Text: Luke 17:1-10
Date: Pentecost XX (Proper 22) + 10/6/13
“As [Jesus] was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’” (Luke 19:36-38). “But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant” (Matt 21:15).
Last Sunday we heard our Lord say, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Today He calls us His “little ones.” But there are no children around. He’s speaking to His disciples and to His apostles. Let us today “turn and become like children” and learn that The Duty of Faith is to always live in the forgiveness of sins, ours and others; to receive forgiveness daily for ourselves and to dispense the same forgiveness to one another.
Talk about the understatement of all time, “Temptations to sin are sure to come.” Really! Why is that? Well, first because we are sinners. We were born sinners and, even after being baptized and declared righteous and justified because of a God-given faith in Jesus Christ, nevertheless we’re still sinners, we still sin daily in our thoughts, words and deeds. It will not be until death that we will be freed from our struggle against sin. So it’s not just once but every day that we need to “turn and become like children,” that is, to admit and confess our sin, to repent in sincere contrition and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ who then daily says to us in holy absolution, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
“Temptations to sin are sure to come,” first because it is built in to our fallen sinful nature. But temptations to sin are sure to come, secondly, because we are still in the world where “there will be no lack of sin and trouble.” St. John wrote in his first epistle, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
As long as we have this flesh and blood temptations to sin are sure to come. As long as we are still in the world temptations to sin are sure to come. Thirdly, the devil is also around us, “who with his lying and murdering day and night will let [us] have no peace, within or without.” “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12), chief of which is the devil. “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). So the apostle Peter memorably reminds us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
Those three things, our continuing struggle against sin in our own flesh, the world around us, and the devil’s attacks are the proof, says the dear Martin Luther, that you need to go to the sacrament (Christian Questions with their Answers). Why the sacrament? Because it is only by the blood of Christ shed on the cross as the atonement for all sin that one can be forgiven and given eternal life. The sacrament of His body and blood is our direct connection with the atonement of His blood. Therefore it is our daily food of heaven.
Living in the forgiveness of our own sin through daily contrition and faith would seem important enough. But there is more. Our Lord says you must also forgive your repentant brother, sister, neighbor. Do you find it easy to forgive others? But how about this? “And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Really?
At this point the camera zooms in from the view of all of the disciples to the twelve apostles who say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Here they speak for all of us who admit being such a forgiving person is quite beyond our ability (and experience!). We with them think that it must be only those of super-faith that can do as Jesus here commands. But Jesus says it’s not “the amount” of faith, “the strength” as opposed to “the weakness.” And He reminds us of the parable of the mustard seed that though it is the smallest seed, nevertheless grows into a huge plant. So our faith. It is not your own doing or effort. It is the gift of God and is as powerful as it needs to be. It is faith, He tells us, that moves us with the same love and forgiveness we ourselves have received from God to gladly proclaim it to others. Surely we will fail occasionally. But when we do it is not because our faith is weak or unable, but because we are resisting faith and the Holy Spirit, taking matters of judgment and retaliation into our own hands.
Such dispensing of forgiveness is within the power and responsibility of every Christian. But let us notice one more detail in our text. These words were addressed specifically to the apostles, those who were to be the chief, inspired teachers and pastors in the Church, in their personal activities as well as in their inspired writings that make up the New Testament. So this is also a special warning to pastors of every age, those who follow in the train of the apostles, not to cause temptation by allowing, teaching or preaching false doctrine. They are, rather, as St. Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy, to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Tim 1:13-14).
“By the Holy Spirit” “follow the pattern of the sound words.” “By the Holy Spirit…guard” the deposit of pure doctrine. “By the Holy Spirit” learn to live in the forgiveness of sins “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” Because it’s the product only of a God-given faith, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”