Message Delivered at Church of the Cross
Sunday, October 2, 2016
TEXTS: II Timothy 1:1-6; Luke 17:1-10
Let’s do some Bible this morning…
We’re going to read Luke 17:1-10 in just a moment. Here’s some background:
First, you’ll notice we’ve been reading from Luke a lot in worship over the last little while. That’s because in our tradition we spend a year with Matthew; a year with Mark; and a year with Luke. And right now, we’re in the “Luke year.” We read from John, incidentally, during each of the three years.
And we talked more about this during the summer, but I just want to remind us that Luke organizes his story of Jesus around Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The entire middle of the gospel…and we’re still in the middle of Luke’s gospel…is Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
Secondly, the story we’re hearing today comes directly after the story we heard last week. Last week we heard the parable of Lazarus and the rich man…some really challenging words about how God turns everything upside down, and that the life of discipleship is a life of sharing. What we’re reading today comes immediately after that story.
So that’s a little background. Let’s see what Jesus is teaching us this morning…
Jesus said to his disciples, “Causes of stumbling are bound to arise; but woe betide the person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Keep watch on yourselves.
“If your brother or sister wrongs you, reprove them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they wrong you seven times in a day and come back to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you are to forgive them.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith;” and the Lord replied, “If you had faith no bigger even than a mustard-seed, you could say to this mulberry-tree, ‘Be rooted up and replanted in the sea’; and it would at once obey you.
“Suppose one of you has a servant ploughing or minding sheep. When he comes back from the fields, will the master say, ‘Come along at once and sit down?’ Will he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, fasten your belt, and then wait on me while I have my meal; you can have yours afterwards?’ Is he grateful to the servant for carrying out his orders? So with you: when you have carried out all your orders, you should say, ‘We are servants and deserve no credit; we have only done our duty.’”
We know that one of the earliest nicknames for the Church…the community of people gathered around Jesus…was “the Way.” It’s in Acts. And that word can be taken in different ways. A “way” is another name for a road. Jesus is on the road/way; so we’re on the road/way. And we also speak of a “way of life,” by which we mean a pattern for living…certain practices, habits, customs, attitudes that characterize our daily life.
Some of the elements to our way of life we enter into intentionally; on purpose. Some elements to our way of life are just our default mode; things we do or say without paying any attention at all. Some elements to our way of life are good things…they bless us and others; and some elements might not be so good. But all of us have a “way of life.”
So here…because Jesus loves us so deeply…and has such hopes for what is possible for those who love him…and because his vision for those who love him is so broad and deep…immediately after that difficult teaching about money and wealth and salvation we heard last week…Jesus talks with his disciples about the Way…a different way…a new way of being…a new way of living…a new way of life Jesus is trying to make happen…
He does so by painting a picture in four parts:
First, Jesus has mercy; and he just names that there’s going to be stumbling along the Way. It’s going to happen. It’s not always going to be easy to walk the path. There’s going to be stuff that comes up, and we’re going trip from time-to-time. That ain’t a big deal. It’s like that. Things happen.
But may we be careful that we don’t cause another to stumble. That’s a bigger deal…when we do something or say something that would make another fall. According to Jesus, we apparently have that kind of power. And “little ones” here does not mean children. “Little ones” means us; that’s a phrase Jesus uses for his followers…the little ones. We’re the little ones.
It seems, the Lord is suggesting, that in the community of Jesus-followers we have a responsibility to one another. It is a mutual responsibility. We’re not separate. We’re not isolated. We’re not just at our “own thing.” No matter how much we tell ourselves those things, we’re not. We’re connected. We’re related. We have influence on one another. What we do has an affect…for good or for ill…on our fellow “little ones.”
My faith does not belong solely to me. It also touches you. How I live has a bearing not just on me, but on you. I’m not the only one affected by how I walk the Way. In my prayers; in my giving; in my service; in my worship; in the way I respond to strangers; in the way I treat those closest to me; in the way I am towards those who fall between those two extremes; in the way I do my daily work; in what I put on my Facebook page…those actions have an impact not just on the formation of my own soul, but on the formation of yours; and ours as a community.
It’s a shared life we’ve been given in the community of Jesus-followers…one of joy, and hope, and peace. And also, one of responsibility, and accountability for how we nurture the people we are part of.
So we best pay attention; practice vigilance; and keep a watch on ourselves.
And learn and practice forgiveness….
In this life together, we’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to do things that are hurtful…sometimes because we’re careless or thoughtless; sometimes because we’re afraid; and sometimes, even, the worse angels of our nature grab hold of us and we do hurtful things knowing they are hurtful. Inevitably…because we are connected to one another…we will give another a reason to stumble.
And so…we forgive; and, as necessary, we repent and seek forgiveness. That’s part of our way of life.
Now if we were completely to unpack forgiveness this morning we’d never get to the after worship teaching; or blessing any animals this afternoon; and you wouldn’t get home until the fourth quarter of the game…tonight’s game. And the preacher would certainly need to seek your forgiveness, for he would have definitely talked too long.
So let me just say this…Jesus never says “here are seven easy steps to forgive someone.” He doesn’t really give us a “how to” when it comes to forgiveness. He just says that forgiveness is a fundamental element to living the way of life to which his people are called. So we keep at it…even up to seven times a day, if we need to; which we might need to do because sometimes we have to forgive people that many times for it to stick…not for them, but for us.
…and we seek forgiveness when that is asked of us. When you have hurt me, I am to forgive you. And when I have hurt you, I am to repent; and make amends; and do what I can to stitch the relationship back together and make things right. And if the words “I’m sorry” don’t accomplish that, then I have more work to do to make it right.
From time to time, if we have entered into any kind of relationship at all, we’re going to do stuff that makes things not right. But his vision for this new way of life is that when that happens, it doesn’t stay that way. We don’t cut off. We forgive, and make amends, and keep moving towards one another, and seek reconciliation.
Which is not easy…either part of it…it’s not easy to apologize; and it’s not easy to forgive.
So it is not a surprise that this is the place where the apostles shout out “Increase our faith!” Because if that’s what we have to do, we’re going to need more faith! “Give us a little more faith, Jesus, and we’ll do exactly as you say!” A little bit more faith, they’re thinking, and they could do it. So maybe…Jesus could fix it; and boost their spiritual mojo. That’s the ticket!
And I guess he could have gone “Shazam,” and made a faith deposit into their souls. But actually, he has a different lesson to teach us…
As much as Jesus loves us, I think he grows a bit impatient with us when we spend too much time in the “not enough” places of life. When we start going all “Eeyore,” and bemoaning what’s not…”I’m not this enough; I’m not that enough; there’s not enough this; there’s not enough that; it’s too hard; it will never work.” I just don’t think Jesus looks at us in a “not enough” way.
I think when we start going all “not enough”…like here…he says “enough!”
The grammar here is something called a present real conditional clause. And to give words to that construction, here’s what it sounds like: It’s Jesus saying “If you had faith no bigger than this mustard-seed…and you do…you could say to this mulberry-tree…”
That’s the language he’s using. He’s saying to them…you have the faith; you have enough trust in me to live this way of life. You got what you need. Might not be as much faith as you think you need, but it’s what I’ve given you; and it’s enough.
Their problem isn’t that they need more faith. They just need to make use of the faith they already have. You got enough, he tells them, now make use of it…not to move a mulberry-tree. We don’t need faith for that. A backhoe will do. As someone wiser than me has said about these words, he’s not affirming their faith so they can move mulberry-trees. He’s affirming it so that their faith will move them…that our “enough” faith will move us.
And so he finishes…the fourth part…by telling a story…of a servant…a slave…who when his master comes home…does exactly what he is supposed to do…obeys the command of the master; and whose virtue is that they don’t expect the master to praise them simply because they’ve been obedient.
Obedience. That’s part of this new way of life.
Now “obedience” is a thorny word; even a dangerous word. There is, sadly, a long legacy of justifying all sorts of unseemly, even disastrous, behavior behind the mantle of “obedience.”
But may we remember that the origin of the word “obey” is the Latin “oboedire;” the prefix “ob” meaning “to;” and the verb “audire” meaning “to listen.” And that’s what Jesus is talking about. That’s what it means to be an obedient servant…to listen.
So…shall we listen…?
A shared life, with mutual responsibility.
Seek reconciliation, staying connected, and seeking and giving forgiveness.
Trust…which is what faith is…with the conviction that however much faith we’ve been given is enough to move us.
And we listen…to God, to our neighborhoods, to one another.
Shared life; seeking reconciliation; trusting; and listening…a small picture of God’s beloved people.
See it? See the picture Jesus is painting for us? It’s not the whole picture…more like a miniature than a full-blown canvass. It’s just the beginning of the road.
But it gives a taste of the depth of Christ’s love; what Jesus envisions for his people; what he believes is possible for those who seek him; what Jesus is trying to make happen right here among us in this cafeteria, and wherever we’re going to be today and this week; and the divine love that is all around us, that God is revealing and we get to discover; and why he has called us together from our different places, different lives, and different circumstances.
We are a brand new people. We are just getting started. We are still very much in formation. We’re not done. There is more before us than we can imagine, and we’re going to be here a very long time. And I remind us…God has had the ECC in mind since before the Creation. These are exciting times. This…this picture Jesus paints…is the good life; this is the good Way; this is the godly path of revelation and discovery.
So we walk…are on the Way…not with the spirit of cowardice, as the Apostle writes, but in the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline; and with the full assurance that God has given, and will continue to give, maybe not everything we want—because who of us gets everything we want—but certainly enough of what we need to shine his light and reveal his love…
…for God’s sake, because God has asked us and called us.
…for the sake of our neighborhoods, filled with people who are already loving God in their own way and really want to know God loves them.
…and for ourselves, because it is who God is making us to be.
This week’s questions…
- How have you been affected by the faith of others?
- How is God calling you to forgive? To seek forgiveness?
- How may we claim this week the “enough” faith we have already been given?
- How shall we listen?