Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C – Proper 22)
October 3, 2010
Text: Luke 17:1-10

It’s not that we don’t have faith, it’s that our faith is so weak. That is why it is so difficult to stand up under the various trials and tribulations that accompany the changes and chances of this earthly life. That is why it is so difficult to remain steadfast in the face of pressure from the world to succumb to worldliness. That is why it is so difficult to resist the devil’s temptations. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). We believe. Lord, help our unbelief (Mark 9:24). Or, as the apostles say to our Lord in our text this morning, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5; ESV).

Lord, increase our faith. It is the prayer of every Christian. Because life in this fallen world is not easy, and being a Christian, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t make it any easier. Jesus says that “Temptations,” literally scandals, stumbling blocks, “are sure to come” (v. 1). Jesus promises that we will be tempted in this life. And the temptation He speaks of here is not only temptation to commit this or that particular sin, but includes especially the temptation to forsake the faith. Here the stumbling block causes to you to fall away from the faith. It scandalizes you away from Jesus. Jesus promises such temptations will come. And they will come especially to Christians who are the particular targets of Satan’s attacks. Well, that doesn’t sound like a very nice promise. This is not a promise of the Gospel. This is a warning promise. The temptations are coming. Watch out. “Pay attention to yourselves!” (v. 3). Be on your guard. Know that these temptations are coming, and know what to do when they come. And whatever you do, don’t be the cause of such temptations. Woe to you if you cause one of these little ones, meaning a fellow believer, to sin, to be scandalized, to fall from the faith. For such a one who makes shipwreck of another’s faith, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea” (v. 2). Watch, lest when you fall into temptation, you lead others with you and cause them to stumble and fall away. Lord, help us, lest we fall in the face of temptation. Lord, help us, lest we lead one of these little ones to be scandalized. Lord, help us, and increase our faith.

This morning our Lord tells us that the chief cause of stumbling is failure to confront the reality of sin. Hear again what He says: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (v. 3). Failure to confront the reality of sin causes little ones to fall away from the faith. That is to say, the most sure-fire way to cause a fellow believer to fall from faith is to allow him to go on in his sin, unhindered, and to fail to pronounce forgiveness when he repents. It is to pretend that there is no sin to rebuke or forgive. It is to refuse to rebuke him, as Jesus says, when he continues on the dangerous path of living for the self. And it is to refuse to forgive him when he has been wounded by his sin, confronted with the righteous Law of God, and left in despair.

Rebuking sin is very difficult for us, because to rebuke sin will cause conflict. It may very well cause our brother or sister to become angry with us, to revile us, to hate us. It is much easier, and more natural for our fallen flesh, to pretend that there is no sin to be rebuked. Then there will be no conflict. It happens often in Christian families. We do it all the time. “Sis has brought home her live-in boyfriend for Christmas and we all played along. We all suspect he'll be gone by Valentine's day but we act like he is her husband. Mom was sure to treat him just like she treats the in-laws. We give him gifts and hang a stocking precisely because he is violating our sister! We are sure that he will break her heart and run away and we'll be glad when he does. But for the time being we don't want a scene. Anything but a scene. Anything but the Truth. Numb, drugged, afraid - we enable and engage in the worst sins of men. Silent when the truth needs to be spoken, more concerned with the moment than with the future, more worried about publicity than the fate of our souls, more desirous of esteem and popularity with men than the love of God.”[1] So we leave the sin un-rebuked, un-dealt-with. We remain silent when we should speak. Beloved in the Lord, repent. Lord, increase our faith.

So also, forgiveness is very difficult for us, because to forgive our brother or sister when they sin, especially when they sin against us personally, is to acknowledge that a real sin has, in fact, been committed. And that makes both the offender and the offended uncomfortable. It is much easier, when your brother or sister sins against you and apologizes, to simply say, “That’s okay.” But of course, that’s silly. It’s not okay. If you do it again, I will be offended again. But the last thing we want to do is admit a sin has been committed. We don’t want to make anyone feel bad. Real repentance is not our goal. Our goal is, again, to avoid conflict. Beloved in the Lord, when your brother sins against you, do not say “That’s okay.” Forgive him. Forgive him in the Name of the Lord. It will hurt. It will hurt him, because he will be confronted with the reality of his sin. It will hurt you, because you will have to confront the reality of sin. But the Word of forgiveness in the Name of the Lord will cover the sin in a real and permanent way. To forgive is to bury the sin forever in the tomb of Christ. So also, beloved, when you sin against your brother or sister, repent, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and do not be content with a simple, “That’s okay.” You need absolution, forgiveness in the Name of the Lord. And if this is important in terms of your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ, how much more important is it in terms of your relationship with God. Confess your sins to God. Name the evil. Speak it into Christ’s ear. And receive His absolution. Hear Him speak through the called and ordained servant of the Word standing in His stead and by His command, “I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.” Then, having been forgiven all your trespasses, go and forgive all those who trespass against you. Lord, increase our faith.

But forgiveness is most difficult when a really "big" sin has been perpetrated against you, one that hurts you down to your very core: perhaps physical violence or abuse, perhaps betrayal, perhaps rejection. Whatever the sin, your Lord Jesus calls upon you here to forgive. Again, that means to bury the sin forever in the tomb of Christ. Impossible, you say? You’re right! It is impossible for you to do. But nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). What you need is an increase of faith. It’s not that you lack faith, but your faith needs to be strengthened. You are under attack. The devil has convinced you that the only right thing to do is to withhold forgiveness. “Bless my enemy? Pray for him? Forget it, Lord!” Only now you know that these are demonic thoughts, demonic words. Repent! Instead pray these words, the words of the apostles: “Increase our faith!” For if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you will be able to do the impossible. You will be able to say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” (Luke 17:6). And it will do it! It will uproot itself, plant itself in the midst of the sea, and there, deep under the salt water, it will grow and bear fruit. Impossible, you say? That’s just the point! And don’t get sidetracked here with experiments in commanding trees to be uprooted and mountains to move. Obviously you must ask first whether it is the Lord’s will that the tree be uprooted and thus planted, and if not, you should not tempt the Lord your God. No, the point is that faith can do impossible things, because faith, as the gift of God, is invested with the power of God. You do not have God’s command to uproot mulberry trees, but you do have God’s command to forgive. And in reality, this is the greater miracle. Because to forgive means to die to self. It means to take your neighbor’s sin into yourself and bear it as your burden. It means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus to Calvary. You have no power within yourself to do this. You’re absolutely right, it is impossible for you. But now, baptized into Christ, you have God’s power. The Holy Spirit has called you to faith. Lord, increase our faith.

For this is what your Lord Jesus has done for you. He died to Himself. He died for you. He died on the cross for the forgiveness of yours sins. He bore the burden of your sins, the burden of the cross, all the way to Calvary. He took your sins into Himself and paid the punishment you deserve. All so that you may be forgiven. All so that you may live. He did not do His duty. He did your duty. He fulfilled the Law of God for you. He forgave you, and continues to forgive you. You do not deserve it. Even when you do your duty, you must simply say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). The truth is, you don’t even do your duty. You are saved by the mercy of the Lord alone. But look what He does for you. Jesus does precisely what He says the earthly master will not do. We come in from the field not even having done our duty, having wasted our time and our Master’s resources, filthy with sin. And Jesus, our Master, draws us a bath, the cleansing waters of Baptism. He bathes us and puts His pure robe of righteousness on us. He speaks lovingly to us. He pronounces us forgiven and righteous and calls us His brothers, sons of His heavenly Father. And He prepares a Table for us and invites us to eat and drink with Him, His own body and blood, the body given and the blood shed for us, for the forgiveness of our sins. We sin against Christ more than seven times in a day. Our sins are beyond number. We don’t even know all our sins. But He always forgives us. He forgives us, because His blood covers all our sins. In Christ Jesus, we are forgiven, set free from sin, and given eternal life and salvation.

What a Savior we have! And this is great comfort to us, because temptations, scandals, stumbling blocks are sure to come. Let them come. We know they are coming. In Christ Jesus, we are safe. So we pray: Lord, increase our faith. And do not let us fall. Do what is impossible for us to do for ourselves. We know that by our own reason and strength we have no power to believe in You or come to You. But You have given us Your Word and Spirit. Keep us, O Lord, in the one true faith. Grant that on that great Day when You come again to judge the living and the dead, we may hear those blessed Words that You will speak to all who have believed in You: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The Rev. David Petersen, http://redeemer-fortwayne.org/displaySermon.php?sermon=32.

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