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Being Blessed: More Than Just Blessings

November 23rd 2011

By Vicar Aaron Chittick Blessed verses Blessings. What's the difference? Are we blessed because of the blessings God gives? Do we receive Blessings because we are blessed? To find these answers to an important distinction, read more...

Thanksgiving Eve - Being Blessed: More Than Just Blessings!" - Luke 17:11-19 - November 23, 2011

We have set aside this time of the year to express our gratitude for the many blessings in our lives. We give thanks for the things we have been given. And as we gather this evening we, as Christians, take special time to respond to God’s love with praise and worship, knowing that it is from Him that all blessings flow. Tonight we are going to focus on more than blessings, though. We are going to see what it means to truly be blessed. The gospel message for tonight comes from Luke, and details the interaction between Jesus and 10 lepers.

Now leprosy, not to understate it, was a big problem for a Jewish man. It was, of course, a painful skin disease, with no hope of a cure a disease that would eventually end in death. But aside from the considerable physical pain and slow but sure death, it brought on a lot of emotional and psychological pain as well. Once a priest declared that a person had leprosy, he was, from that second forward, cut off from the Jewish community. There was no chance to say goodbye to family or friends, or he would risk making them outcasts as well. He was barred from any aspect of community living, including worship at the temple. For a Jewish man, who thought his salvation hinged on his place among the chosen people, it was a true death sentence, physically and spiritually.

Knowing the depth of suffering that a leper underwent gives us a clearer picture of the encounter between Jesus and these 10 men. In their despair, they call out to Jesus for mercy, knowing that they were not permitted to approach Him because of their disease. Jesus, who healed so many out of compassion, tells them to “go and show yourselves to the priests” at the temple. And as these men turn and begin their journey, each and every one is healed of their disease.

And although all were healed through this incredible miracle, they did not all respond to it in the same way. Nine of the men continued on their way to the temple. Once there they would have entered into the temple and been declared clean by earthly standards, and have been able to rejoin their friends and families. They would be able to go back to their old way of life. They would love as they used to love, work like they used to work, and worship how they used to worship. They had a miraculous, life saving encounter with Jesus, and it did not change them at all. They simply carried on with the life they had always lived. They may have thought that God chose to heal them because they were His covenant people. They might have seen their miraculous healing as evidence that God approved of their lives.

Yet the Samaritan also received healing. And he not only received the blessing of healing, but he was blessed as well. He returns to Jesus, “praising him in a loud voice… giving Him thanks.” And Jesus responds saying “your faith has made you well.” Faith is what Jesus points to. Notice that this Samaritan leper did not receive a different miracle than the rest. All received equal blessings from Jesus, the healing of their disease. Yet it was faith entering his heart that caused him to return and worship Jesus as God. That is what the other 9 did not understand. God was there, at that very moment revealing himself in Jesus Christ. When Jesus enters into a man’s heart and makes it His own, it is impossible for that person to go back to his old way of life. You see there is a big difference between blessings and being blessed. Faith does not cause blessings, nor do blessings cause faith. It is only the grace of God that causes faith, and makes people truly blessed.

Like the Jewish lepers, our culture can lead us to misunderstand the blessings of God. We live in a prosperous nation, and there is danger that comes with viewing the blessings of God as evidence that we are His redeemed children. We do not always have trouble being grateful for God’s blessings in our lives. The problem we can have is thinking that those blessings only come when we do what we are supposed to do. We look at a miraculous healing, or a good job, or a happy family in as proof that God loves us. We call this a prosperity gospel, and it turns God into an ATM. And ultimately, it leads people who do not see the blessings of God in their life to doubt God’s love, to doubt their salvation. But God has never once promised that salvation and eternal life in the world to come means blessings and an easy life in this world.

If we say that the blessings in our lives happen because we are Christians, how can we justify when good things happen to non-Christians? How do we explain why those who have confessed their faith in Jesus alongside us suffer from cancer and Alzheimer’s? How can we explain when we lose our jobs, or suffer through divorce?

Blessings fall on everyone, because God loves everyone. Horrible sickness and pain happen to everyone, because sin has affected all of creation. A horrible tragedy is no more proof that God has abandoned you than winning the lottery is proof that you are going to heaven. No one can lead a sinless life. All live knowing that they are going to die, and there is nothing that they can do to stop it.

And it is in the midst of this despair, knowing that we are unworthy to even approach Jesus because of the disease of sin, that we cry out for mercy. And God, out of love, sent Jesus to die, not simply to heal the sins of a few, but for the whole world. Jesus Christ suffered the price of sin for the sins of all creation. When He was raised from the dead, He healed the disease of death by extinguishing its cause, sin.

And so we live today as a people blessed by God. And it is not the blessings that God provides in our lives that proves we are saved. Like the Samaritan, the evidence that Jesus Christ is in our hearts is the faith that God so lovingly gives us. What God does promise is that all who believe and are baptized will be saved. That is our proof. The Word of God working in our hearts and minds and bringing us to salvation. The promise that baptism saves us once and for all and no blessing or curse could ever change that. Through Christ, we are no longer slaves to our disease, sin. And that changes our lives. We live to His Glory and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.

As we get together with our families and friends this week, we will take time to thank God for all that He has done in our lives, for all good things truly are from Him. We also remember that God does more than provide blessings, He makes us blessed through faith in Jesus Christ. Through His Word and through the sacraments He gives us the power to become His children, and the ability to respond to that gift, by living the life of one so blessed.

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