St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-06-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-06-2019

Stumbling Along the Way

Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:(1-4) 5-10

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen.

Our Lectionary assigned Gospel reading would have started verse 5, but that would have left out the part of the story that leads the apostles to say in verse 5, “Lord, increase our faith”!

As it is, including the previous verses we can get a better feeling for the apostles request, even imagine a different tone-of-voice… ‘You mean we’re supposed to forgive someone who has offended us every time they say “I’m sorry”, even if it happens 7 times in a single day! O Lord, increase our faith’!

“Occasions for stumbling are bound to come…” that is a fact of life. It’s easy to stumble, to “lose faith” in the messiness of life. We have faith, we rely on our faith, we hold fast to faith but things still go wrong. Faith doesn’t guarantee that we won’t have troubles; sometimes it seems that faith just isn’t enough to get us through when troubles come and we stumble, we begin to lose faith.

This is, by no means a good thing, but we don’t have to worry about being cast into the sea with a millstone around our neck for that. God understands that we’re only human and is always there to forgive us when we do. And with that forgiveness, our faith is not only restored, but made stronger than before!

Causing someone else to stumble, to lose faith, is another story altogether; even if that person has offended you 7 times in a single day. That’s where Jesus brings in the thought of a millstone and a deep sea. Is it any wonder, then, that the Apostles plead for more faith? Is that enough reason for us to plead for more faith?

It is in this context that Luke places Jesus’ “mustard seed” metaphor “”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.

It comes across more clearly in the original Greek than in the English translation that this is a chastisement. Jesus is calling the disciples out for their understanding of the power of faith. Not for their lack of faith or their mustard seed sized faith, but for their lack of awareness of what the little bit of faith they do have can do for them and for the world around them.

Then, suddenly Jesus is talking about a slave and master relationship. It may seem to us, in an era and a place where slavery is not only unseemly but also illegal, a jerky transition to another topic and an unfitting representation of anything to do with faith in God. But in that time slavery was a well known and well understood relationship between subordinate and superior. With this, then, Jesus is calling to the Apostles mind, and to our mind, to our status in relationship to God within the context of faith, stumbling, and being the cause of stumbling.

No matter how much faith we have, nor who well we can use the faith we do have, God is still our superior and we are God’s subordinates. We must use our faith and the power it gives us according to God’s will, not our own. And we must not expect God, our master, to serve us for doing our job well. We still serve God by doing what God has told us to do.

Here, Jesus is calling in the words we heard him speak in last week’s reading about Lazarus and the rich man. When the rich man, being tormented in hell, asked Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers Abraham replied “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

They were told by Moses and the prophets what to do. We have been told by Moses, the Prophets, and Christ what to do. To love God above all else, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God… and to even love our enemy.

Now Christ is telling us why we should do what we’re told. It’s not only to avoid the fate of the rich man, who failed to do these things, but also to avoid another failure, that of causing someone else to lose faith. With that error, we fail the other and ourselves.

If we can love as God calls us to love, love as God loves us, forgiving our offender even 7 times a day just imagine the change we could make in the world!

With that kind of love how could we lose faith? With that kind of love, who would be caused to lose faith? With that kind of love how much stronger would be those who have stumbled? And who could resist being drawn to faith if we demonstrate that kind of love, 7 times a day, day after day, every day of our lives.

We have the ability to make a difference even with our tiny, mustard seed of faith when we put our faith in the power of the love God calls us to show. We can change the face of the earth, even change the order of the earth, more assuredly than we can command a ‘mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ if only “we have done what we ought to have done!”

Amen.

 

Lamentations 1:1-6
1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.
1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.
1:3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.
1:4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
1:5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
1:6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

 

Psalm 137
137:1 By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.
137:2 On the willows there we hung up our harps.
137:3 For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
137:4 How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
137:5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
137:6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
137:7 Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”
137:8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!
137:9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

 

2 Timothy 1:1-14
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
1:2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
1:3 I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.
1:4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy.
1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.
1:6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands;
1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
1:8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,
1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
1:10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
1:11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher,
1:12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.
1:13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
1:14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Luke 17:5-10 (adding 1-4)

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!”
17:6 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.
17:7 “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’?
17:8 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’?
17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
17:10 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!’”