Sunday, October 7, 2007

Raising the Bar

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Luke 17:1-10

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading have something for everyone. If you’re a lazy bum and think being a Christian is a cakewalk, then Jesus’ message for you is: Get of your duff and act like a servant of the Most High God. For those of you who are enterprising, up to a challenge, and don’t want to sit around on your duff all day, Jesus’ message to you is: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If you think it’s hard being a Christian then you’re right.

He starts off innocuously enough, stating something we all know to be true: unfortunately, temptations will come. We’re all tempted. But His point here is not in how to stand up under those temptations. He’s here giving a warning. They’re going to come—but you’d better not be the source of them!

I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to look at others and see where they fall short. It’s easy to judge them. But each of us needs to watch ourselves. Yes, we should be concerned if others are causing people to sin. But we dare not think that we don’t fall into this category. And even more so, that we shouldn’t think it’s not a big deal. Jesus doesn’t say here, It’s better if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were cast into the sea than that you should cause one of these little ones to lose their faith. That would indeed be tragic and you should rightly see the severity of it with a severe judgment upon yourself. His statement is even more severe than that! If you even cause one of them to sin!

There’s no room here for error! Jesus doesn’t deal in, well, what you did wasn’t that bad, so don’t sweat it. Do you so blithely go on with how you act and what you say when others may fall into sin because of your actions or your words? How often do you interpret others’ actions in the worst possible light rather than the best? How often do you assume selfish motives in others rather than innocent ones? Be fearful—because if you’re not now, you will be when it will be too late. There’s a reason Jesus is telling us these words after His parable of the rich man who found himself in hell for eternity. Jesus will not stand idly by while we cause children or the young in faith to sin. We ought not to either. We must be much more aware of how we act and what we say and how it affects others. There are eternal consequences at stake. We must not think that others must not be so sensitive or easily offended. We must be circumspect in how we act and what we say.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Even when we’re cut to the heart we look for things within us that we can take comfort in. We are convinced we’re not all that bad. So the next words of Jesus come as sweet music to our sore ears: “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” Blessed Jesus doesn’t even say, if he sins against you. He just says, if he sins. Now this is a role we can see ourselves in. We see a lot of sinners out there. A lot of people doing a lot of things they shouldn’t do, living in ways they shouldn’t live. They need to be rebuked, and we’re the ones to do it! Jesus here is right on the mark. We are the ones to go to those wretched sinners and rebuke the daylights out of them. Get them to see their sin. How utterly in the wrong they are in living in ways that Christians ought not to live.

But Jesus here is not talking about those other people. He’s talking about you. He’s raising the bar. He’s not giving you a way to get your kicks. Paul tells us in the letter to the Galatians that when we call others to repentance we must take heed to ourselves so that we don’t fall into sin. It’s the easiest thing in the world to become a Pharisee. To see the sin in others but not in yourself. To appoint yourself as the one to remove the speck in another’s eye while not seeing the log that is in your own.

Are you to rebuke? Yes, Jesus makes that clear. But we shouldn’t get all excited, because the purpose is not to bring shame upon the person. It’s to bring the person to repentance. That’s why we must do this in humility. Who needs to repent but us? Who are we to rebuke when we, ourselves, are in need of rebuke? Jesus’ next words show us just how much in need of that we are. What do we do when the person repents? We are to forgive him. We’re not supposed to psychoanalyze him. Give him advice. Remind him of how damaging what he did was. Forgive. See him as one who has not committed the sin.

Is this easy to do? Not when what they did is still lingering in our memory. Not when we still deal with the effects of what they did. Not when the Pharisee in us still holds on to the notion that what they did really was far worse than what we ourselves do. Not when we want to hold a grudge against them. Why does Jesus tell us to forgive? Because it’s not what we would first want to do. How did Jesus teach us to pray? “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If you’re like me, you love the first part and kind of gloss over the second part. But especially those two words, “as we”. Our prayer is for God to forgive us. But does Jesus’ prayer stop there? Nope. Forgive us as we forgive others. Forgive us in the same way we forgive others. Do we want God to hold a grudge against us? Then why are we holding a grudge against others? Do we want God to remind us of exactly how wrong we were in what we did? Then why do we do that to others?

Okay, so we ought to be more forgiving. I can forgive someone once. After all, God is merciful to me. But some of these people don’t know when to quit. We forgive and they sin against us again. When is enough enough? Two times? Three? Four? Nope, again and again. Even seven times in one day. It would probably seem ridiculous to keep forgiving a person for sinning against you that many times in one day. But isn’t that what we do against God? Have you ever gone a day and sinned against Him fewer times than that?

There’s no way for us to attain to the level Jesus has raised for us. We can’t measure up to the standard He has set for us. What can we do? The disciples seemed to see their helplessness in what their Lord was calling them to. They cried out, “Increase our faith!” That’s really all we can hope for. It’s really our only hope. But what does Jesus say, what kind of hope does He give us? “Hey, look what you’ll be able to do—you can say to a tree, ‘Be uprooted.’” And then, even more spectacularly, “Be planted in the sea.” There’s no possible way you could do that without faith. So Jesus says all you need is just a little; say, like a mustard seed.

But wait a minute, we have faith don’t we? And we still can’t do what He said we could do if we had the faith of a simple seed. So that means we have even less than that? Yes, we’re really that pathetic. And yet our cry continues to go out to our Lord, “Increase our faith!” And you know what? It’s enough. It’s enough because God never gives in short supply. What seems little to us is abundant in the measure of God. We don’t need faith that fills the whole world. We just need faith. When God gives us faith, it’s what we need. It’s how much we need. He sustains us.

What does the master do after the servants have had a long day of work? “Here, take your shoes off. Sit up at my table so you can rest and be fed. In fact, let’s switch! I’ll feed you!” Of course not. If he did, the servants might think their master is out of his mind. They might think it’s too good to be true. They would most certainly think that they could never expect such a grand gift from their master. In an amazing reversal, this is exactly what Jesus does. He is the Master. We are His servants. We are to do what He has called us to do. We should not expect for Him to serve us. And yet, He does. He wraps the towel around His waist. He washes our feet. He the Master becomes the servant. We the servants are served by the Master.

Jesus has not only raised the bar for us, He Himself was raised up on the bar of the cross. The Judgment Seat where the sins of the world were dealt with. The great reversal. The Lord Himself receiving the punishment all deserve for every one of their sins. For every word and action that falls short of the bar Jesus has set. He became as the one who is guilty, though He Himself is innocent.

Jesus didn’t come to tell you to get your act together. He came to suffer and die in your place. He came not to be served but to serve. He prepares for you His rich banquet of love, mercy, and grace. The waters of Your Baptism overflow into every hour of your life to sustain you in the forgiveness He first brought upon you in that Baptism. His body given and blood shed on the cross are given to you once again each time you come to this altar. What He says here is indeed for you. And what He gives you—Himself—is indeed in abundance, for He cannot give less than Himself fully and freely. Amen.



Peter said...

I am also prone to easily see the faults of others. I liked the way you transitioned to how Jesus acts: He serves us, and shows us how we should live. And even at that evening of great examples, He gives us the meal that puts the very forgiveness of the cross on our lips and in our mouths. Awesome!

rev.will said...

It has struck me over the past several weeks in Jesus tearing the Pharisees to shreds, that He's really doing that to me. Thank God he has been doing that for the purpose of driving me to repentance so that I may see not myself but Him. Thanks for your comment!