Devotional Message: The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22C (10/6/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

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

Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26 (or Psalm 13)

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! 2 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. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 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.”]

17.5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 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. 

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’? 8 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’? 9 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 Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “More Faith”

This weekend’s Gospel lesson begins with the fifth verse of the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel. I’ll skip my standard rant about how poorly the lectionary breaks up these Gospels to fit them into a three-year cycle and simply say: verse five without the preceding four verses makes absolutely no sense.

Jesus has just called his followers to radical forgiveness. “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.” [verse 4] You must forgive. Seven times a day! What in the world is he asking? Are we supposed to forgive the same person for committing the same sin 49 times every week? 210 times every month? The exact same sin? Someone commits the same sin against me three times in a month and I’m wrestling with whether or not to stay connected with that person. Seven times a day? Does that mean 2,555 times a year? (2,562 times in a leap year…) The same person? The exact same sin?

There are any number of ways we might respond: “Is this just a metaphor?” “Is Jesus crazy?” “Are these demands unrealistic?” “Can I do this?” “If this is what Christian faith looks like… [wait for it…] then give me more faith!”

This is how the disciples respond. Jesus has just called his followers to an impossible task. They don’t reject it. They are willing to consider it. But their first reaction is that if this is what faith looks like, then they need more of it. Specifically, if I might be willing to forgive you when you commit the exact same sin against me three times in the same month, then to live up to Jesus’ command it seems like I would need at least 70 times more faith than I currently have.

Jesus immediately rejects this conclusion. “Are you kidding me? If your faith is the size of a mustard seed (one of the tiniest seeds first century people knew, that produced one of the largest, most unruly bushes), you would have more than enough!” No: the amount of faith we possess is not what is at stake here. Forgiveness, the essence of Christianity, doesn’t depend on the quantity of our faith. It depends, instead, on the strength and determination of the one in whom we place our faith.

And so, using another (admittedly troubling!) first century image, Jesus says that faithfulness is no more difficult or complicated or overwhelming than a household slave who carries out the mundane tasks of making sure there is dinner on the table. 

If forgiveness, the essence of Christianity, is to shape us and form us and lead us to where we can’t possibly go on our own, we don’t need more faith. If we only have faith the size of a mustard seed, we have plenty. What counts is that the one who loves his followers (including the one who will betray him, the one who will deny him, and the ten who will run and hide when he needs them most) enough to die for them — who loves us enough to die for us — invites us to experience the depths of his love. To receive it. To share it. To commit ourselves to it, no matter what.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What role does forgiveness play in the teaching and preaching of Jesus?

  2. How do his death and resurrection become a proclamation of radical forgiveness?

  3. What is it that makes the early church’s commitment to forgiveness possible?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I struggled to forgive someone? (Or struggled to trust that I am forgiven for something I’ve done?)

  2. How might I draw closer to God, so that my experience of sacred grace increases my capacity to forgive?

  3. In what ways might my experience of life be different if it becomes shaped by Christ’s radical forgiveness?