The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22C 10/6/2013)

Lessons:Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Psalm 37:1-9 (5) 2 Timothy 1:1-14 St. Luke 17:5-10

Semicontinuous Series: Lamentations 1:1-6 Lamentations 3:19-26 (23) or Psalm 137 (7)

Prayer of the Day: Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us.  When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.  When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by 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 stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple 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!’ ”

St. Luke 17:5-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

We Have Done Only what We Ought to Have Done

Nike had it right, didn’t they? Just do it. They were referring, mostly, to athletic endeavors. Do you want to take off at the free throw line and dunk the ball? Do you want to outrun the defensive safety and haul in the touchdown pass? Do you want to back up a pitching wedge and draw the ball into the hole? Do you want to run the Grand Canyon, rim-to-rim-to-rim? Just do it. (And, by the way, if you use our gear you’ll be more successful… or at the very least, look better in the attempt.)

Lurking behind Nike’s slogan is the understanding that many athletes, professional and amateur, aspire to accomplish what others might consider impossible. The key elements are physical ability, determined training, and the belief that it can be done. But it doesn’t hurt to have a shoe that helps you change directions more quickly or a golf ball that flies 12 feet farther than the competitor’s ball. Set your sights high. Get yourself read. Buy our products. Then, just do it.

Jesus also calls us to “just do it.” In the verses that precede this weekend’s Gospel, he offers two glimpses of what the faithful life looks like. We are to (1) not cause other people to stumble and (2) lead our brothers and sisters to repentance and forgiveness, even if we find ourselves having to do it seven times a day with the same person. The disciples are right to perceive that this is not an easy way to live — some might even consider it to be impossible. And I agree with them! I refuse to put a Christian bumper sticker on my car, for fear that I’ll do something stupid in traffic, and cause the person behind me to draw negative conclusions about what it means to be a Christian. And although I know, intellectually, that forgiveness lies at the heart of a faithful life, it is hard for me to imagine being able to forgive the same person seven times a day. (That’s 2,555 times in a year!)

“Increase our faith!” they cry out. And the premise seems to be spot on. This is hard, right? Faith helps us “just do” what we can’t do on our own, so more faith might make the believer more successful at these commitments Jesus extends, right? But that way of thinking treats faith as a commodity we possess; something we draw on to be less human than we would be otherwise.

No, rather, faith is the capacity to trust in the promise. Knowing we can’t be sure we’ll not be the source of someone else’s stumbling; knowing we’ll never be able to gladly forgive someone seven times a day; we do what we are told, and we trust in God’s promise.

Remember how the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Thessalonians: “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.” [1st Thessalonians 5:23-24]

We could wait until we have more faith. We could wait until we feel better prepared. We could wait until we understand the situation better. But Jesus challenges us to “just do it.” And then, when it’s done, we say, “We have done only what we ought to have done.”

So, friends in Christ: go in peace; just do it. And thanks be to God.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What challenge did Jesus lay before the disciples in the verses preceding this week’s Gospel?
  2. Why did they cry out for more faith?
  3. How does his response answer their plea for more faith?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What seems challenging — maybe even impossible — about Christian faithfulness to me?
  2. What realities prevent me from trying; prevent me from giving it my best?
  3. What would it be like if I focused less on my inability, and more on God’s promise?