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A Wee Bit of Faith

This is the sermon I preached on 10/2 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Luke 17:5-10.

 

Well, what can be said? This passage from Luke’s gospel is another doozie! I had to really do my homework to get my mind around this. Is Jesus reprimanding the apostles for their lack of faith? Is Jesus supporting the system of slavery? That can’t be our Jesus, can it?


Let’s look at the context. First, we’re missing the preceding verses, 1-4, in our text for today. Those verses help us understand why the apostles were so worked up. The first few verses are about forgiveness, even when someone has sinned against you multiple times in a day. Jesus said, “If you see your friend going wrong, correct him. If he responds, forgive him. Even if it’s personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times he says, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t do it again,’ forgive him” (vv. 3-4). This seemed so impossible. No wonder they wanted more faith. 


We usually think of faith as ideas we believe. We sometimes make it an intellectual exercise. However, that’s not what Jesus is talking about and is not what is meant in the gospels. Martin Luther describes it this way. “Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us. . .and makes us completely different people in heart, mind, senses, and all our powers.” Luther says we are to ask God to work such faith in us; a faith that does not stop to ask if good works are to be done but is busy and active, always doing good for our neighbor (Preface to Romans). 


Author, Ed Elliot, writes, “Great faith…is simply knowing how good God is.”  It’s not a matter of the quantity of life, but the quality of life, which includes our faith life (sundaysandseasons.com). 


Notice that the apostles did not say, “Increase my faith,” but “Increase our faith.” This points us to the communal aspects of life in Christ; with the apostles and in the church. Although in our day we lean toward an individualistic understanding of scripture and faith and relationship with Jesus, it just isn’t that way in scripture.


Jesus tells how even a very little faith can do great things. A black mulberry tree is a … fruit tree that grows about 20 ft … tall [with] black, juicy berries. This tree has an extensive root system, so to pull it up would be a major operation. 


… The words “faith,” “have faith,” and “believe” refer to the social glue that binds one person to another …  the social, externally manifested, emotional behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. … Jesus requires loyalty and commitment to himself and his project. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels)

 

Obedience to Christ springs from our life of faith. 


Seemingly impossible, isn’t it? We’re busy people. We travel, work and do so many things. It doesn’t seem humanly possible to take the kind of time we would need to further develop and deepen our relationship with Jesus, our faith. I was at a conference yesterday on centering prayer. The presenter suggested implementing into our lives two sessions a day of 20 minutes apiece in silence. However, I have found that even a few minutes is better than no minutes. Can you carve out 5 minutes in your day to spend time with your Lord? 


If you thought the first section of this gospel was hard, this section is seemingly way out there. It, too, includes linguistic exaggerations. Jesus was speaking to people living in and familiar with slave culture. He does not condone nor condemn it. It is simply the backdrop to life in those days. Martin Luther understood this imagery as everyone being enslaved—either to God or to evil. 


So what are Jesus and Luke trying to tell us today in this place? “Together, the two sayings suggest that life in the kingdom requires total dedication to God as the lord of all, yet finally it is faith in Jesus as Christ that saves” (sundaysandseasons.com). We are unable in our own strength to do anything to please God. But God, in God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, works in and through us to do God’s will, with just a wee bit of faith. 

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We all know faithful people who are suffering: the “twenty-five-year employee whose corporation has downsized him out … the woman whose lump was malignant,” (John Buchanan, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), those in the path of Hurricane Ian, people living in war-torn lands like Ukraine. How do they manage? How do they keep their faith? It isn’t their faith, but the faith of Christ working within them.


We have such examples of faith and faithfulness here. I see in Sandy Carlson a true servant and lover of our Lord Jesus. She is one of the most encouraging people I know and is always a source of reassurance. I’m grateful for the times we have bumped into each other in the sanctuary when she was preparing the altar for Sunday. Her service to God is wholehearted. We have served together on church council and worship and music. We had a blast together at Synod Assembly one year. Sandy has always been willing to serve with a glad heart. I am grateful for her, for all she does behind the scenes. Thank you, Sandy, for who you are and all you do! Please join us after worship in the fellowship hall for a brunch to honor Sandy.


Amen.


Resources

Martin Luther, Preface to Romans

Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels

Rob Myallis, lectionarygreek.blogspot.com

Sundaysandseasons.com

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