Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, October 2, 2022

Text: Luke 17:1-10

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Sometimes we might assume that we know more about a situation than we actually do—at least until we have the details. For instance, maybe we observe someone in their occupation and conclude that we know what their job is all about. The classic example would be a teacher. The school day starts at 8 and ends at 3; weekends off, holidays off, June, July, and most of August off. Seems like a pretty sweet gig, especially if you don’t mind kids. But unless you’ve been a teacher, you might not understand or appreciate how much extra time goes into it, with all the planning, preparing lessons, correcting and meetings that it takes to do the job well.

A friend of mine once told me about how when he was younger, he wanted to be a garbage man, because he thought they only worked one day a week—on garbage day! (Obviously he changed his direction when he found out the truth)… You might already know this one: firefighters don’t just fight fires. I asked a fireman once and he told me that only about 1 out of 10 calls has anything to do with a fire, if that. And, despite what you may have heard, I can assure you that your pastors do, in fact, work more than an hour a week.

What does all this have to do with us? Well, today we have the chance to spend some time on a section of Jesus’ teaching where he talks us through some of the details of discipleship—in other words, what a life of being his disciple ought to look like. Discipleship involves far more than merely how we think or how we believe, where we spend our Sunday mornings, or what we call ourselves. So any of us who would consider ourselves disciples of Jesus ought to pay close attention to the points he makes today; we’ll take a look at them one by one.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.

The first detail of discipleship has to do with the influence we have on the people around us. And before any of us begin to say that our lives don’t have much impact on the people around us, Jesus urges us to consider that very little in our lives is neutral when it comes to the example we set. Anyone who has spent any time with children can tell you that they are always learning, whether you are trying to teach them at the time or not. They are constantly soaking up their environment and watching people, adopting the habits and mannerisms that they see as they filter the world around them. They learn far more by watching and listening than by following directions alone.

But it’s not just young people. Adults may be more set in their habits than children are, but they still learn and react, too. Now for the key question: what would someone learn by watching you? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing to consider you a model of what it means to follow Jesus—to listen to the language you use and the jokes you tell, to copy the way you react in times of disagreement or conflict, to imitate your worship habits and how you do or don’t connect with God’s word in your life?

As disciples of Jesus, I’m sure we could all find ways that we positively influence the people around us—that’s good. But might there also be times when we’ve been more of an obstacle to their relationship with God than an encouragement? Jesus says, watch yourselves, and know that other people young and old are watching, too. Take the responsibility of discipleship seriously, and influence people positively by the way you live, speak, and act. Live a life of following Jesus, and the people around you might be more inclined to follow him, too.

Next detail: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Out of all the ways that you, as a disciple of Jesus, can have an impact on the people around you, I can’t think of anything more important than helping people see and understand how forgiveness works. Why might I suggest that? Well, think about this: what do you most appreciate about God? Isn’t it the fact that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve? Instead he not only is willing to forgive us; he promises to forgive us whenever we repent and turn to him. Our entire hope of heaven is built on God’s forgiveness that we could never earn, but he gives freely to us because our Savior lived, died, and rose again for us, to take away the sins of the world.

Now Jesus urges us to imitate and emulate the way he forgives us as we forgive one another. As Jesus does elsewhere, he urges us not to be stingy with our forgiveness, but treat each other the way God treats us.

Does that mean we excuse or enable others to take advantage of us, or act like sin is no big deal? Certainly not, and God doesn’t want anyone to have that attitude. Jesus instructs us to rebuke one another: to point out sin where we see it, but not with punishment as our main goal. Instead, once again, we want to model the kind of forgiveness that we have from God. What a blessing that as the forgiven, we get to share forgiveness with others! Perhaps this is a good time to ask: can you think of someone right now that you’ve been having a hard time forgiving in your life? Maybe it happened a long time ago, or something more recent… Live as the disciple of Jesus that you are, and apply forgiveness when and where it’s needed.

Two details down, two to go. And maybe at this point, you’re thinking the same thing that Jesus’ disciples thought: being a disciple is difficult; it’s harder than I thought it was. It’s a big responsibility, and I don’t know if I am fully equipped for it now that I know some of the details.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

Yes, even for disciples, life in a sinful world is difficult. There is so much temptation, and we struggle against our own natural desires every day. We might think that if we had more strength, it would all be easier. But Jesus responds in a way that teaches a valuable lesson: how strong we are isn’t as important as where we find strength. Faith isn’t as much about the quantity as it is about the quality; in other words, the object of our trust is more important than the amount.

If that doesn’t help explain it, here's a simple way to look at it. Who has more power, you or God? That’s a no-brainer, right? If we depend on our own strength to live lives of discipleship, we will always wind up disappointed. If, however, we trust in God’s almighty power and grace and lean on him all day long for the strength we need to fight our battles with fear and worry and temptation, then (just like a tree transplanting itself in the ocean…) we can live in a way that would be otherwise impossible—a life of discipleship that is meaningful, and purposeful… and powerful. And as you spend time in Word and worship, the blessing is that faith grows along the way.

One more detail: “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” Jesus knows how temptation works. He knows how sometimes we get things right, by God’s grace. As we mature in our faith and in our lives of discipleship, as we put into practice what we have learned by imitating our Lord, by helping others grow in their faith and sharing forgiveness with them, a new temptation enters the room—that of pride. We get tempted to think that because of our worship attendance and our offerings, our positive influence and our strength, that people should look up to us and maybe even God should grant us some special favors or blessings. But Jesus reminds us that that’s not how discipleship works.

No, discipleship is service. And we don’t serve God and our neighbor so he’ll give us anything; no, we serve because in Christ we’ve already been given everything: forgiveness, eternal hope, and daily blessings far beyond anything we could earn. We don’t live for the appreciation others might show; we live out of appreciation for the perfect sacrifice Jesus made and the victory he won for us all. Our motivation isn’t a begrudging sense of doing what we have to do; instead we want to do whatever brings God glory and shows his love in our broken world. We love because he first loved us.

So what are the takeaways from the details of discipleship? Maybe first of all, how blessed we are to bear the name of Jesus as his followers, his forgiven children, and now his servants! It’s difficult work, messy and thankless at times, but it’s meaningful and purposeful work to live in a way that serves others. It won’t go perfectly, and so we’ll need to regularly repent and forgive others who repent, but God’s forgiveness for us moves us to forgive freely and willingly. Jesus will feed our faith as we turn to him and trust in him, and work powerfully through us. Thank God for this blessed responsibility, and let’s not forget the details in our lives of discipleship for him. Amen.