Posted by: St. Mark Lutheran Church | November 24, 2011

Sermon on Ephesians 2:8-10 (Thanksgiving Eve)

Thank you, Lord, for grace, faith, and works

Downloadable Vesion

In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.

Ten men stood outside their village, knowing they could never enter it again.  For the rest of their lives, wherever they went, their condition required them to call out, “Unclean!  Unclean!”  This cry allowed any unwary passer-by to make an even wider loop to avoid these…ten…lepers.

Then one day, while doing their normal thing – hanging out, being lepers – they hear that Jesus might be passing by.  Lo and behold, He does.  They cry out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us (Luke 17:13, NASB).  Without making any inquiries – asking them, say, if they were observant Jews, or if they prayed to the LORD, or some other religious test – Jesus says, Go and show yourselves to the priests (Luke 17:14, NASB).

The lepers knew what that meant.  Only a priest could declare them clean.  So they went.  And as they went their disease vanished.  The unclean became clean.  Oh, happy day!  And what happened next?  Nine of the lepers went on to the priest, just as Jesus said.  One, though, came back to Jesus, fell down at His feet and thanked Him profusely.  And Jesus said, Were there not ten cleansed?  But the nine – where are they?  Was no one found who returned to give glory to God (Luke 17:17-18, NASB)?

This reminds me of an email that’s made a few cycles around the Internet.  A new arrival in heaven gets the grand tour.  He sees one room where hundreds and thousands of angels rush crazily around the room filing papers, filling out forms, and making notations.  The man asks, “What’s happening here?”

His guide says, “These angels handle all the requests that come to God for help of one sort of another.”

“Wow,” the man says, before being shown another room where a couple of angels sit, lazily playing solitaire on their computers and IPads.

“What’s going on in here?” he asks.

“Oh, they handle the thank-yous.”

The danger of God’s grace, love, and mercy, like that which healed these lepers, like that which rescued us from our sins at Christ’s cross and granted us faith in that sin atoning work, is that we take it for granted.  We’re no different now than we were as children, when our parents pushed us across the room at Christmas to give Grandma a hug and say, “Thank-you,” or to sit down and write those thank-you notes.

But, like that leper, that’s exactly what we do.  It’s what Christians do.  It’s what Thanksgiving really is.  Giving thanks.  Handing it out.  Displaying it.  By doing it.  So many of you love those verses from Ephesians 2 that have come to define the Christian and Lutheran confession of faith.  So many have chosen these verses as their confirmation verse: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:8-9, NASB).  Here we have two of the three great Lutheran alones – grace alone and faith alone.

Like those lepers, nothing attracted us to God.  When He planned salvation, He didn’t look at anyone and see anything good.  He looked at poor, miserable sinners, sinning poorly and miserably and just said, “I’m going to do something about that.”  And He tasked His Son, His only Son, Jesus to do that thing:  “Be their sin for them.”  And His Son did.  A gift from God to us.  For by grace you have been saved.

Like those lepers, we didn’t make ourselves clean.  God didn’t look ahead from eternity and see that we would have faith and then like us.  We didn’t will ourselves into believing that Jesus took our sin upon Himself at the cross.  We didn’t let Him into our hearts.  God looked at poor, miserable sinners, sinning poorly and miserably and just said, “I’m going to do something about that.”  And He tasked His Holy Spirit to do that thing:  “Call them to faith.”  And His Spirit did.  A gift from God to us.  You have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8, NASB).

“Yes,” you say, you rejoice.  “I know that.  I love that.  I cherish that!”  Because we especially cherish what comes next:  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph. 2:9, NASB).  There’s the Lutheran faith:  grace alone, faith alone, no works – just God!

But again, we run the risk of being the nine lepers and just running off to the priest cleansed and forgetting what that cleansing really means, which comes next in Ephesians 2 (and isn’t always a confirmation verse):  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10, NASB).  Note carefully.  God didn’t just prepare your salvation beforehand.  He didn’t just elect you to faith from all eternity.  He didn’t just grant you faith in eternity.  He created you for good works.  He prepared them in advance.  He had in mind that your whole life would be one of thanksgiving.  To Him.  For His grace.  Because of your faith.  Because of the love He poured out upon you in Christ.

Right behind the glorious good news of eternal life in heaven won for you because of Christ comes the good news of a new life now for believers.  God’s grace doesn’t free Christians to do whatever they want under a cloak of forgiveness right up until their death bed when they confess all and repent.  The old is gone.  The new has come.  Christians are new creations in Christ through faith.  God creates believers to be perfect, holy, and righteous – now!  Just as He intended in Eden.  He created you in faith to be the leper who came back and fell down at Jesus’ feet in a most ostentatious thank-you – now!  And the Lutheran church has never denied that saying, “Faith alone saves, but faith is never alone!”  And the Lutheran church goes even further, going on record to say that a faith that’s not producing good works is not a real faith.

And because we sometimes scratch our heads about how to say thank-you, Paul spent much of the rest of Ephesians offering a pretty extensive list, reminding us that grace and faith and good works are inseparable.  I counted at least 31 different ways Paul listed that stand among the good works God prepared in advance for you to do as a thank-you for the cleansing from your sins you received in Christ.  These aren’t in order of importance, just in order of Paul’s mentioning them in Ephesians chapters 4-6:

  1. Be completely humble and gentle.
  2. Be patient, bearing with one another in love.
  3. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  4. Don’t give yourself over to sensuality and impurity.
  5. Put off your old self, put on your new self.
  6. No more lies, only truth.
  7. Don’t let the sun go down on anger.
  8. Stop stealing, work an honest, useful trade.
  9. No unwholesome talk.
  10. Get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, malice.
  11. Be kind and compassionate to one another.
  12. Forgive each other.
  13. Imitate God.
  14. Live a life of love (as Christ loved us and sacrificed himself for us).
  15. No hint of sexual immorality.
  16. No hint of greed.
  17. No obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking.
  18. Live as children of light, have nothing to do with darkness.
  19. Be careful how you live.
  20. Don’t get drunk on wine, but on the Spirit.
  21. Speak to each other with God’s Words – psalms, hymns, songs.
  22. Always give thanks to God.
  23. Submit to each other.
  24. Husbands, love wives.
  25. Wives, obey husbands.
  26. Children, obey parents.
  27. Parents, train up godly children.
  28. Slaves, serve your masters.
  29. Masters, treat your slaves well.
  30. Put on God’s armor.
  31. Pray.

As Luther says so frequently in his Large Catechism, we don’t need to invent ways to give thanks.  God’s given us enough in the Ten Commandments and His explanations of those commandments to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.  Saying thank-you.  To Him.  For His grace and faith.  By our lives.

What a marvelous Thanksgiving message!  God wanted our salvation.  God planned our salvation.  God won our salvation.  God brings us to faith so that can be part of that salvation.  And then God even planned how we would live in that salvation.  All part of the plan that culminates in us living with God in heaven forever.

Thank God Christ healed those lepers!  Thank God Christ cleansed us of our sins!  Thank God that Christ’s Spirit called us to faith in Him!  Thank God for all the ways we get to say “Thank You, Jesus!”  Amen.

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