1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”Luke 17:1-10
There is a garden growing out back behind the church. At the end of summer, the Kingdom Kids teachers brought the kids out with seeds and planted them. If you look back there now, you will see that the seeds have sprouted and are well on their way to producing all kinds of herbs and vegetables. It is amazing to watch what a small handful of dried seeds turns into after just a few months. God programmed seeds with a specific task, and the same is true for believers. In our gospel reading from Luke 17, Jesus gave us a specific task and the attitude with which we carry it out that says, “We are unworthy servants by faith.”
Today, we have reached the end of the Pentecost season where we have been focused on faith. We began Pentecost months ago with the Holy Spirit’s coming on the disciples allowing them to speak and be heard by people of all different languages. Many were brought to faith that day by the Holy Spirit working through the preaching of God’s Word. Each Sunday after that first Sunday of Pentecost, the readings have focused on what our faith means for us. On the one hand, our faith connects us to our Savior Jesus, his forgiveness and eternal life. On the other hand, our faith is alive in us guiding us to think, speak and act in ways that please God and show love to others. The traditional color for the season of Pentecost is green because our faith is like a plant that grows and produces fruit. When our faith is watered with the Word of God and the sacraments, it grows. And, as our faith grows, it produces fruit as God inspired Paul to write to the Galatians, 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As we close out the Pentecost season, our reading for today again reveals something to us about our faith.
As Jesus was teaching his disciples, he revealed to them the danger of harming someone’s faith. 17 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.” Jesus did not hold back here; he was very clear with his disciples about the serious nature of causing someone to sin. Jesus stated the fact that in this world there will be temptations, sin and evil, because we all inherit sin from our universal ancestor Adam, as Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” We all sin, but that does not excuse even one of them. Jesus illustrated how serious leading someone into sin is. To those through whom sin and temptation come to others, Jesus said, 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Jesus was absolutely clear about the danger of causing someone to sin. If the possibility exists that someone would lead someone into sin, Jesus said that it would be better for that person to be completely removed from the scene and put at the bottom of the sea. Sin is so serious because it has eternal consequences. Sin is especially dangerous for “little ones”, as in someone young in their faith, because it may lead them back to unbelief with the eternal consequences of hell.
Jesus’ words leave us feeling unworthy of the task to keep from leading others to stumble. As you hear these words of Jesus, your mind quickly races back to moments when you had caused someone to fall into temptation. Or, your mind may be filling up with worries about scenarios of the future where you might cause someone to sin or even turn away from the faith. Our worries grow while listening to Jesus’ words because we know God takes sin seriously. In our reading from Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk asked God, Habakkuk 1:3 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” Habakkuk knew like you and I know that God punishes sin. Habakkuk wanted to know why God was not acting quickly to punish sin. And, God responded to Habakkuk saying, Habakkuk 2:4 “See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright—but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.” Many in Israel at the time of Habakkuk had fallen from faith turning to godless living, full of pride and selfish desires. God was fully aware of their sins and revealed his plan to punish them through the Babylonians by having them conquer the nation of Judah. God’s encouragement to Habakkuk was that those who oppose God will be punished, and those with faith will live. God gave these words to Habakkuk to share with others that some might turn back to God.
God’s response to Habakkuk shows us the kind of unworthy servants by faith God has called us to be. We are sinful people living among sinful people called to share Jesus and encourage people to turn away from their sin and unbelief. This leads us to ask ourselves, “If I am to live by faith and living by faith means I do not lead other people to stumble, but I have led them to stumble or have let them stumble by not saying anything to them, then do I really have faith?” Those moments where you wish you could take back a conversation, a text, a call, a post, a moment with someone at work, at home, at school, behind closed doors or even out in public are what make us unworthy because we have failed to live as God’s people who show people Jesus. These sins are what make it clear that we must live by faith. Our only hope is to trust God’s Word from 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Only through Jesus are we forgiven. God’s love and grace brought him to take away our sins, it was not because we deserved it.
By faith, God has made us his servants to carry out a specific task. The disciples along with you and I are unworthy servants by God’s grace and because the task Jesus gave us is not something we deserve a reward for doing. We do not deserve any reward for what we do by faith because our task is to be good as God intended us to be. In the beginning, God created the world to be good and Genesis 1:31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” And, everything was good until we fell into sin. However, our sin did not change the fact that God wants us to be good. This is the normal and expected way of life for everyone as Jesus said in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This demand from God is not something that we can work on or progress to. Instead, the only way for us to be perfect is through Jesus, who is, was and always will be perfect. Therefore, we are perfect as our God wants us to be through Jesus by faith as we hear in Romans 1:17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” We are perfect through our Savior Jesus. And in order for others to be saved and have Jesus’ perfection, we are called as Jesus’ servants to bring the gospel to others.
Service to God is sharing the message of Jesus’ forgiveness. After Jesus warned the disciples about the danger of causing someone to stumble, he said, 3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” In these two verses, Jesus gave three commands, “Watch, rebuke and forgive.” We are to watch for temptation and sin, so that we can avoid them and help others avoid them. We are to rebuke meaning to clearly show someone their sin, so that they can repent. Finally, we are to forgive, when someone does repent freeing them from fear of punishment and assuring them that Jesus’ perfect life is now theirs. We are to do this over and over again, which is easy to say, but far more difficult to carry out. We see the disciples struggling with this in their response to Jesus as they said, 5 “Increase our faith!” And, 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” The disciples thought they needed stronger faith to be able to show others their sins and forgive them, but Jesus showed them that they did not need stronger faith. Instead, they needed to make use of the faith they already had.
Your faith allows you to live as God’s servant. Often, the term servant carries along with it a negative connotation, but not so when it is service to God. Paul reminded Timothy in our reading from 2 Timothy that with God as our master, we are content to carry out our task because 2 Timothy 1:9, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” God’s purpose and his grace made you his servant. Service in his kingdom is to point others to him, his strength, promises, love, forgiveness and Son, Jesus. As servants, we serve, some may do more, while some do less, but all serve. We do not deserve anything special for our service in God’s kingdom because it is simply what God has called us to do. Our faith leads us as unworthy servants to handle situations of eternal significance as we lead others away from sin and show them their Savior. It is a task that truly humbles us. The words of our Psalm for today remind us that our reward is not based on what we do, but what God has done for us. Psalm 27:13-14 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
There is a garden growing out back behind the church. The small handful of seeds planted weeks ago have done what God programmed them to do. God planted faith inside your heart and called you to be his servant. You are called to trust that Jesus came to serve you by giving up his life on the cross to save you. You are now his unworthy servant given the task to share his forgiveness with everyone. And, at the end of each conversation you have with someone, the end of each day and at the end of your life 10 … when you have done everything you were told to do…you can say, ‘We are unworthy servants… by faith;… we have only done our duty.’” Amen.