There are some things we simply must do for ourselves; Luke 17:5-10

A sermon delivered October 2, 2022, by Patrick H Wrisley, D.Min.

This morning is world communion Sunday. It’s a day the catholic, i.e. universal church pauses to remember it does not operate in an isolated vacuum. Today Christians of all types from around the world cease talking about their differences with other Christian faiths and come together and share communion celebrating our common family DNA and genealogical ties to Jesus. We meet each other at the common space we share called the communion table.

Communion, particularly worldwide communion, is all about relationships. God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God, and our relationship with one another. Our scripture text today comes from the Gospel of Luke. It’s a text that highlights these three interconnected relationships.

As I stuck my hands into the mud of this scripture, I quickly discovered that Luke 17:1-10 are not four disparate, non-related stories but are instead woven together to highlight these three relationships of God with us, of us with God, and each of us with one another. So, although the lectionary directs us to look at verses 5-10, we are going to look at the whole unit of these four teachings Jesus provides. It will help the lectionary text make more sense.

Before hearing the scripture, I want to remind you that Jesus is once again using the rhetorical technique of hyperbole in order to get his point across. He is exaggerating in each of these teachings to get his point across to even the most clueless of his followers. Hear the Word of the Lord beginning with 17:1.

Luke 17:5-10

17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for sin are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck, and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If a brother or sister sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me; put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”[1]

Don’t be the source of someone’s moral failure.

Our well of forgiving another person is bottomless.

To these two commands, the disciples throw up their hands and exclaim, “Jesus! Increase our faith!” To which Jesus replies, for all practical purposes, “You’ve got all the faith you need, just obediently get about using it.”

Our passage this morning is about God’s relationship with us. Jesus is asking you and me to stop and understand that God is not asking us to do anything God has not already done for us which is God actively blessing and forgiving us.

Our passage this morning is about our relationship with God in that we are called to be obedient and live the life we are directed to live, not because we will get any special spiritual perks, but solely because we are fortunate enough to be a part of the family and covenant people of God.

Our passage this morning is about our relationships with one another and how we are not to be one of those people, one of “those Christian hypocrites” that says one thing but acts in a totally different way altogether. We are to help one another walk a smooth spiritual path and not lead people down trails where they will stumble and fall. These are relationships with other people we don’t like, agree with, understand, or even tolerate and yet we are to open up our wells of forgiveness and grace to them as God has opened up the heavenly wellspring of grace and forgiveness to us.

The disciples cried, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus replies, “Put some feet under your convictions and live obedient lives listening to the voice of the Holy One.”  It’s right here we are to pause and understand a person of faith is not a person who achieves of destination – I’ve arrived at faith! No, faith is a life-long journey where we are daily exercising our belief through obedience to God.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is demonstrated when we forgive those people in our lives who have caused us much hurt and pain. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. I cannot forget the incidences of abuse I suffered in my younger years, but I can unhook myself from them. The word Jesus uses for forgiveness in our text literally means to let go, to send away. It’s the same word used for a couple divorcing one another. The pains of repeated insults and abuse a person may experience cannot be forgotten; those scars become a part of who we are. We can, however, choose to put the feelings of hate, animosity, and revenge down and walk away from them. We can consciously let them go and divorce, separate ourselves from their toxicity.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is committing to daily waking up and living a life God expects of us as we build and work towards a loving relationship with our neighbor.

Faith the size of a mustard seed is when a person continues to press ahead even though he or she does all the right things, lives a good, decent life, and tries to follow the Lord but feels their prayers are going unanswered.

Faith is a noun but putting faith to work means living out one’s steadfast belief. Believing is a verb and it’s a word that has feet under it! The late Southern author Flannery O’Conner, in her short story, “The Habit of Being,”  writes, “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.  It’s much harder to believe than not to believe.  If you feel you can’t believe it, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”[2] 

Beloved, faith is a loving, generous gift from God given to us. But hear this: God cannot use our gift of faith for us; no, we have to exercise and practice that faith both as a community known as the Church and individually in the manner in which we live. Faith is a gift given to us for our relationships with God and others. There are some actions in our life we simply have to do ourselves; no one can do them for us.

But how? How, Jesus?

And Jesus replies, “Take, eat. This is my body which if broken and shared with you. Take, drink. This is the cup of the new covenant of sacrificial love and forgiveness given for you. This table is nourishment for the life-long journey ahead where we discover faith by simply living out the life we are called to live. In the Name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. So let it be.

© 2022 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.

[1]Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition. Copyright © 2021 National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[2]  As quoted in For All the Saints. A Prayer Book for and By the Church, Volume III: Year 2, Advent to the Day of Pentecost by Frederick Schumacher with Dorothy A. Zelenko (Dehli, NY: The American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, 2006), 963.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Contemplative Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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