Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Category: Gospel of Luke

Faith that Makes Forgiveness Possible

Luke 17:1-2

“The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.” 


Jesus said things that ticked people off. Sometimes we forget that about him...you know, the whole fact that everybody got sick of him, turned on him, and crucified him. Often we, just like people 2,000 years ago, expect (or at least prefer) a far more complacent and underwhelming Christ figure than what is revealed in scripture.  If Jesus isn’t getting under your skin, you might not actually be paying attention to what he’s saying to you.

Such is the case with today’s gospel. Know that it is totally acceptable if your initial reaction at today’s gospel was to scoff or roll your eyes. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Really? I can talk to trees and they’ll pick up and walk to the sea? All I need is just a little faith? 

That’s troubling, isn’t it. Maybe you have a different track record, but when I talk to trees they just stay there. I have never witnessed something as dramatic and implausible as inanimate objects coming to life and doing what I command them. Even it we sidestep the trap of taking Jesus’ words as literally true, he still posits a radical claim that we probably have not seen proven true in our lives. 

And if I haven’t seen literal or figurative trees uprooted and planted in the sea, than I assume it is because I do not have faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed...which makes me feel as small and unimportant as, well...a mustard seed. 

So, where’s the good news in these first few lines of today’s gospel? 

Let’s start a few lines earlier. After all, if you come across something in scripture that seemed wildly inaccurate or troubling, the best thing to do is look for some context to make sense of what’s going on. 

The disciples’ demand for Jesus to give him more faith comes in response to Jesus’ teaching regarding forgiveness. In the preceding verses Jesus says, “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Luke 17:3-4).

What’s your initial reaction to that teaching? Probably something like, “You really expect me to be able to forgive someone even if they continually make my life a living hell? You’re going to have to give me superhuman spiritual strength to be able to do that!” Or, in other words, “Lord, increase our faith!”

Jesus’ reply is that superhuman spiritual strength is not a requirement for forgiveness. All that is required is the tiniest faith that God has first forgiven us. If we believe, even in the slightest way, that we are forgiven by God for no other reason than that God loves us, then we have an unlimited supply of forgiving words and actions to share with others. 

True forgiveness of another person is impossible without faith and trust that forgiveness is what makes the spiritual world go round. God’s love and forgiveness deserve a place on the periodic table of elements because they are the atomic building blocks of our lives. 

The great news is that you don’t have to wait until you feel like your faith is stronger than ever before you extend forgiveness with others. You can forgive even if you have the slightest inkling that the whole idea of God’s forgiveness and love is actually true. In fact, it is in the sharing of love and forgiveness that your faith grows; which takes all the air out of the idea that forgiving and loving others requires an impressive or gargantuan faith. 

If you are someone who has not realized or embraced God’s forgiveness, there are a few ways to dip your toes in that water. You’ve done one already. You have joined with other sinner-saints to confess your sins and hear the promise of God’s forgiveness. Later, as we celebrate the Eucharist, you can take time to savor the sight, smell, taste, and texture of God’s forgiveness in the bread and wine. Back home, in your daily life, you can read the pages of scripture and be reminded of God’s love and forgiveness. You can pray for an awareness of your forgiveness. You can trust that others are praying for the same thing for themselves and for you. And you can pay attention to the world in which you live. Really notice the trees, grass, leaves; the laughter of children, the taste of good food...take it all in and recognize that they are all gifts given to you by a good and gracious God who delights in you. 

A person who has even the faintest experience of having been forgiven can turn around and forgive others. Forgiveness does not require a superhuman amount of faith. It simply requires the desire to share something good and life-giving with someone else.

If you’ve watched the news this week you likely heard about one powerful instance of forgiveness in Christ’s name. Earlier in the week a woman named Amber Guyger was sentenced to ten years in prison for shooting and killing an unarmed man named Botham Jean. Amber mistook him for an intruder, even though she had mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking it was hers. At her sentencing, Botham’s 18-year old brother Brandt made a victim impact statement. To summarize what he said would be wholly inadequate, so please watch the entire the video  of his statement (have some tissues ready). Suffice to say, this is what is possible with faith of any size.  

Amen.

Top Ten Not-So-Stupid Pet Tricks

(For our annual pet blessing service, we worshiped outside on the labyrinth this Sunday, so there’s no audio of the sermon, but you can read it below.)

Luke 9:57-62

As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first, let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said to him, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


I picked this Gospel for today, because it’s just one of the many times Jesus uses animals as examples in his ministry of teaching. There’s a lot of talk about fish, of course, and sheep. We just heard one of those parables a couple weeks ago. He talks once about not worrying so much, because if God so cares for the birds of the air, as God does, we can rest assured God will also care and provide for God’s people. Another time, he compares himself to a mother hen who would gather her brood of chicks under her wings for protection. He even talks about dogs once – and learns a new thing because of it – when he tries to shame a Canaanite woman who comes to him looking for help.

All of this to say, there is so much for us to learn about and to learn from the creatures of the world around us – and from all of those who have joined us today. And in the spirit of keeping it short and sweet, for the sake of the beasts who have joined us, I thought I would channel Indiana’s own David Letterman – who loved his stupid pet tricks, remember – and simply share the top ten reasons why this annual service and the blessing of pets is one of my favorite things we do around here:

#10: I’ve always marveled at how happy we are to introduce our pets to our people on days like today. I love seeing the pride people have in the animals with whom they share their homes and their lives. I think we learn a lot about someone based on that sort of thing and I hope we consider bringing our human friends to worship every once in awhile and introducing them to what we’re up to around here, with the same kind of joy and enthusiasm.

#9: This way of doing worship is messy and loud and awkward and amazing. And I think it’s closer to they way our worship should be all of the time. Not so predictable. Not so practiced and well-rehearsed. Not so void of surprises. This day reminds me that we should all be as patient and good-humored and gracious about screams and outbursts and messes and mayhem every Sunday morning – with anyone and everyone who shows up for worship – as we are patient and good-humored and gracious today.

#8: (Speaking of messy, loud and awkward…) There is always some weeping and gnashing of teeth. These barking, biting, screeching and scrambling beasts we bring together year after year, all remind me of the differences that make up the people of God, out there in the world and right here at Cross of Grace, too. We come together as Partners in Mission in spite of and because of the various ways we experience the world around us. We don’t always agree about everything – and may disagree in some big ways about a lot of it – but we gather here, all of us, under the banner of and grateful for, God’s amazing grace and abundant love.

#7: It’s never all or only about us. Our pets have a tremendous capacity to remind us about our call to service. To be needed by a dog or a cat or a horse or a hamster is a reminder that we have resources worth sharing – for the sake of our neighbor and our nation and our world, just the same. (So, the next time you find yourself picking up dog poop on a walk through the neighborhood or cleaning out the litter box, give thanks for your call to service – that you’re called to it for the sake of your pet, and we’re all called to it for the sake of God’s people in this world, just the same.)

#6: These pets humble us in a holy way. I love to see teachers who successfully command respect in the classroom full of students, wrestle with a rescue dog. I love to see coaches and choir directors who lead a team or direct a choir of other people’s children be disobeyed and dragged around by a dog of their own. I love to watch a scientist or a boss or a well-respected professional of any kind – use pet-names and baby talk with their animals on Sunday morning. And, it’s instructive for a pastor of people to get slobbered on and hissed at by their pets, at least once a year. All of it reminds me that each of us is the same kind of broken and sinful and small and powerless in the grand scheme of things, where God is concerned. A little humility goes a long way.

#5: Creation Care is a Calling from God. Our animals – and the creatures and creation that surround us on a day like today – are clear reminders of the conscientious care we’re meant to extend to the world with which we’ve been gifted. We’re so broken and tempted and swallowed up by the political forces of this day and age, that we’ve been tricked into thinking that care of creation is a partisan, political issue, which it is not and never should be. It is a calling and command on our lives that’s as old as Genesis for the children of God.

#4: These animals are a picture of discipleship and faithful living. All the leashes and carriers and cages we’ve used to bring our pets to worship… All of the rules and commands we use to keep them in line and safe… are reminders of the value of those things for all of us, too; that rules and commands and obedience to God – our master – are given with love, for the sake of our blessing and benefit. Commands to follow faithfully, to give generously, to worship, learn and serve, are good for us – they keep us in line, they keep us safe, they please our Master, and they bless us as much as they bless the world when we get it right.

#3: The ones who get it, want more of it. I love the dogs who seem to understand that there’s something worth receiving up here, when they approach the altar. Of course, many of them are glad to receive whatever treat we feed them as they receive their blessing – and they come up with such curiosity, enthusiasm and joy. And I love the ones who want more of it. And expect it again when it’s time for communion. We should all be so curious and hopeful and filled with joy to receive what comes to us in Holy Communion.

#2: These animals – especially the dogs, as far as I can tell – are the grace of God incarnate, in the flesh, in a way that hasn’t happened since Jesus walked the earth. They never run out of forgiveness for us. They never run out of joy to be in our presence. They are ever-glad to welcome us home. For these things they are a picture of God among us.

#1: I’m convinced all of this is a picture of what we mean when we say and pray and hope: “on earth as it is in heaven.” I’m under the impression that all of this is a foretaste of the feast to come. I’m convinced that all dogs go to heaven – and cats and crawdads and chickens and chimpanzees, too. I believe that what we do in worship, whether we’re in the sanctuary or on the labyrinth… what we do in our lives together as believers… is to look for and to celebrate and to bring the kingdom of God’s grace and mercy and joy and justice to earth, among us, for the sake of the world.

Amen

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.