Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Sin, Faith, Duty - October 6, 2013 - Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22) - Text: Luke 17:1-10
It is Jesus who comes looking for us, finding us, giving us faith, forgiveness and life. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, especially through His Word and through our Baptism, who has brought us to faith and who works in us to do the good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do. So, what? We are Christians. We attend Divine Service on Sunday mornings, at least on some Sunday mornings. We confess our sins and hear those most beautiful words, “your sins are forgiven.” So, what more needs to be done?
In our text for today, Jesus warns the disciples and us about temptation and sin. Yes, we may be Christians, God may have called us to faith, but there is still temptation and sin in this world and temptation and sin will abound, at least until Christ comes again. About sin, Jesus tell us that sin comes, but it is worse for the one through whom sin comes, in other words, to be tempted is one thing, but to do the tempting is another. As Christians, we realize that we have the freedom of the Gospel. We are free from the constraints of the Law, at least the ceremonial law, we know that Jesus has already paid the price for all our sins, even and including those sins which we have yet to commit, however, that does not give us the freedom to sin, even to sin boldly. Instead, we have the opportunity to do good. We have the opportunity to model our faith so that others might see our example and want to be a part of our heavenly family as well.
Temptation abounds in our world, thus, sin happens. I have always appreciated the saying that we are to rejoice in our suffering and even in our times of temptation. It is our temptation which gives us confidence that we are saved. Think about it this way, why would the devil waste his time tempting those he already has? No, he spends his time tempting those of us he does not have. Yes, temptation and sin abound in this world and there is only one person who was ever able to completely overcome that temptation and sin and that was Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, Jesus was sinless and all through His life, all through His suffering, and all through His death, He never sinned. But not only did He not sin, He took our sins upon Himself in order to pay the price for our sins, for us. And what is more, as we read in our text, He gives us instruction in dealing with each other.
Speaking to His disciples, Jesus says, 1. . . “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It 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. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (v. 1b-4).
Jesus tells us that it really does not matter who sins, you or your brother, with Him there is forgiveness. Not only is there forgiveness, there is also no lack of forgiveness. Yes, we are our brothers, our sisters, keepers. We are to, in love, rebuke our fellow Christians when they sin. We do this, not in any mean way, but a loving way, in order to get them to see their need to repent, lest they remain in their sins and are eternally condemned.
Jesus is speaking to His disciples and to us about sin and forgiveness. The disciples understood, all too well, the difficulty of the things about which Jesus is speaking. Perhaps we might understand the difficulty as well and so we might, with the disciples ask for God’s help. The disciples asked for help in the request of an increase in faith. We pick up at verse five, “5The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (v. 5). You know, sinning is an easy thing. We do it naturally. Sin is a part of our nature. We do not even need to practice it comes so easily. Forgiveness, on the other hand is a difficult thing. It is difficult, sometimes even seemingly impossible to forgive others, especially those who have personally sinned against us. And so the disciples ask for increased faith. And so, perhaps we to will ask for an increase in faith.
Jesus says, “If you had 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” (v. 6). Do you know how big a mustard seed is? It is very tiny, one of the smallest seeds. Yet, a faith as small as a mustard seed gives the ability to move trees. Just think how small our saving faith must need to be. I wish I could come up with some good news here, but all I can think of is that if faith of a mustard seed gives one the ability to move trees, and I have not seen any trees moving, our faith must be pretty small. Perhaps we might do well in praying for an increase in faith for ourselves and for others.
Here let me also remind you that our God is a God whose usual way of working with us is through means, and namely that He works with us through the means of Grace. As we pray for an increase in faith we will, at the same time, be motivated, by the Holy Spirit, to make more regular and diligent use of the means of grace, reading our Bible, remembering our Baptism, coming to confession and hearing those most beautiful words of absolution, “Your sins are forgiven,” and coming to the Lord’s Supper, so that through these means our Lord will increase our faith. Remember, we are Word and Sacrament believers. We believe that our Lord comes to us through means, namely through the means of His Word, read and heard; Holy Baptism and as we remember our Baptism; confession and absolution, that as we hear those words, “Your sins are forgiven,” we know that our sins are forgiven; and the Lord’s Supper. And just as we would not limit ourselves in our ability to shop at different grocery stores for our physical food, so we would not want to limit ourselves to the means through which our Lord comes to give us His spiritual food, but will make regular and diligent, every Sunday and every day use of His means of grace.
But, with an increase of faith comes an increase in responsibility. Here Jesus speaks about duty. Jesus uses the illustration of a servant and a master. We pick up at verse seven of our text, 7“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’? 8Will 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’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (v. 7-9). The servant does not gain special favors simply for doing what he is supposed to be doing. Likewise, we do not deserve any special favors from our Lord for simply doing what is our God-given, Christian duty and responsibility, or as I would rather put it, our privilege to be doing. An increase in faith leaves no room for us to think more highly of ourselves, rather it makes us more responsible, even more accountable for exercising our faith, doing the good works which God has for us to do.
Likewise, getting back to Jesus’ illustration, the servant who is doing his job does not earn any special merit or favors from his master. The master does not thank the servant for doing what he is supposed to be doing. As the Lord, working through the means of grace, strengthens us and gives us an increase of faith, that does not mean that God owes us anything else. Perhaps we need to be reminded that it is actually God who has done, does and continues to do everything for us in the first place, in the second place, in the third place and so on. There is a distinct difference between what God does and what we do. It is God who created us so that He might love us. It is we who rebelled against Him and who continue to rebel against Him. It is God who sent His Only Son, Jesus to be born as one of us, one with us, one like us, except without sin. It is we who continue to refuse and reject His gifts and we do that when we fail to make regular and diligent use of His gifts. It is Jesus who came to seek and to save the lost, us included. It is we who are lost and must be found by Him. It is Jesus who came to serve and to offer Himself as a sacrifice, once for all, for us. It is the Holy Spirit who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. Everything we do serves to fight against God and at the same time every good and perfect gift is God’s work in us, for us and through us. Thus, as we are given an increase of faith, our attitude will remain a humble attitude, an attitude that we are unworthy, because we are only doing what we ought to be doing. We should not and do not expect God to give us a pat on the back simply for doing what we are supposed to be doing.
Okay, so what? The “so what” is this, yes, we live in a world where temptation and sin abound, but that does not give us the right or the excuse to sin. Just because we live in a world of sin does not give me us the excuse, “but pastor, we live in the Twenty-first century,” as if, just because the world has become more and more tolerant of sin, that we, as Christians, are to do the same. Yes, we live in this world, but we are not of this world. Christ calls us to live counter to the world. Christ calls us to live lives of faith. Christ calls us to show forth our faith through our lives.
As Christians, as people of faith, faith given to us, it is our privilege, it is our responsibility, it is our duty, it is our joy, to live our lives in such a way that we show what it means to be a Christian. We do this as we are privileged to forgive as our Lord has forgiven us. We do this as we are privileged to model the Christian faith through our lives, as Jesus showed us how to live while He was here on this earth, and as He continues to tell us in His Word. We do this as we are privileged to share our faith, to tell others, especially those who do not know Him, the good news of Jesus and His love, and especially as we invite them to hear His Word in Divine Service.
As Christians, as people of faith, we also have the privilege of prayer. We are able to pray for an increase of faith and to thank Him for that increase. We also have the privilege to pray that along with an increase of faith we might also be strengthened in our ability to be responsible with our lives and our faith life.
Jesus’ words in verse ten summarize it well, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:10). After all is said and done, we believe and confess that it is the Lord who gives all and we who are given to. God gives us life at conception. He has earned forgiveness for us, paying the price for our sins on the cross. He gives us new life through His Word and Holy Baptism. He sends His Holy Spirit to strengthen and keep us in faith through the means which He has given us, His means of grace, the Bible, confession and absolution and His Sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And it is our privilege to respond by living our lives, with His help, in such a way that we give glory to our great God. Yes, to Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.