Increase Your Faith Three Easy Steps Call Today!
Sermon ~ Sunday, October 2, 2016 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson
This story has been around for a while in various forms. One version is that of a husband and wife who regularly attended church together. But it seems the husband would on occasion doze off during the sermon. He was attentive to the announcements, sang along with the hymns and songs, wide awake and serious in prayer, chuckled along with the rest at the antics of the children during the children’s message. But when the preacher stepped into the pulpit it was like he suddenly developed sleep narcolepsy. Bam! He was out . . . much to his wife’s mortification he would occasionally snore!
One Sunday on their way home she started to scold him but he insisted he had been awake.
“Very well,” she said triumphantly, knowing better. “What did the minster preach about?” She had him!
He paused. “He preached about sin.”
“What did he say about it?” She asked smugly.
“He was against it!” He harrumphed.
Now I don’t know if this answer proved whether or not he was awake, but I do know that generally a preacher who has spent some time preparing a message for Sunday morning would, all things considered, prefer you stay awake and pay attention.
However, this week, some of you are getting a free pass. Some of you, I know, need to let your minds wander. And that is alright. Sometimes something is said and you need to explore that thought and it is fine with me to let your mind wander as you process it chase it down if you will.
Today some of you are getting a free pass because this message is not about you. If you are humble, if you are meek, if you are a confessing Christian who is already aware of your sins and have asked Jesus for forgiveness, have never struggled with doubt or questioned your faith, you have permission to close your eyes, lean back, and relax. You’ll hear the organ began the Hymn of Reflection.
As for the rest of us, (and I do mean us because I include myself!) we might want to pay attention but don’t let on this is hitting us right in the heart.
The Bible speaks some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes people don’t like the way the Bible speaks. You may have heard about Thomas Jefferson’s Bible but sis you know that in 1833 Noah Webster, whose influential dictionary shaped the American lexicon, published his own version of the King James Bible because to his thinking the biblical writers insisted on using indelicate words to describe human things. He found biblical language “offensive,” “distasteful,” and “unseemly.”
Now there is that place at the end of Revelation where we are warned not to change a single word. (Some forget though, that at best this applies only to Revelation!) All the same, if we could, who wouldn’t do just a little pruning? Especially in today’s passage where Jesus talks about slavery, acts as if slavery were normal, and then tells us we need to consider ourselves slaves in relationship to God.
Slavery is a real problem in the world today. Any reference to slavery that might suggest approval can be painful, or at least distracting. No one should suggest in any way that scripture approves of slavery. Even in the ancient world, where slavery was an economic, not a racial, condition, and many slaves could earn money and buy their freedom, it was still an instrument of power and it was wrong, to use a biblical word an abomination!
So when we find a reference in Luke that sounds as if Jesus takes slavery for granted, we might consider what Jesus was actually saying in this text. He is chastising his disciples, who were his closer followers and should have been stronger in their faith, for their lack of faith, their inability to match the faith of a mustard seed. He calls them to stop acting as if they were entitled to a place in the kingdom, and to work a little harder to make it happen.
In the same way we ought to consider how this passage might be directed toward us who are a little too fat and sassy in our faith. Especially in our era, when our hymns and our testimonies and even some of our theologies lead us to talk about “my Jesus” and “my God” and “my Bible.” We can get to feeling pretty tight with the big Guy, “Just you and me Lord, just you and me.”
God becomes someone, a force, an energy, we can call in to help us on our project, to reach our goals.
Now those of you who have been asleep, this is why this message isn’t for you. You are the ones who sit at the last place, to whom Jesus says, come forward and take your place at the table of honor. You identify too much with the preachers of our colonial Congregationalists who referred to us as worms and describe what it’s like to be sinners in the hand of an angry God, while you’re safe from God’s wrath! You’re really the ones to whom Jesus says, “Come unto me all you who are heavy laden, and l will give you rest.”
The rest of us, however, have to ask if we are really all that heavy laden. Are we pulling our fair share? Or have we pretty much had a free ride until now? We who are proud, too self-assured, lacking in humility, who put ourselves in the first place, and look down on others as unworthy of God’s grace and salvation, we’re the ones to whom Jesus says, “Whoa there! Wait a minute.”
Yes come to the table, but for once come to serve the Master. Come expecting nothing, but a full helping of discipleship. Tend God’s sheep, then feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit those in prison. Maybe we’ve had it just a little too easy. To be sure the grace of God is free. Maybe because we’ve paid nothing for it we have no real notion of its value.
The disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” as if it were something to be done with a magic wand, with no more effort than the wave of a hand. Authors today promise, “Read my book it will explain it all out for you.” The supermarket tabloids keep on assuring us that we don’t need to sweat, we can lose those 40 pounds without dieting and exercise, that we can build muscles without any effort, six-pack abs while sitting in our recliners.
Mustard seed faith might just work a little better if we plant our prayers on our knees. This is not a scripture for the poor in spirit. They are blessed already. This is for the rest of us.
But take heart – because we are not alone in this and we have someone on our side. Someone wise and good: Jesus our master, and not only Jesus but our sisters and brothers! The ones who are sleeping through this service. Who among you, Jesus asks, would seat yourself, a slave with the master, poor with the rich?
In the Roman Empire such boundaries were honored as a matter of course. But we know from church history that as the early church acted on these teaching of Jesus they found that when they came to the table of fellowship, all were welcome, despite the restrictions of Roman society. And there was transformation. The rich became poor. The poor were lifted up. Slaves were freed. Masters bent to wash the feet of slaves. As they all sought to emulate the way of their Master, Jesus of Nazareth.
Would you be with me in prayer?
Holy One, we come before you, humbled by the sacrifice of Jesus.
As we break the bread and drink the cup
let us call to mind the cross of Jesus until his return.
Let us serve each other as slaves, not bound by laws or chained by the powerful, but freely pouring out our lives in service to each other and to God’s kingdom, following your example.
May we renounce the sins of selfishness and pride.
One Christ, one cross, one table, one people, serving one God. Slaves to each other, freed with each other. In your great name we pray. Amen.
Okay. The rest of you can wake up. We’re through. And if someone asks you later How was church, show them your bulletin and if they want to know what the message was about just say sin. And if they need any more details just tell them that we’re against it. Especially our own!
And again . . . Amen!