When the situation calls for it—no cancer, promotion at work, honor roll at school--we certainly say a special thanksgiving prayer that usually sounds something like this: “Thank you, thank you, Jesus.” We don’t like to think that we’re slackers when it comes to God. We do what the leper did in 1 Samuel. We come back and we say: Thank you.
So what did that leper actually do? He gave thanks, right? That’s how the story goes and we’ve heard it over and over again. All ten lepers begged Jesus for help and all ten did what Jesus told them to do: they ran off to show themselves to the priests—their hope was Jesus would heal them on the way. You know what happened: one leper came back, and we all know why he came back. He came back to say thank you. And ever since St. Luke told this story and ever since Christians have been hearing it, that leper has kind of set the standard for what Christians do when God does awesome things.
And so that’s what we do. We say thank you. And we mean it. We appreciate all the good things God does for us, the little things and the big things. We’re thankful for beautiful weather in October and leaves that turn colors. We’re thankful our health is good enough so we can come to church and go to work and school. We’re thankful for friends and family who love us and support us. We’re certainly thankful for Jesus. We’re thankful he forgives our sins and promises to take us to heaven. We’re thankful we don’t have to worry where we’ll be when we die, and we’re thankful that while we’re still down here God works things out to bless us. We look at all the amazing things God has done for us, and we don’t let a day that go by without saying: Thank you.
Well, maybe some days go by. Life gets busy; you know what I mean. We really do think about God’s blessings. We hear some good news, and we say “Thank God.” We finish our food with “O give thanks unto the Lord.” When the situation calls for it—no cancer, promotion at work, honor roll at school--we certainly say a special thanksgiving prayer that usually sounds something like this: “Thank you, thank you, Jesus.” We don’t like to think that we’re slackers when it comes to God. We do what the leper did. We come back and we say: Thank you.
OK. Here’s the point: the leper did a lot more than say thank you. The leper’s thank you is what we tend to remember from this story, but Luke wrote down more: “He came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” And here’s what Jesus noticed: “He said to him, “Rise and go. Your faith has made you well.” Luke and Jesus saw a lot more than Thank you.
Maybe we need to rethink the whole thank you issue. If the leper did more than say thank you, we probably need to raise the bar at least a little and maybe we need to raise it a lot. Maybe we need to ask how God really wants his people, his faith people, to react to his blessings. So here’s the question: What Do You Do with an Awesome God?
I started this sermon with a Bible story you all know, but I’m going to finish it with a Bible story you probably don’t know. We heard part of the story in the First Lesson for today from the First Book of Samuel. It’s a story about an old preacher named Samuel, a young king named Saul, and God’s faith people in the Old Testament, the people of Israel. You all remember that God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and to settle them in the Promised Land. Once they got to the Promised Land God gave his people leaders the Bible calls judges, although they weren’t judges the way we understand that word. A judge was an ambassador, an archbishop, and a prime minister all rolled up into one. Samuel was one of those judges. But God was the king.
There was a problem. Some of the people in Israel wanted a king they could see, a king who would actually lead them into battle and look good at victory parties. They more or less demanded that Samuel give them a king. Samuel was insulted, more for God than himself. God didn’t like it, but he gave the people what they wanted. That’s where Saul comes in. Saul was the king God hand-picked. I’ll say that again: hand-picked--in other words, the people had their king, but God intended to stay in charge.
That was exactly the message God wanted Samuel to share with the people. And so Samuel called a little convention. He had a lot of things to say, but eventually he put it to the people: “Now stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!” And it started to rain and it started the thunder, and it rained and it thundered. The people were terrified. Terrified of rain and thunder? Yup. They understood something you and I can’t understand living here in Alabama. In Israel, it NEVER rained during the grain season. Never. The rain and the thunder were coming out of the blue; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. God made his point.
So what did they do with this awesome God? The first thing they did was repent, and I imagine it was pretty intense repentance. They were scared: “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” This was a good start. These people had a long history of making God angry. They always figured they knew better than he did. God said one thing and they did the opposite. All God ever wanted to do with these people was bless them, and he had wonderful plans for their future. But whenever they went out and disobeyed God, they lost out on his blessings. When they repented, they were saying: You were right and we were wrong. And they said more than that. They said: You’ve been right and we’ve wrong all along.
Samuel was happy to see them repent. They were coming around and that meant that were coming back to God. But he knew there was more. “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord.” It was time for them to remember their history. They needed to look back and apply some common sense to their life with God. When did they ever get anything from the idols they chased after? They didn’t get anything out of the golden calf except for trouble. “Do not turn away after useless idols, Samuel said. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.” Well, of course. If you invent a god or create a god, what can you expect? Then Samuel turned their thoughts to God: “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.” The nation of Israel was a nobody nation: nobody started it, nobody built it, nobody fought for it. It was God who called Abraham to leave his old home and set aside Palestine to be his new home. It was God established the nation and wrote its constitution on Mt. Sinai. It was God who knocked down the walls of Jericho; all the people had to do was stand around and shout. Do you remember all that, Samuel meant to say? You need to recall it and remember it every day.
When the people repented and turned back to God, they would be able to recall all the awesome things the Lord had done for them. But Samuel wanted the repenting and the recalling to lead to something else. This is what he said: “Serve the Lord with all your heart.” And he said it again: “Be sure to respect the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.” Samuel gathered the people together for a convention, and it was time for a convention resolution. They heard the thunder and felt the rain coming out of a cloudless sky. They knew they had an awesome God. It was time for them to resolve to make a new beginning, to be the kind of the people the Lord wanted to be.
Well, what do you do with an awesome God? I’m guessing most of you picked it up: repent, recall, resolve. That’s what Samuel advised the nation of Israel to do. And if we would study today’s Gospel carefully, we would discover the lonely leper did about the same thing.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be careful we don’t fall into the thank you trap. The Lord Jesus is looking for a lot more from his faith people—and that’s what we are: we’re believers who put our trust in Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with saying thank you, but saying thank you doesn’t necessarily lead us to realize just how undeserved God’s blessings really are. We begin to take things for granted; worse yet, we think we’re entitled. Or we play a game with God: “I’ll be good to you as long you’re good to me.” That’s why it’s so important for us to repent, and I mean everyday in some way. When we repent we’re admitting that God doesn’t really owe us anything, except for hell, anyway. When we repent we turn our eyes away from the sins we sometimes love and place our eyes on the one who loves us more than we can understand; I doubt any of us can understand a love that was deep enough to die for us. When we turn and look to Jesus we begin to recall all the things and all the people we chased after in our lives that Jesus didn’t want us to chase after. You know what else we recall? We remember that in the long run none of these things and people did us a drop of good. Come to church, go to Bible Class, open your Bibles, review your own personal story—I don’t mean once in while; I mean as often as you can. Think about all the blessings God has given you. There’s not time today to make a list, and my list isn’t going to be the same as yours anyway. Here’s a start: recall how God created you to have such a magnificent body and mind and how you haven’t been starving in a long time; recall how Jesus went to the cross with your sins on his back and then rose again so you would never have to wonder about your eternal future. Recall how the Holy Spirit led you to believe in Jesus—that’s an awesome miracle all by itself—and how he keeps you believing when so many people you know don’t have a clue. I’ll tell you something. If you and I take a minute every day to repent, to honestly assess the wrongs we've done and the rights we haven’t done, if we take some time everyday to recall and remember and rejoice in what Jesus has done for us our entire life, if we repent and recall, it’s going to happen. When we repent of our sins and recall Jesus’ love, we are bound to resolve to be the people he wants us to be. It’s the way God makes it work. When his law leads us to repent of our sins and his gospel allows us to recall his great love, we become determined to love him and love one another, we become committed to follow him wherever he leads, we become devoted to sharing his message with the world.
How do you respond to an awesome God? Repent, recall, resolve. That’ll do it. Like I said, the leper did a lot more than say thank you. Amen.