Sermon from 10/6/2013 Luke 17:5-10 Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus the Christ Amen.
Ouch! In today’s gospel we encounter a Jesus who is irritated, snarky and downright mean. The disciples simply ask for faith and Jesus brings down the hammer hard, mocking them as if to say: “You want more faith?” You only need faith the size of a small seed! Why are you asking for more faith?” As if this weren’t bad enough, Jesus continues to talk down to them, comparing them to simple house servants, slaves even, who are simply expected to do what they are told without special treatment or consideration. They are not even granted a bit of faith… What gives Jesus? Where is this kindly shepherd and relentless coin searcher we’ve been hearing about?
I mean it’s not as though the disciples’ request seems all that ridiculous. In the verses preceding the gospel text for today Jesus commands his followers to avoid causing people to stumble on His teachings. If this is too hard, Jesus says to them, why don’t you just tie some bricks around your neck and throw yourself into the sea. Furthermore, if you are sinned against, you are to forgive the offender each time they repent, no asterisk, no qualifying clause, no excuses, simply forgive every time. So in the very next verse, the first verse of our text, we can’t fault the disciples for asking for a little help. We might say along with them as they do in chapter 18: “This teaching is hard! Who then can be saved?!”
Habakkuk is having his own crisis of faith in today’s first reading. The prophet is finding it hard to trust in a supposedly merciful and just God. A God who lets the wicked and evil doers prosper and allows justice to come forth perverted. Habakkuk is made sick by those in Judah who do evil and who go so far as to manipulate the law and render judgments in their favor at the expense of the people. Perverting the very law given by God to serve and sustain these people. Habakkuk hits home here. He gets at a deep and troubling question. God, why do you let bad things happen? Why do you let evil people do as they please? God, If you really love us, where do you go when the winds howl and the rain starts to pour? It’s a hard world we live in. Even more so when we must do what you require.
Indeed as we look to our own lives, we see a government that is shut down leaving many people without services or jobs while our well compensated leaders refuse to collaborate. We in record numbers are experiencing poverty and hunger in a nation that is also experiencing economic growth. We continue to struggle with disease and loss while health providers make large and unseemly profits. And so we ask God along with the prophet, why is it that you let the wicked prosper and let justice be manipulated for those who can afford it?! Furthermore, why is it so ridiculous to ask for a little help to go against the grain; to bring your hard teachings to a world who is unwilling to hear it, a world that is ready to pounce on those who show weakness and compassion? Why can we not ask for a little help to do your will? Why is it so unreasonable to ask for a little fortitude… a little faith?
We are left lingering on this question as we turn back to the parable. What is getting Jesus so riled up? Why the heavy hand and the angry and impatient parable? Why not just give the guys some faith…?
The thing is, I don’t think Jesus is opposed to nurturing faith. Rather, as we read about a couple weeks ago it is Jesus’ intention to bring in the lost sheep and the missing coins. Indeed earlier in Luke Jesus lays out his purpose plainly saying: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” All this is a glaring contradiction to the proposition that Jesus is opposed to creating faith. So why does he rebuke the disciples here?
You see in Jesus’ estimation the disciples had all they needed for faith, even if that faith was only the size of a small seed. Indeed, Jesus had been proclaiming loudly and decisively in front of them that God is for them and not against them. God binds up the injured and seeks out the lost and helps them to carry their heavy burdens. Up to this point he had preached the coming Kingdom, performed miracles and healed a multitude. So when they ask for faith, Jesus is irritated thinking, “How much more proof do these guys need?” After all, they had all the proof they needed standing right in front of them in the person of Jesus who IS God. The very same God they witnessed going to the cross to suffer, die and be raised defeating the powers of death and sin. Indeed how much more do the disciples need?
But what about us? We were not there to witness one of Jesus’ miraculous healings or to hear him preach powerfully about God’s coming Kingdom. We were not present with the disciples to see the empty tomb and we have not put our hand in Jesus’ side as Thomas did. What do we have? How are we to have our faith increased?
We still have signs, tangible proof of God’s loving faithfulness… It is the water in the font. Our proof comes to us in that common everyday compound with God’s word: “You are my son, You are my daughter in whom I am well pleased”. It is the bread and the wine on the altar. With these common things and God’s Word we hear once more from Jesus “this is my body broken for YOU…This is my blood, shed for YOU… Not just him or her or that guy over there but for YOU.
It is in these things we can take heart and grab a hold of the hope we have from God. Indeed, we gather together in community as the body of Christ to experience, Emmanuel, God with us, who is permeating our relationships with love. It is in these sacraments we know that God is for us and not against us and that he has not given up on this broken world.
Alright, we have faith… so now what? What about the rest of the parable? What is Jesus getting at with all this slave business…? How does faith have anything to do with it…? I think he is saying that with faith, which God provides, we are empowered to do great things, even if that faith is as small and seemingly inconsequential as mustard seed, and is founded in simple, every day things like water or bread and wine. Moreover, in these things we are reminded once more that we are loved by a God who created us in His own image and though we have strayed has recreated us in that image once more and for all time in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our faith, our hope is built on nothing less. This is how we can live as obedient servants because we know by faith that though we were once worthless slaves, slaves to sin, we have been set free; that though we were lost we are now found. You see we obey our Lord and Savior not to garner favor or to prove our faith but rather our faith in a loving God moves us to do great things. We live for God because God lived and died for us and set us free to truly live for Him and for one another. Our guilt is assuaged, our shame is lifted and our brokenness is made whole. You are free on account of the gospel, so go and live as you were called to be, servants of our living God. Amen.

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