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“Pause to Praise”
Luke 17:11-19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Thanksgiving Eve—November 26, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

A few years ago our cable provider upgraded us to a DVR, Digital Video Recorder.  The neatest thing about a DVR is that you can hit the PAUSE button, not only on recordings, but on live TV.  

For a few days each year, our entire nation hits the “pause” button on our normal lives, to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.  Work, school, the daily rush of activities and events, and the all rest of our regular routine are put on PAUSE. But, WHAT are we pausing for?

The ten lepers in this evening’s Gospel Reading had been hit with a very unwelcome pause in their lives.  Leprosy meant that they were separated from society, isolated only with other lepers, unable to work, permanently apart from their families and friends and community.  During this enforced, unpleasant pause in their lives, they had plenty of time—too much time—to PONDER.  To ponder their miserable fate and their gloomy, hopeless future.

Although this is a real story that actually happened and not a parable, their leprosy DOES have a symbolic meaning for us.  The fatal sickness of their bodies symbolizes the fatal sickness we all have in our souls.  As one of our hymns puts it, “the leprosy of SIN.”  What the lepers faced physically, we face spiritually.  On account of our sins, we deserve a miserable SPIRITUAL fate, a gloomy, hopeless future in hell.

At Thanksgiving we first of all pause to PONDER.  To ponder our sinfulness, and God’s righteous judgment; our unworthiness, and God’s mercy.  As Abraham Lincoln said in the proclamation which marked the beginning of our nation’s modern celebration of Thanksgiving Day:  “It is the duty . . . of men . . . to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow . . . we have forgotten God.”

In their enforced pause, as they pondered their fate, the ten lepers received a ray of hopeful light, piercing the gloomy darkness of their lives.  A wonderful rumor had gotten through to them from the outside world about a carpenter turned rabbi from Nazareth.  It was said he worked great miracles.  Some even said he could be the promised Messiah. 

According to the rumors, he gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, raised the dead, but, most of all, most importantly to them, he had even cured a man of leprosy.  If he could do all that, maybe he could work one more miracle, for them?  Maybe he could cure their leprosy too.

As he passes by them that day, they take a wonderful PAUSE from their years of hopeless gloom, a wonderful PAUSE from their sorrow, for they are filled with hope for an unimaginable possibility: to be cured, to go home again.  They pause to PRAY: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

“Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  Could it really be that simple?  According to the Old Testament civil and ceremonial law, the priests were supposed to examine them and confirm that they were free of leprosy.  Could it really be that simple?  Can he really have healed them of their horrible leprosy that easily, with just a word, “Go, show yourselves to the priests”?

This also is symbolic for us.  Our spiritual healing comes about not because of our own efforts, but by God’s declaration, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Paul puts it this way in 2nd Corinthians, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Christ took upon himself all the sickness of your sin.  He carried it for you to the cross, suffering all the punishment in your place.  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Because of his Son’s sacrifice for you, God declares that you are forgiven, holy, righteous in his sight.  Yes, it’s really that simple.

“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  Like the ten lepers, pause to PRAY.  As we say in our Liturgy, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto you all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended you and justly deserved your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I PRAY you of your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor sinful being.”

“‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.”  In the same way, the Apostle John declares, “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin.”  Like a leper healed of that horrible, incurable disease, you have been miraculously, completely cleansed from “the leprosy of sin.”

There is one final pause, but by only ONE of the ten lepers.  “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.”  Like the grateful leper, this Thanksgiving Day, take a pause: pause to PRAISE.  As the psalm says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:  Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things.”

It is wonderful that our government encourages us, as Abraham Lincoln said, “To set apart . . . a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens. . . that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged”  But, actually, God himself already set apart such a day.  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  God already set apart a day for “thanksgiving and praise” on which he is to be “solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged.”  Not just one day a year, but one day a week.  The word “sabbath” means “rest,” a weekly PAUSE from the normal concerns of life, the day each week we pause to PRAISE.  As the psalm says, “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”

Can you imagine what was going through the lepers’ minds as they were healed?  So many wonderful things would happen, so much to do!  To return home to their families; to be joyously reunited with wives and children; to start again with their work; to reclaim their lives. 

Amidst all this excitement, one leper takes a pause from his new life.  A pause to PRAISE and thank the one who GAVE him his new life.  Like the leper who returned to give thanks, take a PAUSE—not only on Thanksgiving Day, not only on the Sabbath Day, but every day.  Pause to PONDER; pause to PRAY; pause to PRAISE.”

Amen.

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