Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sermon -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 6, 2013)

LUKE 17:1-10
 In the name + of Jesus.

      Do you consider yourself a good Christian?  It’s hard to think that you are not, isn’t it?  You can cite all kinds of reasons why you should be counted as a good Christian, whether it is duties that you take on in your church, for your family, or at your work.  It is probably unthinkable that you would not count yourself a good Christian.  First of all, you are here.  Secondly, the other option just sounds terrible.
     But if you ask anyone if he is a good Christian, he will think of what it means to be good.  And he will assess himself to find out if he is good, that is, if he does good things, says good works, and has good intentions.  We tend to assume that we are better than most because we are Christians.  We commend ourselves as worthy servants. 
     Jesus pricks a hole in that balloon when he says, 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.’” (Luke 17:10)  So, yes, you are supposed to do good things, say good words, and have good intentions.  But even with your best day, you do not get to pat yourself on the back and commend yourself for doing God’s will.  Even if you have been holy, which is quite impossible, Jesus tells you when you lie down at night to confess, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what I was supposed to do.”
     It is natural that you would trust in your goodness.  Everyone knows that they are supposed to be good people.  Even godless people trust in their goodness.  But your good works can be a greater snare than your sins.  You know that you are wicked when you commit sins.  You know that there is nothing good in them.  You are grieved over them and you repent of them.  On the other hand, you are proud of yourself for the good works that you do, knowing that this is what God wants you to do.  You commend yourself for them, and it does not take long before you trust in them. 
     But if you pay attention to Jesus’ words here, you will soon recognize that even your good works leave you falling far short of what God gives you to do.  Jesus said, If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4)  Who is up to this?  How many times would you let your coworker or even your spouse sin against you in a day before you would say, “You aren’t sorry.  You are cruel, and I won’t forgive you anymore.”  Jesus does not say that forgiving would be nice or a good idea; he says that you are to do it.  And yet, we don’t want to.  We would rather rebuke and crush people in their guilt.  Then we know that we have something to hold over them, too.  But, dear Christians, that is unworthy of Christ’s servants.
     Do not trust in your works as though they make you worthy.  You are saved by faith apart from the deeds of the Law.  But if you are still trying to assess if you are a good Christian, instead of assessing your good works you probably start to measure your faith.  But Jesus pricks that balloon, too.  The apostles assessed their faith, and they were forced to plead, “Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, “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.” (Luke 17:5-6)  Now, how does your faith measure up?  It is not even the size of a mustard seed or a grain of salt.  So what kind of servant are you in God’s kingdom?  What hope do you have?  With the apostles, we are forced to plead, “Lord, increase our faith!”
     Do not put your hope in your good works.  Do not have faith in how great your faith is.  In all of these things, you are only staring at yourself.  Jesus teaches you to confess that you are to consider yourself an unworthy servant, so you will not find your hope in yourself.  Your hope must come from outside of yourself.  Faith clings to the worthy servant, Jesus Christ.
     That is what the prophet Habakkuk proclaimed.  He declared, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)  He does not say that the righteous shall live by his righteousness.  No matter what kind of role model you are or what examples you set, that does not save you.  It is by faith.  But faith does not rest on itself.  Faith must rest on a foundation if it is going to stand and not be shaken.  And so saving faith must cling to the worthy servant.
     Jesus Christ has done the works of righteousness that you need.  He fulfilled the Commandments and has proven himself worthy of the Father’s approval and affection.  He bore the sins of the world in his death.  He went to the grave with our sins and left them there.  But he rose from the dead, victorious over death and hell.  He ascended to heaven where all the company of heaven declares, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12)  He is worthy, because he has overcome every temptation, has conquered every foe, and has defeated death and the grave.  Now Jesus holds the keys to death and the grave.  He has released you from their grip by delivering you from your sins.  He has opened up the kingdom of heaven by supplying you with your righteousness.  He is the worthy servant who has done everything for your salvation.  Faith clings to the worthy servant.
     The righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)  And righteousness comes to you by faith in Jesus.  Jesus has taken the sin into which you were born and has uprooted it from your heart.  Jesus has taken your sins and has drowned them in the sea.  They have been cast away, sunk in the depths like a stone.  And even if you find that you have sinned against your Lord seven times in a day, repent.  Flee to Jesus for forgiveness.  For, he took all of your sins to the cross with him.  Jesus’ sufferings and death atone for everything.  Jesus’ words do not fail.  Jesus’ mercy never runs out.  If you come to him seven times a day and confess, he will forgive.  Jesus is worthy to forgive, for he made the payment for your sins. 
     Faith clings to the worthy servant.  He is worthy to forgive your sins.  They cannot condemn you anymore.  The Lamb was slain, but now the Lamb lives and holds your salvation in his hands.  He is your righteousness.  He is your salvation.  He is your hope. 
     So, whether you think you are a good Christian or not, it does not matter.  Your Jesus is good.  He is worthy to redeem and to save you, and he has deemed you worthy of saving.  And whether you think you are a strong Christian or a weak one, it does not matter.  Your Jesus is your strength.  Jesus is your rock and your salvation.  That is a foundation which remains solid and immovable.  Faith clings to the worthy servant, and such faith is never disappointed.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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