Thanksgiving Eve

Preached: November 21, 2012

Thankfulness Springs Up from Our Hearts
2 Kings 5:1-17

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text from 2 Kings 5 will be read as the sermon progresses. Let us pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. (2 Kings 5:1-17).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“Now what do you say?” In this way parents have trained their children to say, “Thank you,” and rightly so. But as you well know, thankfulness is more than saying two words or sending a card. Tonight, as we ponder the account of Naaman and Elisha recorded in 2 Kings 5, we'll discover some of the attitudes in our hearts out of which thankfulness springs up in our lives, like flowers springing up displaying their many different colors. Thankfulness springs up from our hearts in words, in faith, and in actions.

A. In words

2 Kings 5. “Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram” (2 Kings 5:1 NIV84). Aram was north of Israel. Picture modern day Lebanon and Syria. “[Naaman] was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy” (2 Kings 5:1 NIV84). Leprosy was an incurable and fatal disease eating away at the body.

“Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife” (2 Kings 5:2 NIV84). How would feel as a young child, ripped away from your parents, your family, your friends, your home, forced to slave away in a strange country? “Why God? Why me? How could you let this happen? How could you do this to me?” But what do we hear from her instead?

“She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy’” (2 Kings 5:3 NIV84). Samaria was the capital of northern Israel. These aren't words coming from a bitter, resentful heart, are they? These aren't the words of a heart angry with God. Rather these are words that are honoring him. “He can do anything. He can watch over me even though I've been taken from my home. He can even cure leprosy. That's how great and good and merciful he is!”

How these words of a little missionary slave girl contrast with the words of Israel's king as the account continues. “Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ‘By all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ‘I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents [about 750 pounds] of silver, six thousand shekels [about 150 pounds] of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy’” (2 King 5:4-6 NIV84).

And now listen to the words from the king of Israel. “As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’” (2 Kings 5:7 NIV84). What a contrast to the slave girl's words!

So what can we learn about thankfulness springing up from our hearts into our words in this first part? When hearts are self-absorbed or worried about ourselves and what's going to happen like the King of Israel's heart, such hearts cannot produce truly thankful words. But dear Christians friends, when our hearts accept whatever our situation in life is, when our hearts look to our dear Father in heaven to see us through even the worst, when our hearts trust his bountiful goodness and gracious mercy to take care of us, just as that young slave girl's heart did, then thankfulness to God springs up from our hearts into our words. Such words do more than say a thank-you prayer or send a hymn of thanks heavenward now and then. Like that young girl's words, our words direct others to the true God. They glorify him. He alone can save. And he has saved us from something much deadly than leprosy. He has saved us from sin, our own grievous sins eating away from our soul outward. He saves through his Son, Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Lord. Let such words spring up from your heart of thankfulness.

B. In faith

We learn more about thankfulness as the account continues and we move into part two. “When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed’” (2 Kings 5:8-10 NIV84).

Now mighty Naaman commander of the armies of Aram had already stooped pretty far. He had come to a less powerful nation seeking help. He had pulled up with his horses and chariots to this lowly home. And now this prophet doesn't even greet him but sends a servant with a seemingly useless message. A man can only put up with only so much! He's reached his breaking point.

“But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage” (2 King 5:11, 12 NIV84). No thankfulness from this man. But that's not the end yet.

“Naaman's servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he tells you, “Wash and be cleansed”!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.’

“The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused” (2 Kings 5:13-16 NIV84).

How Naaman had changed! What was the difference? In a word faith. You see, faith receives what God offers. Faith is like the beggar's hand. It has nothing to give to God but depends on his mercy instead.

At first Naaman was too proud to receive. Oh, he was willing to receive some help. He knew he couldn't heal the leprosy himself. He was willing to lower himself a long way. But he still clung to some dignity. The prophet could have at least come out and waved his hands over the spot showing that this was an important matter. But why this silliness of bathing in the dirty Jordan seven times. It made no sense!

How easy for us to cling to the vestiges of our pride and yet appear to be humble in doing so! “I'm not perfect. But there most be something in me, some choice, some decision on my part however weak and small, that made me different than those who are still unbelievers. Otherwise God's ways would make no sense. There's much about God I don't understand but I should be able to make sense of this at least.” Do you see the lingering pride that infects that thinking. That isn't an empty hand, a beggar's hand, rather it's trying to offer a little something in exchange for salvation.

But faith simply receives God's promise without trying to rationalize why he's doing this for me. God gives freely to the undeserving. That's why Elisha refused to receive any gift from Naaman. He wanted Naaman to continue to believe that God gives freely, graciously, at no charge. And so also for you and me, the only proper response to God's great gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, is for us to receive them by faith alone. Never even imagining that our thanks or gratitude is a way of repaying God.

Faith is truly the first response of thanks that we give to God, before any words or actions on our part. If someone gives you a grand gift and you try to “thank” them by offering to pay for it, isn't that an insult, the opposite of true thankfulness?

Now the Father sent his Son and gave him as the Savior we sinners desperately need. The Son, Jesus Christ, offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins in our place to turn God's anger away from us and reconcile us to God through his blood. The Holy Spirit has washed you clean in Baptism and made you alive in Christ so that you are heirs of heaven through faith in Jesus. Such great gifts, free gifts! Receive them by faith alone, with the empty hand of a beggar, without imagining that our words or works of thanks are given in exchange for them.

This is the second lesson to take home, the first flower of thankfulness springing from our heart is faith, which has abandoned all claims to our own pride, work, effort, or choice, but rather freely receives the greatest gifts God gives, namely forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in heaven. We thank God by believing his promises.

C. In actions

But such faith is a living, busy, active, powerful thing. Faith takes action, which brings us to third part as we see Naaman's faith taking action desiring to show his thankfulness to the Lord, the God of Israel.

After Elisha refused the lavish gifts, Naaman responds, “‘If you will not,’ said Naaman, ‘please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD’” (2 Kings 5:17 NIV84).

Moving dirt might strike us as a strange response, but look at what Naaman is aiming at. He wants his actions to clearly show that he is worshiping no other God but the Lord, the God of Israel. He is not worshiping Rimmon, whom his king worshiped, or any other god. He is worshiping the Lord, Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who keeps his promises, who sends the only Savior, who alone rescues from death and damnation.

And back in that time when gods where often associated with this land or that land, taking Israel's soil would remind him of whom he worshiped and also confess to all his friends and neighbors that he was worshiping the Lord, the God of Israel.

So also, dear Christian friends, thank the Lord your God by choosing your actions and making your decisions in a way that shows you are confessing the Lord alone as your God and Savior. Let your actions show that your God, Jesus Christ, is more important than health or wealth, than family or friends, than job or recreation, than entertainment or relaxation. Let your actions clearly show that you do not spend your life in pursuit of those things as if they were worthy of your worship. Rather your Savior Jesus Christ reigns in your heart and governs all your actions. What a way to thank him this Thanksgiving and always.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313