Sermon Text: Luke 17:1-10
Sermon Day: October 6, 2013; 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s (10/16/13) sermon is taken from St. Luke’s gospel account the 17th chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
Scandals and Scandalizers will Come
In our text Jesus is translated as saying, “Temptations to sin are sure to come.” I say, “Jesus is translated as saying,” because what He’s translated as saying isn’t what He actually said. Nowhere in the Greek text of our gospel reading do we find the words “temptation,” or “sin.” So what did Jesus say, what’s the actual text record for us? “He said to His disciples, it is impossible for scandals not to come. Nevertheless, woe through whom it does come.” Jesus isn’t talking to His disciples about temptations to sin, not here, not in this text. Jesus is talking about scandals, stumbling blocks, death traps set by men, at times well intentioned though always woefully wicked. The road to hell is a wicked road walked by wicked souls deceived by wicked people with wicked words and wicked works, yet paved with good intentions.
These scandals afflict especially the youth – “one of these little ones” as Jesus calls them – and those who are young in the faith; those not yet matured into spiritual adulthood. These scandals can either be doctrinal – as is the case with those denying the saving work of Christ given to infants – “little ones” – through baptism. Or these scandals can take on a more physical nature and afflict the body and thus also the soul with sin.
Scandalous teaching and a scandalous life can destroy faith. Why, because both lead the heart to doubting or boasting. False doctrine, wrong teaching, no matter how well intentioned, will always undermine the work and person of Christ thereby undermining the object of our faith. Without Christ as the sure foundation of faith, the person is left to add himself into the equation. And any theological equation that is Jesus “plus”, or Jesus “and” will usually end up being some sort of Jesus “plus me” or Jesus “and me,” which really means Jesus and my works. Whenever part of the equation includes me and my works for my salvation there is cause for either doubt or arrogance, despair or pride.
When false doctrine focuses on works, then works too can become a scandal. Good works are never enough to save. Bad works are always enough to damn. Focusing on works leads to doubt or arrogance. Faith without works is dead. Works do matter, but not for salvation. Mortal sin is intentional sin – it’s common sins like living together or having sex before marriage. Those are usually very intentional. It’s also horrible sins – like murder and abortion. It’s easy sins, like staying home on Sundays. It is sin indulged in and often sin loved. It is sin left un-repented. Such sin grants dominion over the believer. It is a dominion which Scripture forbids when it says, “Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey its passions.” (Romans 6:12) Such sin is scandalous sin, it is sin that leads to death for scripture teaches that there is a sin “that leads to death” (1 John 5:16). This mortal, intentional, un-repented sin destroys faith, maybe not all at once, maybe a little bit each day, until finally the person is captivated with a life apart from the Lord.
Pay Attention to Yourselves (Judging)
These scandals and scandalizers Jesus promises will come. And those through whom they come it would be better if they had a millstone wrapped around their neck and they were thrown into the heart of the sea. In other words it would be better if they and their false doctrine and wicked works were to be found nowhere near Christ’s little ones – be it infants, children, youth, or those young in the faith.
It’s for this reason our Lord gives us a warning, “Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents forgive him.” You heard Jesus right. Jesus actually tells you Christians to rebuke your brother who sins. He tells you to call them out, call them to repentance, call them back to Jesus. In much the same way, St. Paul instructs “if anyone is caught in a transgression, you who are spiritual, should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
But pastor, I thought Jesus said “Judge not lest you be judged.” He did, and obviously that text has been mis-used in order to prevent what Jesus instructs this morning.
Such rebuking of sin is actually pointing out the scandals, the death traps, set by the devil and those following him. This rebuking involves pointing out false doctrine, false beliefs and false works. It is pointing out the dangers of sin leading to death. It is pointing out the dangers of false doctrine leading to hope in self. This rebuking is commanded by Christ. It is not optional for us Christians, but is to be done out of love and concern for our neighbors, friends, and family and it is to be done in gentleness from a spirit of humility.
To ignore Jesus and “let bygones be bygones” is to embrace the bygones. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” All sin is evil. Silence in the face of sin is sin. Not to rebuke sin is to participate in the sins of others, a practice clearly forbidden by scripture when St. Paul says, “neither be partakers of other men’s sins” (1 Tim. 5:22), and when he admonishes the Christians in Rome to “note those causing division among you and avoid them.” Thus you who are spiritual as individuals and members of Christ’s body, the Church, you are given to speak against abortion! You are given to speak against divorce, adultery, living together before marriage, homosexuality, drunkenness, laziness, despising of God’s word by not attending Church services and so on. To not speak against such things publicly or privately, is to support such things.
Increase Our Faith
“But pastor, if I say something my son won’t talk to me anymore. If I say something my daughter might not come home for Thanksgiving. If I say something I’ll loose my friends. If I say something I’ll come off as holier than thou or as some sort of hypocrite, because I’ve done these same sort of sins myself.” And I ask you, are you still doing these sins? If so, repent. Stop doing these sins. Stop believing false doctrine. And stop participating in the sins of others by letting “bygones be bygones.” Stop the silence!
I know this isn’t easy. I’ve struggled with when to speak and what to speak and how to speak. I have. And at times I’ve failed to speak. In my failure, in your failure we must respond as the disciples did. “And the apostles said to the Lord, “increase our faith.” Speaking the truth and forgiving our neighbor, friend, or family member can only come from faith. Faith must increase – at least to the size of a mustard seed.
Where is faith increased? How do I get more faith, a stronger faith, a mustard seed sized faith? I get it, Jesus gives it, right here, right now. Right here, right now, Jesus hears your confession and He forgives. He forgives you because He loves you. And because He loves you He’s paid for your sin, the sins you’ve done, the sins you’ve inherited and the sins you’ve shared in with others. There is a sin that leads to death but only because that sin is kept from Jesus. There is no sin too big, no sin so great, no sin so horrible to prevent Jesus from speaking these words, “be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you.” It is only the sins we keep buried in the depths of our hearts, the sins we hide away, the sins we refuse to surrender that lead us into death. Jesus would have you confess your sins and receive His absolution. He is faithful and Just and will forgive our sins and cleans us of all unrighteousness.
This cleansing and absolving is received by faith and strengthens faith. It is God’s good Word for you. And God’s good Word continues to work this faith in your heart as you hear the Word, receive the Word, meditate on the Word, feast on the Word. And it is this Word which God has given you to give to others. For unlike the wicked in this world who create stumbling blocks, scandals, and death traps for God’s children to fall into, God’s children receive the forgiveness of sins through the Word and then they go and through that same Word forgive the sins of their brother who repents. Thus the stumbling block is averted by mercy, the death trap tripped up by the death of Christ, the scandal scandalized by His Cross for you and me and the world.
The Faith of a Mustard Seed (trust the Word)
Faith clinging to this word is bold and brave and is compelled to one’s neighbor out of love for Christ and love the one trapped in sin and false doctrine. As Jesus Himself teaches in our gospel reading, it doesn’t take much faith or great faith, or super special charismatic faith to uproot mulberry trees and plant them in the sea. It doesn’t take something extra special in you to speak to your neighbor. No, even small faith, seemingly weak faith, faith the size of a mustard seed is able to do this. Because such faith is bound to God’s Word and God’s Word doesn’t return void. God’s Word accomplishes that for which it was sent out. God’s word does what it says.
Therefore beloved, trust God’s Word for yourself and when you approach your neighbor. Trust God’s Word when you confront false teaching and those following after it. Trust God’s Word when you rebuke those caught in the clutches of sin, mortal, intentional, un-repented sin, the sin that leads to death. Trust God’s Word and Speak God’s Word. God is faithful. He’s faithful to you and he’s faithful to all of His promises. His Word will work wonders for you and for those who hear it, those who do not reject it but receive it by faith. In this way, mulberry trees are planted in the sea bearing good fruit in seemingly impossible circumstances. So also those who are rebuked of their sin or doctrine are returned to the waters of their baptism, to God’s Word and Sacraments, and they are given to bear much fruit, fruit for the good of their neighbor and the glory of God.
We are Unworthy Servants
Beloved in the Lord, let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though being God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but humbled Himself even to the point of death for you and me and the world. Yes, beloved let this mind be in you for together we are unworthy servants. We are His and He is our King. Our King has given us a duty to do for the good of our neighbor. Let us not despair – and refuse our duty, for that would be to deny the power of the Word. And let us not arrogantly let “bygones be bygones” and thus share in the works of those heading south. There is work to be done for our God and our neighbor. Such work glorifies God as it takes His Word to heart and serves our neighbor well as it calls them to repentance and faith. Yes beloved, let us take hold of God’s Word, believe for ourselves and our salvation and then let us speak it in the face of evil, share in the company of sinners, and together put asunder the works of the wicked one in this world. AMEN!
(PS. You’ll notice I did not mention the word “bacon” at all in this sermon but decided to include it in the title to see how many more people read this week’s sermon. Blessings, Pr. Sikora)
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!