Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sermon: Luke 17: 1-19 Increase our Faith

I wonder if you’ve got a drawer or a cupboard like the one we have in ours. In it, you’ll find all sorts of random bits and pieces. A key for a lock you don’t even have now. Some string. A few batteries which might not have any power in them. Phone chargers and cables. The comedian Michael McIntyre talks about it as a ‘man drawer’. You never know when you might need it, so you put it there, along with all the other potentially useful but slightly random items.

At first glimpse, it looks like our chapter this morning is Luke’s man drawer as he writes his gospel. Random bits and pieces about sin, forgiveness, faith, duty and so on, so he throws them all in here. Maybe useful some time, but not entirely sure what to do with them. That’s what I was thinking, until I remembered Luke’s express purpose, as he says at the start of his gospel. He is writing ‘an orderly account.’ So how do they fit together?

The key moment seems to be the request of the disciples in verse 5. Maybe as you come to church today, it’s the cry of your heart as well. You’re following Jesus, but you feel that it’s not always easy. You feel like you need his help. You feel like you need more. Do you see what they say? ‘Increase our faith!’ We have faith, but give us more, help us to trust you more. This morning, as we work through the passage, remember that request: Increase our faith! What prompts it? How does Jesus respond? And what might it look like?

So what prompts it? What is it that makes the apostles say to Jesus ‘Increase our faith’? It’s something that Jesus says about sin. Or rather, two things, almost equal and opposite, about sin.

Verse 1: ‘Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come.’ Don’t be the cause of someone else’s sin. Don’t be the one to lead someone else astray. Here’s how serious it is - Jesus says it would be better to have a millstone hung round your neck and be thrown into the sea.

You see, we’re not Christians in isolation. We’re part of the body, we’re responsible for one another - we are our brother’s keeper. Now that might be hard enough, but the next thing Jesus says is even harder. Verse 3: ‘Pay attention to yourselves! 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.’

Don’t be the cause of other people’s sin; and don’t hold their sin against them. Forgive when they repent. Forgive every time they repent. Now when he says seven times that doesn’t mean you count, and the eighth time you don’t have to forgive. Jesus is saying as many times as they repent, forgive them. Are you ready to forgive?

No wonder the apostles say ‘Increase our faith!’ This isn’t easy. That’s what they’re saying - Lord, if you want us to do this, then we need your help. Increase our faith. Give us more faith to be able to do these hard things.

But look at how Jesus replies. ‘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.’ The mulberry tree was seen as the hardest of trees to move. It was thought that the root would remain in the ground for 600 years, it was so firmly rooted. So how much faith would it take to do the seemingly impossible? Buckets of faith? Oceans of faith? No, faith like a grain of mustard seed. A teeny tiny seed, you would hardly see.

It’s not that you need loads and loads of faith. You just need to have faith in God. As one writer has said: ‘If there is real faith, then effects follow. It is not so much great faith in God that is required as faith in a great God.’ (cf Leon Morris).

Having even a small amount of faith in God is enough to see miracles happen. It’s only a mustard seed of faith that’s needed to be born again, enough to be guaranteed the hope of eternal life. To stop trusting in yourself, and to start trusting in Jesus, that’s enough to see amazing things happen.

But when we do trust, and we do see amazing things happen; as our faith grows, and we see God working in our lives, we can’t take the credit for it. That’s what Jesus goes on to say in this story of the servant.

Verse 7: ‘Will any one of you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Does the master become the waiter for the servant? The obvious answer in the culture is no! The servant serves, makes sure the master is fed and watered before he sees to himself. But if the servant does what is required, then he doesn’t need thanked. He’s just done his job. He has obeyed his orders.

Jesus says that we are God’s servants; that we are under his command; that ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ We may see amazing things as we step out in faith. We may see lives changed, but at the end of the day, we’re only doing what God told us to do. We don’t deserve to be part of his plans. It’s all by grace that he chooses to use any of us.

The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith. He was calling them to hard things - not leading other people to sin, and forgiving other people’s sins. But Jesus says you don’t need big faith, just small faith in a big God is enough. And then Luke tells us about something that happened on the way. Something that shows us how much faith is needed.

Jesus is entering a village when ten lepers stand at a distance and shout at him. Leprosy in those days was a life sentence. You were unclean, cut off from normal family life, living with other lepers on the edge of society. They see Jesus and shout at him: ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’

Jesus tells them to ‘go and show yourselves to the priests.’ The priests had a public health role as well; they were the people who could certify healing from leprosy. And as the ten set off, they were cleansed. The rest continue, but only one turned back, praising God with a loud voice; falling at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. And he was a Samaritan!

Ten were cleansed, but only one said thank you. Ten were healed of leprosy, but only one heard the closing words of Jesus. As you look at them, you might find them familiar. These are the same words Jesus spoke to the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house (Luke 7:50) and the woman with the discharge of blood (Luke 8:48). They’re words which show that even a little faith, faith as small as a mustard seed, is saving faith.

Jesus says: ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’ The footnote says that this also means ‘Your faith has saved you.’ As you come to the Lord’s table today, you don’t need to have gallons of faith. But you do need to have faith. Even a mustard seed is enough to be assured of sins forgiven, to have heaven as your home, and to see God use you in the here and now to do his purposes, to do the impossible, as he changes us and makes us more like Jesus. As you cry out to him ‘Increase our faith’, hear his word that your faith has saved you, even if it’s as small as a mustard seed.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 7th February 2016.

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