Monday, October 7, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 20: "It's All about Forgiveness"

+ Pentecost 20 – October 6, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, proper 22: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of my Grandma Schuldheisz’ soup recipes: a few fresh vegetables here, miscellaneous spices there - and don’t forget the leftovers from the freezer.  “How’s all that going fit together?” I remember asking. But it always did and it was always delicious.
Now, chances are you’re asking the same question today about Luke 17.

What’s Jesus saying and how does it all fit together? First Jesus teaches about sin and how deadly serious it is. Then he teaches about rebuking and forgiving sin, especially forgiving sin. And then the disciples say, “Lord add to our faith” or “increase our faith,” depending on your translation. To which Jesus says some rather bizarre things about mulberry bushes and mustard seeds.

Finally, he concludes the whole thing by telling the apostles a mini parable on service in the Kingdom of God and how those called by Christ to speak his Word are simply unworthy servants, doing what he has asked us to do.
It seems like St. Luke took a bunch of miscellaneous ingredients that he didn’t know what else to do with and threw it together.
Well, I submit to you that the main ingredient or way of understanding it all is this: It’s all about forgiveness. 

Jesus says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come”; they’re inevitable. “Sin happens.” And it’s deadly. It would be better if a huge millstone were hung around our necks and we were thrown Godfather-style into the ocean than if we were to cause someone to sin.
Our sin needs rebuking. It's deadly serious. But more importantly, our sin needs forgiving.

“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.”
Did you catch that? You will forgive him. Like St. Paul’s words in Romans 5: “Now the Law came to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What’s greater – your sin or Jesus’ atoning death on the cross that covers your sin? It’s Jesus’ blood, cross, and death – every time. It’s no accident Jesus uses the Biblical number 7 – the same day that creation was completed and called perfect and whole. Or like the disciples ask Jesus, how many times shall I forgiven my brother, “seventy times seven.” Forgiveness without limit. Forgiveness that makes you whole and restores you in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is why Redeemer Lutheran is here in HB. This is why we have a preschool, Bible studies, and weekly confession and absolution – public and private. This is why Baptism is a daily gift. This is why we want to celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar more and more. Because more hearing and more receiving of Jesus’ Word and body and blood means more receiving forgiveness.

These two things – repentance and forgiveness – these are what the church is given to do –all day, every day, every week, every service, in every age at in all places for all people. Rebuke and forgive. Rebuke and forgive. It’s like your shampoo bottles: rinse and repeat.
Then the apostles say, “Lord, Increase our faith.” Or “Add to our faith.” To which Jesus replies, “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.

So, what exactly are the disciples asking here? Are they hearing Jesus’ words about forgiveness saying, “Don’t let us be the stumbling blocks of sin. We don’t have enough faith to forgive for those you’ve called us to care for. Lord, add to our faith.”
If that’s what the disciple are saying, then Jesus is telling them you don’t need a combo-meal, Costco sized faith. Your faith – though hidden and small like a mustard seed - is enough to forgive.

That could be what the disciples are asking Jesus to do.
But when the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith they may have in mind the second part of Jesus’ response: the miraculous, amazing things that faith does. And if the disciples are asking about what faith does, Jesus responds.

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 recline 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? 10 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.’”
If the disciples are asking for more faith because they don’t have enough to do the things Jesus says they should be doing, Jesus’ words are a rebuke. The great things faith does, Jesus says, come from him, from his power and his word, not their faith. The great works that faith does for others is not ours but Christ’s. Faith is God’s work not ours.

We don’t run around with a faith-o-meter in our chests that must be turned from lukewarm to hot, high voltage sanctification over the course of our life. We’re not saved by our faith reading or spiritual levels, or even our morality index. All of those – as Jesus warns the disciples – are stumbling blocks to sin and salvation by works.

Rather, the Christian faith works this way: faith is not self-admiration. It is the opposite, the total death of ourselves. Our Christian faith isn’t an endless refinement of our spiritual gas, but trusting this message: “the righteous shall live by faith.” That righteousness given you by the grace of Jesus who abolished death and brought light and immortality to light through the Gospel.
So when we’ve done anything good we simply respond, “We are unworthy servants and we’ve only done what is our duty.” In other words, we don’t do good works to get applause from Jesus. St. Paul said it this way in speaking about the Pastoral Office to which he and Timothy were called: “God saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace…”

“Well, which is it?” we ask. What is Jesus telling us – even a little faith is enough or we don’t have enough faith? I happen to think it’s both.
You see, to be a disciple of Jesus isn’t to ask for the faith to work the kinds of miracles Jesus did or to look at your faith and say, “Wow, that’s impressive. What a good Christian I am.” It is rather to have faith in the miracles worked by Christ. So, the disciples and we do not need more faith in order to do wondrous things. Christ’s gift of faith given to you by water, word, and Spirit is enough. Jesus gives us faith and trust in Him both to receive and to give out his greatest miracle, which is the forgiveness of sin.

Jesus takes the mulberry tree of our sin, a tree whose roots are firmly planted in each one of us, and he plunges it into the heart of the sea. In his death Jesus cast himself into the depths of our iniquity to rescue us. Jesus drowned himself in our sin and death in order to pour out the forgiveness of sins upon you in Baptism. All of your sin – your boasting in your own faith and your lack of faith – it sinks to the bottom of the font quicker than a millstone. Jesus took that millstone that was around your neck and threw it around his own for you. Christ uproots your sin and plants you in the cross, your tree of life.
This is why Jesus sends pastors  - just as he sent disciples and apostles - through whom He works His great yet hidden miracle of forgiving sin. We’re called to baptize, preach, teach, absolve, visit the sick, and administered the Lord’s Supper – and all we can really is: “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what is our Lord has called us to do.”

So it is for you in your vocations. You’re called to show mercy and share the Gospel. And when you do so, you have simply done what is your duty. For the Christian economy works this way: we live by faith in the Lord who saves and gives without thought of recompense and we live in faithful service to the neighbor without thought of reward.
Nowhere is there a better picture of Christ’s undeserved love for unworthy servants than here at the Lord’s Table. Here, the Master becomes the Servant. The Giver of daily bread is your daily bread. The Lord of life gives his own life to you. At this table, Jesus prepares the supper for you. Jesus dresses you in the proper Baptismal garments and serves you His enfleshed forgiveness. Jesus fulfills his very own words. Come at once and sit at my Table. Take, eat; this is My body. Take, drink; this is My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Here, unworthy servants are forgiven. And that’s the greatest miracle of all.

Forgiveness isn’t just one of many reasons why this church and school is here; it’s the only reason. Everything we say and do around here is so that Jesus’ forgiveness is proclaimed, heard, received, and trusted – for us and for all.
This reading, this church, this Christian life – it’s all about forgiveness for you in Christ Crucified.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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