Luke 17: 5-10
"Doing Our Duty"
Let’s take a deep breath and open our hearts, mind, soul and spirit to receive the message that God has for us this morning. Let’s focus our thoughts on the message that the Holy One is giving to us today. Let us pray: Lord God, Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, please let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength, our Rock and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Whether it’s in the military, or in whatever aspect of life that we find ourselves in, we’ve all heard the phrase, “Do your duty.” Taking responsibility means to “do our duty.” This morning I want to talk about duty and faith. We'll look at the parable of the mustard seed, and then take a look at what duty, or servanthood, means in the world we live in today, and then finish with a look at faith. In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus is talking about sin and temptation, and it’s made very clear to the disciples that their responsibility, their duty to other Christians, is a weighty task. We must not only be an example to unbelievers, but also an example to other Christians, and we must be very careful not to deceive or mislead others. We must always be very aware of the responsibilities we have to our servanthood; that is, our duty to others. To all of our church family, we must always keep Christ as the centerpiece of our actions. The temptations of the Dark Side urging us to sin will always be with us, but we can hopefully overcome the urges to sin by keeping Christ as the centerpiece of our lives. And, if and when sin may overpower us, we have the blood of Christ to cleanse us of all sin, if we are sincerely repentant. The love of Jesus Christ for each of us is central to this thought. In fact, the mystical presence of the Holy Spirit comes to each of us in the realm of physical reality with the faith, hope, love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that translates into the peace of God which passes all understanding and is beyond our comprehension.
If you look around at some of the posted city, county and state road and street signs, you'll see signs that say "zero tolerance" for different types of behavior. These types of signs have to be posted, because we live in a world of zero morality; and if you need proof, all you have to do is to turn on the TV. If you’ve seen some of the movies that are set in outer space, we can compare a culture of zero morality to a zero-gravity field, where there's nothing to keep us from floating away into sin, except the grace of God. It’s obvious that more and more people are suffering from profound moral, ethical and spiritual sickness without having any idea of where to look for healing. It is only through the grace of God that we can be dragged back from the zero-gravity abyss of moral and ethical drift, spiritual decay and depravity, and the temptations of sin and the Dark Side of ourselves, to the
mercy, grace, and forgiving spiritual presence of the risen Christ. In fact, it’s never a good thing to attempt to create an artificial bubble and an artificial reality that denies the facts that ground us in the radical presence of true reality and calls what we don’t want to hear fake news. This kind of denial is indicative of a world that’s crumbling before our very eyes. What’s happening in Russia right now is a good example of this. We can see why the disciples say to Jesus, "Increase our faith." They recognized faith as a gift from God, which is part of a belief system that includes the physical, psychological and the spiritual, which they can ask for and prepare to receive; but it is God's alone to give. Since Luke leaves the matter of the disciples' faith unsettled, we should probably let Matthew settle it for us.
In looking at Matthew's version, the disciples have failed to heal an epileptic boy, and Jesus says that their failure is one of faith. Matthew's version reads, "And He said to them, "Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it shall move; and nothing shall be impossible to you.” We are reminded of the definition of faith that is in the 11th chapter of the Book of Hebrews: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen…By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is
seen was NOT made out of things which are visible.” Faith even in small quantities has great power. In faith, we can tap into God's awesome power, which makes all things possible, even moving mountains, or healing you and I, or even raising the dead. It is not our faith that works wonders, but the God who stands behind our faith. When our faith-belief is founded and rooted on the Creator God who stands with us, all things become possible.
As Christians, we sometimes let our "theology" outsize our faith in God, yet, as I said last week, God is far greater than all of our theologies and doctrines combined. Our association with people of faith builds faith, so our participation in the worship and life of the church, our church family and COMING to church, is very important. When we try to think about God by ourselves, we often go off on tangents that miss the point of what God is trying to show us. And when we take our own theological beliefs to the radical extreme, we can end up being in a church that has only one member. But, as a church family, in fellowship, in a denomination that wasn’t founded on a rigid belief system, the Holy Spirit can work in our midst to open doors to surprising new ideas that we might otherwise miss. The disciples had it right; faith is a grace-gift of God, so we can pray that God will increase our faith. Time spent with God in prayer is central to our faith development, both individually AND as a church family. So, it’s our duty to pray. The scriptures and our prayers both inform and correct our faith. Without the guidance of the scriptures, our faith tends to become a faith in something smaller than God, rather than the powerful faith that Jesus lived out, even to His resurrection from the dead. So, it is important to read your Bible, but not make it something we worship. We GROW in faith as we ACT in faith. Practice makes perfect, and just as I became a better violinist from practicing my violin; so, too, true faith is actively grown through practicing our faith. We all live in faith, even if we don't think of it as faith. How many of us have to tell our legs to step or our hands to open and close? Faith means believing even when the outcome seems in doubt. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” We grow in faith as we do our duty and act in faith. If you've never experienced this type of faith, I would invite you to consider dedicating, or re-dedicating, your life to the Messiah, and see how the Holy Spirit will affect, direct and shepherd you.
Who is God? For me, every time I try to define God, I make God to be something less than God because I cannot possibly describe God without making God smaller than He or She is. So, in what other way can I think about who God is? In a way, we name who God is by the faith we have in God. Yet, some of us either don't know God in our life experience, or we try to put God in one of those little boxes in our life that we create to hide away portions of our lives or use to manipulate. Out of sight--out of mind. In the time of Jesus, King Herod had rebuilt the temple and tried to put God into a box, a physical building that he had constructed to house their faith. Then the Jewish upper crust attempted to use their Jewish Law to try to take the place of faith itself. They had forgotten what God spoke to Nathan, way back in 2nd Samuel: “the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying, "Go and say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD, "Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? "For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day…” I believe that the Jews of Jesus’ time didn't think they needed faith, because they had a law for every occasion, 613 of them. But faith could not be put into a building or a box, and Jesus came and said that no building was big enough to house our faith, or our God. Jesus then prophesied that "not one stone would be left standing on top of another." And that is exactly what happened. In 70 A.D., God, through the Roman army, kicked down the doors and walls of the temple that the Jews had built to box God up in.
Have we built walls to keep God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit out of our hearts? This is what Jesus meant when he said, "If you have the faith of a mustard seed." The faith we have is sufficient. All we have to do is exercise it. When we claim the faith of the mustard seed, and truly invite God into our lives, God will kick through the rusty doors to our hearts and breathe the life of the Holy Spirit into us. Are we on the mark for God's purpose, or will we miss the mark of God's purpose like the Pharisees and the Sadducees did? And remember, Hamartia in the Greek, just missing the mark, is called “sin” in the Bible. Now, I’m not a great Biblical scholar, but I do know what God has done in my heart. When I was younger, I had hardened my heart and put God into a little tiny box that I could easily manipulate. More than once, I ended up getting myself into a horrible place that I alone was responsible for creating. I brought myself to a place where I had no choice but to call out to God to save me or die. For me, to merely have the faith to call out to God and having that "faith of a mustard seed" is why I’m here today. God heard my prayer and then kicked through the rusty gates to my heart. God took away my stony heart and gave me a heart of flesh(!) and saved me from myself. It was the "faith of a mustard seed" that saved me, and, of course, it can be the faith of a mustard seed that will save you, too, if you’re willing! So, are you willing?
Jan Ekstedt MDiv.