Pentecost 17, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
October 2, 2022
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:1-10


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            There is a question that is so easy to ask, but which is so much the wrong question.  We hear this question from the rich ruler in Luke 18, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  It is a simple question.  “What do I need to do?”  Just tell me what to do so I can do it, and get back to my life.

            But it is not that simple, and it is the wrong question.  Eternal life does not come from what you do; it comes from what Jesus has done for you on the cross at Calvary.  It’s not about you.  It’s about Jesus for you. You cannot just do something and get back to your life because being a redeemed child of God is your life. 

            Children well understand the idea of being given things that they cannot repay.  It is a child’s life.  Children receive everything in their lives as a gift and never think twice about trying to pay back what they receive.  The older you get, however, the more you think about having to pay back anything that is given to you.  But that is not how it works with God’s forgiveness.  Jesus teaches Luke 18:17 (ESV)  17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”  Jesus knows it is a great temptation to believe you must do something. 

            There is also an opposite temptation which is to believe that since Jesus has done it all and forgiven all your sins that it does not matter what you do.  You are tempted to believe that since you are a baptized child of God and Jesus forgives sins, that you should not think about sin and just sin more.  You are tempted to believe that since your spirit is set free by Jesus’ that it does not matter what you do with your body.  You are tempted to say, “I like to sin, Jesus likes to forgive, that is a good deal.”  And so, instead of fighting temptation, you just ignore God’s law, and give in to your every lust and desire.  St. Paul condemns this thinking in Romans 6:1–2 (ESV) 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” 

            So two errors.  What do I need to do? And, it doesn’t matter what I do.

            In our Gospel reading today St. Luke covers a lot of ground.  Luke 17:1–2 (ESV) 1 And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”  Here the Greek word skandala in the ESV is translated “temptations to sin”, but it can also be translated as “stumbling blocks” or “traps”, more along the lines of false teaching.  The root word skandalon is the origin of our English word scandal.  

            Is Jesus here referring to temptation to sin, or temptation to false teaching, or both?  I believe it is both.  I believe He is warning against anyone teaching that you can earn your salvation, and anyone teaching that as a follower of Jesus it does not matter what you do.  The warning here is direct and it is harsh.  It would be better for you to be drowned and die than for you to cause a follower of Jesus to stray.  Why is it better to be drowned?  Because false teachers are bound for hell.  False teaching is an eternally big deal.  False teaching leads children of God away from the truth and into condemnation. 

As a follower of Jesus you have no choice but to live in the truth.  Jesus has forgiven all your sins.  You are a new creation in Christ.  So, as a baptized child of God, struggle each day to live out your new life, loving God and loving your neighbor.  Strive each day to live as salt and light in the world delighting in God’s will and walking in His ways.  Live as someone whose sins have all been fully forgiven by the Lord even though you do not deserve to be forgiven.

            One of the difficult things about following Jesus is that He does not act the way you would expect Him to act.  We have a saying, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”  The idea being, that you don’t let someone hurt you more than once or you’re just being dumb. But then we have Jesus who forgives you over and over and over again for that same stupid sin.  Jesus forgives extravagantly.  Jesus forgives recklessly.  Jesus does not put you on probation and tell you that you have one more chance and if you mess up you’re finished.  Instead, Jesus foolishly gives you chances to repent over and over and over. Jesus forgives you foolishly and he teaches you to forgive others just as foolishly.

            Luke 17:3–4 (ESV)  3 … If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 

            If your brother sins, rebuke him.  Don’t ignore sin or redefine sin; call sin what it is. Speak the truth in love.  If you find your baby playing with a bottle of poison you don’t let her keep it just because she might cry if you take it away. You keep her safe.  If your brother sins, rebuke him; warn him.  If he repents, forgive him.  How many times should the church forgive someone when they repent of their sins?  The Church must forgive extravagantly, recklessly, over and over and over. Seven times a day if needed.  Even more than that.  You are to forgive foolishly, forgive even if they don’t deserve it – forgive the way Jesus forgives you. 

            The disciples are aghast at this teaching.  You are aghast.  How can you forgive like this?  You cannot do it.  You cry out along with the disciples, “Increase our faith!”  Jesus replies, Luke 17:6 (ESV)  6 … “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

            You plant your faith by forgiving lavishly; forgiving like Jesus.  Others see the light of Christ in your generous forgiveness and forgiveness multiplies and grows. 

            What does this mean?  If we turn back a few chapters in Luke we learn about mustard seeds. Luke 13:18–19 (ESV)  18 [Jesus] said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” 

            Faith, like a grain of mustard seed, seems tiny and insignificant, but when planted, it grows to great size.  Your faith can seem foolish and futile.  What is it all about?  Just words, just water, just bread, just wine.  It looks like nothing and yet these words and water and bread and wine change the world.  These simple things change the world.  They change you.  Faith planted in you by the Holy Spirit grows.  These things change us as a congregation of followers of Jesus.  The foolishness of faith is the light of Christ which grows and pushes back the darkness.  Tiny, foolish faith causes people to reject selfishness and serve others. It brings peace in a world of hurt. It brings hope in desperation.  It brings forgiveness out of sin, life out of death.  Tiny, foolish faith grows and pushes back darkness and sin. 

            You plant your faith by forgiving lavishly; forgiving like Jesus.  Others see the light of Christ in your generous forgiveness and forgiveness multiplies and grows. 

The last part of our Gospel reading emphasizes again that your salvation is not about what you do.  Luke 17:10 (ESV) 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”  Salvation is not about what you do, but about what Jesus has done for you.  Jesus is the one-time, perfect sacrifice for your sin.  He did it all and gives it all as a gift to you.  Even though you can do nothing to accomplish your salvation, as a saved follower of Jesus, you still do what you have been given to do. As a redeemed child of God you are set free from the curse of the law in order to freely follow the law in love and service to others.  Do what you have been given to do in your various vocations as a parent, child, grandparent, sibling, worker, employer, teacher, student, citizen, neighbor.  Do it well, not to earn awards and recognition but because it is what you have been given to do. 

Life as a follower of Jesus is a beautifully messy life.  It is a life of being, at the same time, a saint and a sinner. It is a life of wearing the robe of Jesus’ righteousness that covers all your sins.  Live, with God as your Lord.  Strive to do God’s will in all that you do.  Live your life immersed in God’s Word and Sacraments.  Cling to the truth of God’s Word and do not give in to false teaching. Live your life in repentance for sins of thought, word and deed.  Live your life forgiving others recklessly.  Live your life as an unworthy servant, who has been declared worthy of eternal life. 

You cannot do anything to save yourself, Jesus has done that completely. But it does matter what you do.  Live your life as a redeemed follower of Jesus because that is who you are.  Amen.