Friday, October 11, 2013

Duty v. Faith

Luke 17:5-10
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"

17:6 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.

17:7 "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

What is the Christian life?  What does it mean to be a Christian?  What are the fruits?  Helping the poor, right?  Helping widows and orphans.  On the Outer Banks we have Ruthie's Kitchen that feeds the poor.  We have Room at the Inn that houses the homeless during the winter months.  The Dream Center gives them a place to stay during the day.  We have a Food Pantry.  We have many other programs and helpful tools that aid us in reaching out to the downtrodden.  We are servants to the world.

But this is what makes the above text from Luke all the more alarming.  Above, Jesus says that this is our DUTY as Christians.  This is the bare minimum of what our roles are.  Of course we are to serve. We are SLAVES to Christ, and our roles on earth, as Christians, are to serve others WITHOUT REWARD.  It is our job, and if we expect something out of it, we are not thinking of our roles properly.  Also, it looks like that if we are not working constantly, and are taking too many breaks, we are failing in our role as Christians.

This is our duty.  It does not require anything special to do, Jesus seems to be saying.  To prove the case, look at the secular world.  The secular world is just as adept at serving the poor and the downtrodden as Christians are. They fail, just like we fail, because the poor will always be with us, but they put in as good as an effort as us Christians.

It seems that we can only be successful at doing our Christian duty by having the necessary faith in Christ to do it.  Indeed, this parable by Christ seems to be a response to the statement from his disciples when they plead with Jesus to, "increase our faith!"  But actually, the pleading from the disciples is in response to something Jesus said that isn't printed above.  Here it is:

Luke 17:1-4

Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! 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.” 

As Christians, it is our duty to serve the poor.  The secular world also feels its duty to do this, too.  Unique to Christians is what Jesus describes above.  The worst kind of sinner is the scoffer: the one who not only actively sins but encourages others to sin, too. These are the ones through whom stumbling blocks come, and they can come through the ungodly world, but many time they come through brothers and sisters: fellow Christians, oftentimes Christian leaders.

What is unique to believers is our ability to rebuke scoffers AND THEN forgive them when they repent.  How many of us do that on a regular basis?  I see no hands, not even my own. Why?  Because it is the hardest part of the Christian life.  We don't want to rebuke anyone, because we don't want anyone to dislike us.  We don't want to forgive anyone, because it wouldn't be fair.  We have a sense of justice where it shouldn't be, and we have a sense of compassion where it shouldn't be.  We should feel justice in our rebuking of scoffers.  Instead we feel justice in our lack of forgiveness.  We should feel compassion when we forgive the repentant scoffer.  Instead we feel compassion in our lack of rebuking.

Indeed, these are the hardest things for a Christian to do, and so that is why the disciples respond with the desperate, "Increase or faith!" to their Lord.  The good news, is that we can utter this cry, too.  We can also shout out, "Increase our faith," and Jesus will respond with his faith-giving Spirit.  It is as simple as that, but we are unwilling to ask the Lord.  We are too proud, and we are too selfish to ask for help.  We think we can do it alone.  Helping the poor is easy; even the unbelieving world does it.  Rebuking and forgiving is impossible for us, but with God all things are possible.

Lord, increase our faith!