weren’t there ten of you?” Maybe Jesus even stood up and looked down the road or looked all around in astonishment. “Where are the other nine?” And all the poor Samaritan could do was shrug his shoulders and grin in embarrassment and gratitude.

     It makes you wonder if acts like this aren’t what caused the spiritual struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night Jesus wrestled with His willingness to give His life on the cross for us. Encounters like this with the Sadduccees and Pharisees, the ungratefulness of these now former lepers; it all had to add up and weigh Jesus down that night.

     ONLY ONE of them came back and said Thank You. To quote Vizzini, the Sicilian, in the Princess Bride: “Inconceivable.”

     And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Ten were healed and ONLY ONE returned to give thanks. I’ve always wondered why Jesus didn’t revoke their healing. That’s probably what we would’ve done. We’d be thinking, “Why you ungrateful little doodahs. I’ll show you.” But then, I guess that’s why I wasn’t chosen to be the Messiah and Jesus was.

     Maybe the other nine were like a poster I saw one time. “Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”

     Maybe that’s how we should look at the other nine, as a warning; as an example of what NOT to do. Anyway, out of the ten lepers who were healed, ONLY ONE gave thanks. He had the right attitude, the attitude of Thanks Living. 

     B. In the movie Seabiscuit, Tom Smith, an old farrier and horse trainer, stops the shooting of a lame race horse. He tells the owner he will take it. When the owner says the horse is no longer worth anything, Smith says that at least it will save him the bullet. Later that evening, he is visited by Charles Howard, a wealthy American businessman.

     Howard climbs through the surrounding brush to get to Smith, who is having his dinner in front of an open campfire. Howard looks over at the damaged horse, whose leg is now wrapped up with a poultice. Smith says that it is Hawthorne root, designed to increase the blood circulation. Howard asks if the horse will get better, and Smith replies that it already has. Howard wants to know if the horse will ever race again. Smith says, “No, not that one.”

     Howard asks, “Then why are you fixing him?”

     And Smith tells him, “Because I can. Every horse is good for something. He could be a cart horse or a lead pony, and he’s still nice to look at. Y’know, you don’t throw a whole life away just ’cause you’re banged up a little.”

     Often times you and I and all of society are quick to throw away those things, and people, who are damaged or no longer meet our standards and expectations, just like that horse and just like the ten lepers. I give thanks that Jesus is different or most of us would have found ourselves in the trash heap a long time ago.

     Jesus came to reach out to the lost, the damaged, the disenfranchised. He came to lift up the weak and the outcasts. He spent His time among the rejected. He took the wretched of the world and healed them. He took the orphans and made them His sons and daughters. He took the powerless, and made them a priestly kingdom. He loved them. And He loves us; all because He can. (3)

     Jesus knows that everyone of us, no matter how banged up our lives are, everyone of us is good for something. He took our place. He heals us. He redeems us. He loves us. Because He can.

     And all He asks is that we live thankfully through our Thanks Living, which is simply a reflection of His love. He asks us to be THE ONE who returns.


     A GRATITUDE ATTITUDE allows us to do just that. It allows us to offer our lives as a “living sacrifice” as Paul said in Romans. I think that most of the satisfaction we get out of life comes from the development of an attitude of thankfulness.

     Thankfulness is the opposite of selfishness. The selfish person says, “I deserve” what comes to me! Everyone else “ought” to make me happy.” The mature Christian realizes that life is a gift from God, and that the blessings of life come only from God’s gracious generosity. Mature Christians also realize that we’re truly blessed, if no matter what condition, position, or situation of life we find yourself in, that we can still give thanks.  We’re blessed if we can still approach life with a grateful heart. That’s what the Gratitude Attitude is all about.

     In John Reynolds’ “Anecdotes of the Rev. John Wesley” (1828), he tells the story of Wesley’s student days at Lincoln College in Oxford.  A Porter knocked on Wesley’s door one evening and asked to speak with him. It was a cold winter night and after some conversation, Wesley noted the man’s thin coat. Wesley suggested that he better get a heavier coat. The porter replied, “This coat . . . is the only coat I have in the world and I thank God for it.”

     Wesley asked the man if he had eaten and the porter replied: “I have had nothing today but a draught of spring water . . . and I thank God for it.”

     Wesley began to grow uneasy in the man’s presence and reminded him that he would have to get back to his quarter or he’d be locked out. “Then what shall you have to thank God for?” Wesley asked.

     The porter replied, “Then I’ll thank God that I have dry stones to lie upon.”

     Wesley was deeply moved by the man’s sincerity and said, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear . . . nothing to eat . . . [and] no bed to lie on. I cannot see what you have to thank God for.”

     The man replied, “I thank God . . . that he has given me life and being and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve him.”

     After the man left with a coat from Wesley’s closet, some money for food and words of appreciation for his witness, Wesley wrote in his Journal: “I shall never forget that porter. He convinced me there is something in religion to which I am a stranger.”

     That porter was filled with the Gratitude Attitude; the same attitude the one leper who returned had and exhibited; the same attitude we’re called to develop as Christians. His life had shifted from a life of Thanks Giving to one which was Thanks Living.

     So, how do we shift our thoughts and our hearts from simply Thanks Giving to a life of Thanks Living? That’s the million dollar question isn’t it?


     A. I think it takes place first in our hearts and then through our hands. We live in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people; a world that is still fallen and still filled with sin and injustice. This world is unfinished, just as our lives are unfinished. But that’s one of the reasons why Jesus came. He recognizes that our lives and our faith are incomplete. That’s what grace is all about.  Through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus continues to encourage us and enable us to do our best.

     Al was five years old and it didn’t take much for him to get in trouble. His parents were worried.  They needed to visit some friends at the funeral home so they could offer their support and sympathy in their time of loss. But they couldn’t find sitter for Al and his sister. Hesitantly, they decided to take the kids with them.

     Before they left, though, Dad took Al aside and explained what kind of behavior they expected from him that evening. Dad said: “Al, you’re going to have to be just as good as you can be this evening.”

     The four of them went to the funeral home. And Al was pretty good, but not for long. In just a short time, he completely forgot what he had been told. He really didn’t understand what was going on, so he walked around peeking into every little nook and cranny. Nobody had saw him or said anything.

     Funeral homes and grief are pretty boring for five year olds, especially in large doses. So, it wasn’t surprising when Al’s Dad turned around once and saw him standing in the middle of the room twirling his jacket above his head like he was going to catch somebody with a lasso., Dad couldn’t stand it he grabbed Al by the arm and said, “I thought I told you to be just as good as you can be tonight.”

     With a startled expression and tears beginning to form, Al replied, “But Daddy, I am!”

     And, you know, he was right. He was being as good as he could be. Just like you and I at times. Sometimes we try our hardest to be as good as we can be, and it just doesn’t work.

     We live in an unfinished world and we live unfinished lives. Even at our best we’re not all that Christ intends for us to be, or all that God calls us to be. But the good news is through forgiveness and reconciliation Jesus comes to empower us to do our best. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit, reminds us us whose we are and helps in our Thanks Living.

     B. That’s the heart part. Now let’s look at the hands part. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation in 2011 the average family preparing a Thanksgiving Meal for 10 will spend $49.20 or about $50. That’s not much when you consider that a family of four can drop $50 bucks in the blink of an eye at a restaurant or just going to movies. Thanksgiving dinner is a pretty good bargain. But most of the time, Thanksgiving Dinner is about us.

     One of the ways that we can show Thanks Living and give our faith hands and feet is by giving an equal amount of what we spent on our Thanksgiving Dinner for ourselves to a worthy cause that feeds the poor or provides for the needy. It might be that you give that $50 to UMCOR for disaster relief. You might buy a couple of bed nets in honor of your family members.

     Or if you want to get the family involved you can go to the General board of Global Ministries website, look at the Advance Specials and together search for a project you want to support. When I did a search for water wells over 100 came up.

     Or maybe there’s a research group like the Heart Association or the Diabetes Foundation you can support through a gift in honor of someone you know.

     And there’s always our Camp and Retreat Center. They can always use the support.

     But you get the idea, show your thankfulness through your hands. Show your thankfulness by your Thanks Living gift.


     In early New England, it was the custom at Thanksgiving to place five grains of corn at every plate as a reminder of the first winter, when food was so depleted that only five grains of corn were rationed to each individual as their day’s supply of food.

     As the story goes, the Pilgrims wanted their children to remember the suffering which made possible the settlement of a free people in a free land. So, after that first Thanksgiving, they would start their thanksgiving meal with 5 kernals of corn on their plate. Each of them would stand up and share 5 things for which they were thankful.

     I thank that’s a good idea, that’s why you all received 5 kernals of corn.  Place them on or beside your Thanksgiving plates. Share 5 things for which you are thankful. But I’d add one more symbol.  I’d make sure there was a cross on the table as well.

     Those two symbols will remind us to be like the one leper out of ten who came back and said, “Thank You!” It will remind us to be about Thanks Living in all we do.

     Today as we close in prayer and take time for reflection, I want you to think about two things: First, for what are you thankful. And what it is that you can do to show that thanks this Thanksgiving and every day. What can you do to honor God through Thanks Living.

     And if there is something keeping you from living thankfully, then tell God about it. If there is some heartache or attitude or some deed from the past sin which is keeping you from joyfully living a Christ-like thankful life then turn it over to Him. Leave it at the foot of the cross.

     And during these moments, if your heart has been touched by God’s presence, if you have felt the Holy spirit move and would like to spend time in prayer at the altar or make a public profession of your faith in Christ and join the fellowship of our church, then come forward as we sing our Hymn of Invitation.


This is the Word of the Lord for this day.