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19th Sunday After Pentecost PDF Print E-mail

TEXT: LUKE 17:1-10
Rev. Kenneth Wieting

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord…Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, when you have done all that you were commanded say, “We are unworthy servants’ we have only done what was our duty.”

I have been pulled over by a police officer twice in my life.  The first time the officer did not say – “good job” with that 25 mph speed limit.  The second time, the officer did not say “nice job” in making a left turn as that stop light was changing from yellow to red.  Police officers don’t generally praise you for obeying the law.  They expect people to do their duty in driving on our roads.  If they pull you over for a personal conversation it is usually not to say “well done good driver, you’re doing excellent work.”

We also expect people to do their duty in our lives according to the law – at work – in the store – in the classroom – at home – in the dorm – in a restaurant - in the church.  That which receives our comment is not always the things done right.  Nonetheless, we may inwardly crave expressed appreciation for what we do right.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards and Secretaries Week are modern day additions in the recognition category.  Teacher Appreciation days’ and Employee of the Week awards are also well known.  But Jesus directs our thoughts differently toward God.  It is not Jesus’ intention to picture God as a hard-hearted master with no feelings.  It is Jesus’ intent to strip us of any false hope, including trust in ourselves.  Being a pretty good Christian or a pretty good pastor won’t suffice on Judgment Day.

He said to his disciples “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!  It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.  These “little ones” are believers in Christ – Christians.  The “woe” Jesus spoke to His disciples is the same “woe” He spoke at His betrayal at the Last Supper.  It is the most serious warning He can give!  Jesus here puts you on notice – as He does me – for temptations to sin are sure to come.

But woe to you when they come through you! It would be to your advantage to be dropped off a boat into Lake Michigan with a millstone around your neck than with your sin to give a bad witness to Christians.  Take notice, - any impatience,  pride, off – color joking, gossip, despising of God’s Word and Sacraments, greedy pursuit of this world’s things while giving God leftovers – hesitancy to confess Christ – inaccurate witness to the Christian faith - any impediment you cause to another’s faith is on the table here. And another thing - Pay attention to yourselves!  If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’, you must forgive him.  

It is difficult to forgive once or twice.  We easily stew in our own juices and bear a grudge.  Jesus will have none of that.  Forgiveness of sins is the miracle of release that He came to bring.  We are to rebuke sin in others (not ignore it or condone it or gossip about it).  If they repent we are to forgive – again and again.  If you’ve ever said internally – their sin angers me and I’m going to withdraw from their presence and nurse resentment toward them – stop it!  Repent!  If your nose is bent out of shape, if you are isolating yourself in anger, if your heart is poisoned – knock it off!  You have no permission from the Son of God for such childish nonsense.  Pay close attention to yourself.

Jesus addressed his disciples but only the apostles respond.  The apostles said to the Lord, “add to us faith”.  The ESV translation reads “increase our faith” but the literal rendering is add to us faith.  The Apostles recognize that they have a big problem!  They are utterly inadequate to carry out this command.  You must forgive him said the one who brought an ocean of forgiveness into this dying world.  The duty to rebuke sin and to forgive sin in their teaching office was overwhelming and they know it.  They beg Jesus, Add to us faith.

That plea can only be made by those who already have faith.  An unbeliever can’t find Jesus or accept Jesus or pray for faith.  The apostles’ plea is like the man whose son Jesus healed who said, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  It is also true that at this point in His ministry no one yet understood what Jesus would accomplish in His sacrificial death and resurrection.  And the Lord said, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  The better reading here also is not “If you had faith”, but “If you have faith.”

By this parable Jesus reveals that faith does accomplish the great matter of forgiveness of sins.  While this parable is often wrongly applied to a host of things (like the phrase – nothing is impossible with God), the context anchors it squarely in rebuking and forgiving sin.  If your brother sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”  Jesus’ point is that in Him they have the faith needed for such a miracle as forgiving seven times and even 77 times.  God has not commanded you to uproot a mulberry tree.  God has commanded you to rebuke sin and to forgive sin.  Like a mustard seed, the faith God gives them and you, conceals the great power of forgiving sins.

Jesus continued “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down at table’?  Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that your were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants, we have only done what was our duty.

The apostles were sent out as workers into His vineyard.  They tended His sheep in the field of the world.  They were not worthy of the apostolic office to which He called them but it was the duty He gave them.  They had no sufficiency in themselves, but as stewards of the fruits of His cross, they would do miracles!  Through His authority they would absolve sin and throw it into the depths of the sea.  If they did all perfectly (kept the law in their lives and work) they could only say, what we ought to have done, we have done!  They couldn’t claim credit or thanks or praise from the Master.

Fellow redeemed, this goes against smart business practice in this dying world.  It also goes against the deadly reasoning of our Old Adam.  For as we crave thanks and recognition in our earthly duties, so we easily believe that our works for God are “good enough”.  God surely must be pleased for I’m doing “pretty good” as a pastor, as a Christian parent, a Christian student or worker.  What deadly and devilish reasoning! You’re either sinless or you’re not!  Pretty good isn’t good enough before the Holy Trinity!  If you lived a life of perfect witness causing no sinful offense, ever, if you handed over a sincere faith in Christ to those under your authority as Eunice and Lois did to Timothy, it’s what you’re supposed to do.  If you’ve rebuked sin without flaw in this culture of decay, if you’ve forgiven repentant sinners without fail, it’s what you’re supposed to do.  In such a case Jesus says, Does he, (the master) thank the servant because he did what was commanded.

Do you see what a millstone Jesus here hangs around your neck – a huge unmovable one – bearing down with impossible demands?  As a police officer pulls you over to show you your error, so God’s law pulls us over this morning ticketing as deadly thoughts of “pretty good” Christianity.  Must we not all with the apostles therefore say to Jesus, “Add to us faith!”  Add to us faith that appears as small as a mustard seed and yet receives the casting of our sins into the depths of the sea.  In our stations in life, add to us faith that rebukes sin and forgives those who repent again and again and again and again and again and again and again.

Beloved, such faith is not our doing!  Faith does not enable us to stop sinning and reach perfection in this life!  Faith is not something that enables us to serve God pretty good – good enough in fact to receive His praise.  Rather faith believes the condemning truth of God’s law and the comforting truth of God’s freeing and life-giving Gospel.  Faith believes that when Jesus came in from plowing with his Word and tending His sheep in the field of this world, he did the unexpected.  In the upper room, He, the Master, bid the apostles sit down at table.  Instead of saying prepare supper for me and serve me while I eat and drink, He hosted the Last supper for them.  Only then did He go forth to eat (to taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9) and swallow it up forever (Is 25:8)).  Only then did He go forth to drink fully the cup of God’s wrath for our offenses.  

Fellow-redeemed, He who bore the millstone of your sin around His neck has personally – in the flesh – as your substitute - hurled that sin into the depths of the sea.  Temptations to sin came to Him also – for He was tempted in every way as we are – yet without sin.  But not one temptation to sin came through Him.  The most wondrous truth in all the world is that now no condemnation for sin can come through Him to you either.  He was bruised for our iniquities - He was wounded for our transgressions.  By the blood of His cross He brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.  Risen from the grave He has washed you in that blood, clothing you with Himself in Holy Baptism.  Risen from the grave He prepares a banquet for you today saying not “wait on me” but rather “take and eat”, “take and drink” for the forgiveness of sins.

The righteous shall live by his faith Habakkuk prophesied.  By the faith Jesus gives - you are righteous – you are freed to serve God with a clean conscience.  By the faith Jesus gives – you are freed from seeking recognition and credit before God - freed to rejoice at His Word this morning as one who finds great spoil.  By the faith Jesus gives – you are freed to follow the pattern of sound words you hear from Him and His apostles – free to share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.  

The faith Jesus gives you may appear as small as a mustard seed but it receives the casting of your sins into the depths of the sea!  That’s joyful reason to bear witness to others of the hope that you have!  That’s joyful reason to pray for one another and to thank one another in this congregation of God’s people.  In Christ you are not a “pretty good Christian”.  There is no such thing!  In Christ - by His gift of faith - you are His holy child with a holy calling.  Your station in life may appear humble and may include struggle and suffering and sickness and uncertainty, but because Jesus continues to do His duty, your standing before God is secure.  In the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit will guard the good deposit entrusted to you.  In the Name of Jesus, Amen.  


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