17th Sunday after Pentecost: Make mine a combo meal!

First Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

1The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
  and you will not listen?
 Or cry to you “Violence!”
  and you will not save?
3Why do you make me see wrongdoing
  and look at trouble?
 Destruction and violence are before me;
  strife and contention arise.
4So the law becomes slack
  and justice never prevails.
 The wicked surround the righteous—
  therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

2:1I will stand at my watchpost,
  and station myself on the rampart;
 I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
  and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
2Then the Lord answered me and said:
 Write the vision;
  make it plain on tablets,
  so that a runner may read it.
3For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
  it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
 If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
  it will surely come, it will not delay.
4Look at the proud!
  Their spirit is not right in them,
  but the righteous live by their faith.

Psalm: Psalm 37:1-9

1Do not be provoked by evildoers;
  do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2For they shall soon wither like the grass,
  and like the green grass fade away.
3Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
  dwell in the land and find safe pasture.
4Take delight in the Lord,
  who shall give you your heart’s desire.
5Commit your way to the Lord; put your trust in the Lord,
  and see what God will do.
6The Lord will make your vindication as clear as the light
  and the justice of your case like the noonday sun.
7Be still before the Lord and wait patiently.
  Do not be provoked by the one who prospers, the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
8Refrain from anger, leave rage alone;
  do not be provoked; it leads only to evil.
9For evildoers shall be cut off,
  but those who hope in the Lord shall possess the land.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
2To Timothy, my beloved child:
  Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

3I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
8Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Gospel: Luke 17:5-10

calls his disciples to adopt the attitude of servants whose actions are responses to their identity rather than works seeking reward.

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The 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.
7“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’? 8Would 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’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So 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!’ ”

CHILDREN’S SERMON

         I love the story of a little child who spent a lot of time making a boat.  With great pride the boat was set a float in the river.  To the child’s dismay the boat floated away and disappeared.  One day the child saw the boat sitting in the window of a thrift store.  The child immediately ran for his piggy bank and returned and redeemed his beloved creation.  We are God’s beloved creation.  Turn to your neighbor and say, “You are God’s beloved creation!”

Let us pray:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

Our text opens with a request from the disciples to Jesus. “Increase our faith!”  Now where did that request come from?  When I think of requests made of Jesus I think of the disciples asking to be taught to pray probably because they saw the effects of prayer in Jesus’ life.  I think of James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when he comes into his glory.  Probably because they were listening to the parables about the coming kingdom and wanted to be there in the leadership.  I think of the multitudes coming with their sick and broken family and friends.  I think of the father who goes to Jesus after the Mount of Transfiguration for his son, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”  Luke is now shifting from focusing on the parables about the Kingdom of God.  Last week in our text, Jesus drew a “line in the sand.”  There may be gates in the kingdom of this world that we try to work our way through but once we die there is a chasm between Lazarus and the rich man, between those in the bosom of Abraham and those in Hades and that chasm cannot be crossed.  The disciples plea, “Increase our faith!”  They do not want to end up with the rich man in Hades.  Nor do we.

It’s not a matter of size!

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,…”

         The kingdom of this world asks if we want small, medium, or large.  Do we want to supersize or a combo meal?  A house on an acre of land obviously is more valuable than a shack on the wrong side of town.  We believe there should not be areas of poverty in the United States.  We hear the news of protests and bills and know in our gut it is true.  To “downsize” is a sign of aging and signifies loss somewhere in the depths of our soul.  TV evangelists encourage us to lay our hand on the TV while they pray and just believe.  If we just have faith the size of a mustard seed then we could pray in a miracle and step across that line in the sand.  But reality does not match the promise.  We pray, the miracle does not happen and we doubt that our faith is the right size.

         Not only are we convinced our faith is inadequate, but we are tempted to believe that the people up front have better faith and talents so we abdicate and don’t even try to pray.  We begin to believe we are those of little faith and become grasshoppers in our own eyes.  The kingdom of this world convinces us that the talented, the highly educated, the politically powerful are the movers and shakers of reality.  We could return our country to its former glory if only we…. You name it and armies march for it.  And for sure we do not have the goodies of life we deserve because the other country is selfish, colonialist, invading, more powerful. Not only is our faith too small, the other guys faith is enormous.

         The verbiage about size is very toxic and corrosive.  It has been twisted and corrupted!  Jesus did not say that with more faith we could accomplish more and be happier getting our wants fulfilled!  Only the tiniest of faith works miracles.  Why?  Because it is not our faith that works the miracle but God’s power.  Faith is like the key fob that turns on the engine of the car.  The size is not the issue.  We carry the fob in our pocket or heart and it activates the engine in the car.  Our faith communicates with God but does not control God.   The key does not tell the car where to go.  The example has flaws but challenges us to question if we are looking at our faith or at God’s power and wisdom.  We may not get what we want when we pray but we will always get God’s best.

         Paul said it this way in Hebrews 11  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. …”  Faith is trusting that God is listening and acting on the concerns of my heart even if I do not see the mulberry bush uprooted and planted in the sea.

It’s not a matter of reward!

“9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?” 

         Jesus then gives an example of a slave coming in from field-work.  The master does not reward him by telling him to sit and rest so the master can serve the slave.  The slave washes, puts on the apron and serves the master.  The worker is a slave! God does not owe us because we believe in him and our blessings are not rewards for our faith.  Many truly believe we have the right to freedom, liberty, clean water, pampers, schooling, a garage with two cars and a chicken in the pot.  Blessings from God come from God as love, not as rewards for good works by us. 

         “Slave” is a word our whole culture, the kingdom of this world, rebels against.  We prefer to see ourselves as a “child of God” and not as a slave.  Using that analogy, though, I can testify that I did not change diapers, I did not pay college bills, and I did not give Christmas gifts because my children had earned clean diapers, college, or gifts as a reward for good behavior.  Faith does not guarantee a life without trouble.  Bad things happen to good people.  Hebrews 11 tells of all the heroes and martyrs of the faith for whom “the world was not worthy.”  Again, the request to increase our faith is not what motivates us to obey God.  We accept that God is God and his way is right or we struggle.  More faith does not make more obedience.  We understand that he is God and doing what is best for us or we struggle in our relationship with him.  I do not think greater faith erases times of doubt and struggle. We believe, we trust, we have faith or we do not.  Faith puts God first, not our own desires.

It’s a matter of grace and love

‘We are worthless slaves;

we have done only what we ought to have done!’ 

         Faith does not come in many sizes.  It is not something we increase.  As we get older we have more examples to draw on as we trust God in faith but we do not necessarily have more faith.  Secondly, answers to faith are not rewards for our good deeds and our service to God.  The rich man did not go to Hades because of his wealth nor did Lazarus go to the bosom of Abraham because of his poverty.  So where does that leave us?  We are the creatures and God is our creator and redeemer.  We fall on our face and marvel at his grace.  In the final analysis we confess that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to him but the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel, enlightened us and led us because of his grace and love.

         We look back over the parables about the kingdom of heaven.  We are invited to the banquet by a God who desires all to be saved and enter his banquet hall.  He does not just prepare for the “right people.” He will send his servants to the highways and byways to make sure his hall is full.  He knows the seat of honor we deserve.  He gives the banquet not to impress us and win our love but because he is love.  He is also like a shepherd who goes looking for his lost sheep, realizing we cannot find our way home by ourselves.   He rescues us and puts us on his shoulders and carries us to his kingdom.  As sheep in his flock, we are not sent back to earth to earn our wings or to do good deeds as someone else’s request.  We are secure in his love.  The trick is not to have more faith but to keep our eyes and hearts and ears focused on God who hears our prayers and acts for our best.

         In the children’s sermon, the child redeemed the boat, not because of the great faith of the boat but because of the child’s love for his creation.  We are save by grace and that not of ourselves.  It is a gift of God and not of works.

Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”

 

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