Summary: Most of us forget to be thankful simply because we do not think about what the gift cost and our own need for what is offered.
November 19, 2000 Luke 17:11-19
“Do you think to thank?”
To All Ye Pilgrims: Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings. (William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth Colony) So began the very first official thanksgiving celebration on the shores of this new world.
Most children, at some point in their elementary school career will have to give some kind of report on or be in a play about the events of that first Thanksgiving. I heard about a little fourth-grader who stood up to give a report concerning the origins of the Thanksgiving holiday. Here’s how he began: "The pilgrims came here seeking freedom of you know what. When they landed, they gave thanks to you know who. Because of them, we can worship each Sunday, you know where.
When Gov. Bradford, and later President ____________ set aside one special day for giving of thanks, I don’t think that they meant for this to be the only day that we give thanks. Rather, I think that they intended that thankfulness should be so much of our everyday lives that we commemorated it with one special day of each year. In spite of that annual reminder and in spite of the many reasons that we have to give thanks, probably in many people’s homes, the only time that “thank you” is heard is over the dinner table. But even that kind of thankfulness is quickly fading away. A farmer went to eat out at a restaurant in town - and, as was his custom, he bowed his head and said a prayer before his meal. At the next table were some rowdy young men who began to poke fun at him. "Hey, farmer!" said one, "that’s out of vogue, man! Nobody prays nowadays!" "Yes, indeed," said the farmer. "There are some members of my own household who won’t pray before their meals." "Hey, they must be real smart!" said the young man, "Who are they?" The farmer answered dryly: "They are my pigs."
Probably the one day of the year on which “thank you” will be heard as often as it is on Thanksgiving Day will be Christmas Day. Unfortunately, some people will try to show their gratitude with a few too many words when they should have just quit with a simple “thank you.” A husband gave his wife a beautiful skunk coat beside a Christmas tree. When his wife opened it up she said, "I can’t see how such a nice coat can come from such a foul smelling little beast." She was referring to the skunk, but her husband believed that she was referring to him. Some of you would be most thankful if I would quit trying to tell jokes.
As I prepared for the message today, I asked myself why we aren’t more thankful – why we fail to say those simple words which can mean so much. Part of the reason is because we just don’t think about it. In my study this week, I discovered that the word “thank” actually comes from the German word which means “to think.” We don’t think enough about who gave the gift, how much it cost them, and what significance it will have for us. We just don’t think. That’s what I want us to do this morning. I want us to think about the gifts that have been given to us, how much those gifts cost the ones who gave them, and what our response to them should be.
1. We think to thank when we realize our desperate situation. (vs. 11-12)
It says of these ten men that Jesus encountered that they were lepers. The word which is used to speak of leprosy in the Bible covered a wide range of skin diseases, only one of which is what you and I would think of when we hear the word “leprosy”. When we think of leprosy, we think of the disease now known as Hanson’s disease – where the extremities of your body die, decay, and fall off. This disease may have been represented among the ten men, but there were probably other skin diseases represented there as well. But regardless of what their actual diagnosis was, they were all classified as “lepers”. That one fact meant several things in their lives, none of which were good. It meant first that they had to face isolation. They were outcasts. When a person began to show signs of having leprosy, according to the law, he had to go to one of the priests for the priest to examine him. if the priest found that he did have leprosy, then that person was ordered to go and live outside the city and away from people. If he was lucky, then he might be able to find others like him to live with so that he wouldn’t have to live in total isolation. Sure, the people he was living with stunk, had open sores, and were dying, but at least he wasn’t alone. Second, it meant humiliation. If ever he did have to go into the city or anywhere else where he might come in contact with healthy people, he was forced to cover his face and cry out, “UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN!!” everywhere that he went. Can you imagine the humiliation of having children point their fingers at you and laugh at you? Can you imagine what it would feel like to have everyone run away from you and turn their backs on you? A further humiliation was that he had to rely on the pity of other people or on stealing to provide for himself. Third, it meant tremendous loss. Since he was separated from the city, that meant that he was separated from his family. He could not watch his sons grow up, even though his sons would have to grow up faster than normal now because they had to take on the responsibility of providing for the family since he was no longer able to. He could not taste his wife’s cooking. He could not touch her and love her the way that he longed to do. He was also separated from his job. His job had given him fulfillment in life. He had loved his job. He had loved working in the fields or handling wood, or selling goods – whatever his job had been. He had enjoyed talking with the people that he met and learning new things about his world. Now he had no real purpose in life – no reason for living. He had been left to die. That’s the fourth thing that having leprosy meant. It means that you were going to die, and it meant that you were going to die alone. Sure, you might be surrounded by other lepers such as here in this event. But the people that you wanted around you – your wife, your kids, your friends and neighbors – they would not be there. Even if you didn’t have actual leprosy, you were still forced to live among those who did have it. Your only activity each day would be watching the others get worse and trying to find enough food to make it through another day. So if the sickness didn’t kill you, then starvation might.