Worship Service for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost (Thanksgiving Sunday)

Hi everyone,

Welcome to worship for this Thanksgiving Sunday, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, October 9, 2022. We are grateful that we are able to worship together across time and proximity!

The worship bulletin for this service can be found here. It has in it the order and words of worship, the hymn and page numbers out of the ELW hymnal, and the sermon in full. The words that you need to know will be up on your screen throughout the service, and the sermon is also included on this page below the video itself. You are welcome to follow along in whichever way is most comfortable to you.

If you would like to enhance your worship experience at home, you may light a candle for the whole of the service and extinguish it with the altar candles after the sending hymn. And if you would like to participate in communion, you may have something small to eat and drink ready, and further instruction will be given during the service.

May God’s goodness and grace be apparent to you and motivate you in your worship and praise!

Holy God, set us free by your Word let loose in the world. By the power of your Holy Spirit change us with the mindset of unashamed worthiness in your name, that we might joyfully reflect your love in all that we do, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I remember a story that I heard a number of years ago that always stuck with me.  I might have shared it with a few of you in the past, as I think it really provides insight on an important life truth.  The story is about these two people arguing about how one of them claimed to be a ghost, while the other denied it.  They argued and argued but they couldn’t convince each other to change their minds about what is real and what isn’t.  In a fit, the second person tries to just end the argument then and there with a very direct question, “what proof do you need that will convince you that you aren’t a ghost?”  And the reply was “Because ghosts don’t bleed, if I am cut, I won’t bleed.”  So the second person gladly gets a blade and pricks their seemingly misguided friend on the finger, which drew out some blood.  Then the first person, in shock, says, “Oh will you look at that, ghosts do bleed after all!”

Now the point of the story isn’t to wonder whether the first person was actually a ghost or not, they could be or they couldn’t be.  The point is how their being a ghost was an absolute truth in their mind, and everything else revolved and even evolved around that.  Anything that remotely supported the notion became substantiating evidence of fact, and anything even slightly against became lies from Satan.  The rules change to fit that particular narrative, so any argument would be futile as nothing could shake this immovable absolute.   I don’t know about the rest of you, but that sounds an awful lot like every single argument that I’ve had with my spouse.

But seriously, you might know people who hold onto these absolute truths.  Or perhaps you do yourself.  There isn’t anything wrong with believing in an absolute truth, but we should be aware of how such absolutes change us as we begin to, like everything else, revolve and evolve around that truth in support of it.  So while having that belief in itself isn’t wrong, but what you become because of that belief might be.

Most of the time it can be harmless, like who you believe to be best sports team, band, or streaming service.  You have your preference and it doesn’t really affect anyone else but you.  Or sometimes it can get a little heated, like when we start talking about things that people care about a bit more, like the classic Apple vs Android or Mac vs PC or even Ford vs Chrysler or Toyota vs Honda.  People like their brands and are almost identified by them which could make for some lively debates.  Still there are other times when holding to an absolute truth in your opinion can be downright dangerous, like when you have an idea of what ethnicity or religion or even political party these days is the best, which leads you to put down others who don’t belong to your same demographic.

Whatever it is, these absolutes in our lives are what actually shape and form us, they shape how we interpret the world and lead us to do what we do, say what we say, and think what we think.  Again, this isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s just a thing.

I was thinking about this “absolute truths” mentality when I was reading the texts for this week, particularly the gospel out of Luke, as I feel like I spotted something that relates that I never spotted before.  Or I maybe I did spot it before, and just conveniently forgot about it to have “new” material for this sermon.  But we’re familiar with this story, while it isn’t technically the Thanksgiving text for this Lectionary year C that we’re in, it’s the text for today, the 18th Sunday after Pentecost.  And incidentally, it’s also the same gospel lesson that we get for Thanksgiving out of Lectionary year A.  Either case, I’m sure we heard about these 10 lepers who called out for help and Jesus being all Jesus heals them, but only one comes back to even acknowledge it, much to Jesus’ chagrin. 

And after Jesus sort of complains about how the other 9 ex-lepers didn’t even bother to come back, he says something peculiar to the one that did.  Who, by the way, was a Samaritan, Luke thought it important to mention specifically.  Jesus says, any guesses?  “Your faith has made you well.”

His faith, huh?  That actually sounds pretty cool.  You mean to tell me, Jesus, that faith can actually heal leprosy?  That’s awesome because I’ve been fighting this bout of eczema for a while so maybe a little bit of faith can help me with that.  I mean if a Samaritan leper, considered unclean by all the religious authorities of the time, could have the faith to make him better, I’m pretty sure that my faith as a Lutheran pastor would blow his out of the water.  You know, that water where I planted that tree from last week’s texts when my faith helped me with some light landscaping.  Either case, however this faith thing can enhance our lives, I’m all for it and I’m ready to cash in.

I mean, isn’t that that is the absolute here?  Jesus states that the Samaritan’s faith healed him so I guess that means that if we have enough faith, our illnesses would be cured.  This Samaritan leper obviously had the faith to at least come back to Jesus to thank him for it, so there has to be some sort of truth to it.  Faith cures diseases.  Faith clears up our ailments and returns us back to wholeness.  Faith protects us from getting sick.

Except… when it doesn’t.

How many of us have prayed for our sick loved ones but they stayed sick anyway?  How many of us believed that we would be protected from COVID?  How many of us put our faith in God’s healing, only for us to be disappointed with illness after illness and death after death?

No, it’s clear by our own experience that faith doesn’t heal, so what does Jesus mean?  Does he mean that the Samaritan’s gratitude healed him?  I can’t see that being true either as the other 9 weren’t all that grateful, or at least they didn’t show it, but they were still healed.  Did Jesus mean that the Samaritan’s heritage healed him?  Probably not, as well… he was a Samaritan.  So what did Jesus mean?

I’m sure that faith did have something to do with it, but I think the confusion comes from what Jesus means by “well”.  Sure, the Samaritan’s faith made him well, but what is well?

I think the answer is in the different attitudes of the 10.  The one that came back understood gratitude, and not just that, but understood in whom that gratitude belongs.  You see, this man wasn’t thankful because he was healed, but it was because he understood who healed him that he was thankful. 

Because that healing was absolute.  All 10 received it.  It was not dependant on their attitudes, gratitudes, or faith.  But it was given because of another absolute, which is that God is good.  God is good whether you believe it or not.  And God will continue to do good whether your paradigm of the world allows you to see it or not.

So the Samaritan being well isn’t about his clear skin, but his clear mind and outlook on God present in the world.  His faith didn’t put him in God’s salvation but allowed him to know that God’s love for even him was true.  His knowledge and acknowledgement of an absolutely good God is what brought him into thankfulness and joy, granting him the peace that surpasses all understanding and the life that truly is life.

See these beliefs that the Samaritan leper had changed him, even though he was an outcast.  These absolute truths that he held onto allowed him the gratitude and joy that comes from seeing God in the world.  This faith is what made him well, well in the sense that he knows he is worthy, he is valued, he is loved.

And so for the rest of us, we can be thankful when good things happen to us, of course.  We can show gratitude when we are given nice things.  We can even believe that we get good when we are good.  But the true thanksgiving comes from seeing God in the world.  Our true healing comes from the knowledge and acknowledgment that we are God’s beloved children.  Us being truly well comes from our faith in the Alpha and Omega God, the beginning and the end, whose grace and mercy are boundless and endures forever.  This is what changes us, this is where we find wholeness, this is the absolute that recreates us as faithful people of God.

This Thanksgiving weekend, may we not just see the things that we can be thankful for in our lives, but also acknowledge the absolute goodness of God, granting us overflowing grace and steadfast peace that fill our hearts with gratitude, now and always.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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