Thanks but no Thanks
18th Sunday After Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ Common and polite etiquette taught to us by our parents; in my case, my mother. When my mother wasn’t around my two older sisters took up the mantle of forming my manners. Part of the etiquette was to say ‘No thank you’ to politely reject an offer as a plain ‘No’ was considered rude.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” is a term commonly used in a situation where one person offers another some form of help and the intended receiver of the help courteously declines. However, this phrase is often taken as a rebuff or insult to the person offering help. Maybe it is not what is said but the way it is said that causes the offense. Maybe the phrase has been used so often that it has taken the meaning of “I don’t want anything from you.”
It is an awkward situation when, out of the kindness and good will of someone offering help to a fellow human being, that person is rejected. It doesn’t make sense for a person in need of help to decline it when freely offered.
How many times have you offered help to someone and they told you they don’t need help; even when it is clearly evident that they do need help? Why do they refuse? The reason is our sinful nature. Now you may be thinking, “Why does this man think everything that is wrong with the world today always come down to sin?” And my answer would be, because sin is what is wrong with the world today in every aspect of human life.
Ask yourself why someone would reject help that is clearly needed. Usually the person in need is suspicious of the person offering help. “Why does this person want to help me? What does he want from me? What’s the catch?” We have become so ingrained with our own selfishness that we see only selfishness in others. If anyone acts contrary to the “me first” attitude, we become leery.
In the narrative of Ruth and Naomi, we see a strange form of the “Thanks, but no thanks.” attitude. Naomi was a widow past the age of child-bearing. Through tragic circumstances, both of her daughters-in-law were also widows. Remember this all happens in 1294 B.C. when women were not able to own property or a business. Women were second class citizens who were reliant on men for their welfare.
The Jewish law stated that when a married man died, his brother was to marry the widow or at least take her into his home (if he was already married) and provide for her. More often than not, the widow would become like a servant in his household. This is why Naomi told Ruth and Orpah to return to their mother’s household. She knew they would have shelter & food and would be treated better than servants.
Orpah returned to her family’s home but Ruth said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Maybe Ruth didn’t like her family. Maybe she felt sorry for Naomi being alone without any family and wanted to help her. From her own lips, Ruth gives us the reason:
But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.” [Ruth 1:16]
“Your God shall be my God.” Ruth gives Naomi a confession of her faith in the one true God.
Naomi was returning to Bethlehem, “for she had heard… that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread.” [Ruth 1:6] Naomi also had extended family in Bethlehem so she was doing exactly what she bade her daughters to do, which was to return to her family in order to survive. It would be difficult enough for Naomi, but Ruth would be considered a foreigner or outsider.
Because of her faithfulness to God and Naomi, Ruth received an additional blessing from God. Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s husband redeemed Ruth as a member of his family, restoring the land of Naomi and giving them a home.
But God did not stop there. Jesus Christ was born of Mary and Joseph. Both were from the lineage of David, who was born from Jesse. Jesse was the son of Obed and Obed was the son of Boaz and Ruth. A widowed foreigner from the land of Moab, who confessed God as her Lord, was blessed by her faith.
Let us move forward some 1300 years. Jesus now walks the earth as a human being and as the one true God. His ministry has been ongoing for some time. He has healed the sick and the lame. He has been teaching in the synagogues with all authority of God. He now heads to Jerusalem where he will eventually be crucified.
Jesus and his disciples travel along the border between Samaria and Galilee. Samaria is between Galilee and Judea. Jerusalem is in Judea, and to go around Samaria, they would have to cross the Jordan River. Word of mouth has spread the news of Jesus’ work and ministry in Galilee so it is no surprise that the lepers he meets call him by name.
Jesus shows his power over our sinful human condition by healing the 10 lepers. They leave his presence as instructed, in order to have the high priests declare them healthy and clean, cured of their disease. By doing so, they would be able to return to society.
However, one of the men returns to the feet of Jesus to give thanks and glorify his name. One man returned to say “Thanks!” while 9 others gave no thanks at all. Thanks, but no thanks. A gift freely given, a gift of more than food or clothing, a gift of not only healing but of complete restoration to health, was shrugged aside without a thought. No wonder Jesus made the incredulous remark, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” [Luke 17:18]
The unclean aspect of our lives is apparent every day. No matter how we dress, no matter how much money we have, we are still infected with sin. We cannot cure ourselves. We cannot cleanse ourselves of our iniquities. We are cast away from the presence of God because of our sin. We are foreigners in God’s sight. Yet like Ruth, who turned away from her culture’s gods and confessed the one true God as Lord, and like the leper who fell on his face at Jesus’ feet giving him thanks and praise, we are given an additional blessing of faith.
This faith is given to us by Christ himself in our Baptism. Through the Holy Spirit, the faith of Christ dwells within us. Jesus Christ was crucified in propitiation for our transgressions. His body and blood were given in sacrifice to God for our redemption. Through our baptism in the water and the Word, we are baptized into that same death. Jesus Christ defeated all sin and the final conclusion of sin, death, with his resurrection into life. Through our baptism in the water and the Word, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness and will not die but live eternally.
All that God provides for us is by His mercy and grace. Like Ruth and Naomi, He will give us our daily bread even if we are outcasts and foreigners. He gives us a new family – His family – to be with us and take care of us. Through the body and blood of His Son, in, with and under the bread and wine at this altar, He cleanses us of our sin. Most importantly, he gives us the faith of His Son, an additional blessing, so that we can rise and go His way. As the Apostle Paul told Timothy:
“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.” [2 Timothy 2:11-13]
It would be surprising to be offered such a gift and say, ‘No Thanks’, yet many people do. It is remarkable that many people who have received this gift do not share it with their neighbors. Maybe we are afraid that we will be rejected by our neighbor when they reject this gift of life from God, but it is the command of the one who has redeemed us to continually offer up this gift to everyone. Just as you were called into the body of Christ and given life in his kingdom, give these words of life so that others may live.
For our salvation from death, for our freedom from the bonds of sin, and for our life eternal in His kingdom we can give ‘Thanks’ or ‘No thanks’.
I urge you to fall at Jesus’ feet and give him ‘Thanks’ so that you “also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” [2 Timothy 2:10b]