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10.06.13 In it For the Long Haul, Luke 17.5-10 Sermon Summary

by on October 7, 2013

Like Jesus’ original disciples, most of us wish we had more faith. These passages give us some ideas on how to do that.

Summary Points

  • How Jesus answered the question originally
  • An Old Testament example
  • Two aspects of faith
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

I become aware of how much faith I don’t have when I find myself worrying. Those of us who worry need more faith, for the Psalm for today says fretting leads to anger and evil (Psalm 37:8).

Jesus’ original disciples exclaimed, “Give us more faith!” right after Jesus taught them two things: don’t cause others to sin, and forgive others whenever they sin against you. They must have begun with more faith than I have, because these are not the things I worry about. I worry about money and security far more than I worry about causing others to sin or being unforgiving.

Maybe since they were a poor and occupied nation, Jesus’ original disciples simply had so much practice depending on God for money and security that their faith in these areas was strong. Or maybe they had only a small amount of faith to begin with.

Jesus’ answer applies equally well in either case. He tells them it takes only the faith they have to do what he is calling them to. This is the mini-parable of the mustard seed sized faith. He isn’t admonishing the disciples for their lack of faith, but affirming what faith they have, even if it is as small as a mustard seed.

The longer parable about the servant who works all day and then has to clean up, prepare and serve a meal as expected of him adds to this point. It doesn’t teach that we are worthless (though the church has often taught this). Instead, Jesus is saying that just as the servant does only what is expected of him by nature of his being a servant, so by our nature as God’s children are we able to have faith.

I am reminded of the first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

Taken together, what Jesus is saying to his disciples and to us is that whatever faith we have is enough, however small we estimate it to be, because of whose we are.

The prophet Habakkuk provides an example. After observing the devastation of the Assyrian conquest he cries out to God for justice and redemption. God answers by saying, “Don’t worry about the Assyrians—I am sending the Chaldeans to take over.” It’s like saying, “Don’t worry about the infestation of fire ants, a swarm of locusts is coming.”

This is hardly the answer Habakkuk was praying for, so he puts God on notice. Habakkuk will stand and watch to see what else God will do. And God assures Habakkuk that though the promise of justice and redemption may be delayed, it is still valid. It is simple enough (small enough, like a mustard seed!) to be written and read on the run. It is to remember God’s faithfulness, hope in God’s promise, and with for God in faith.

Habakkuk ends with a beautiful testimony of one aspect of faith: faith as perspective, as hope, and as praise. “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

The words of the Psalm make the same point: “The wicked will fade like the grass.” (Psalm 37:1) How things appear today, however unjust, will be different in some tomorrow. God and goodness prevail in the end. Watch and wait for it, giving thanks to God.

But there is a second aspect to faith according to Habakkuk. Faith isn’t just a perspective, it’s an action. Faith isn’t passive waiting, it’s active doing. Habakkuk says “The righteous will live by faith.” This is best understood as, “The righteous, that is, the ones waiting for God with faith, will continue to live in faithfulness.” Or in the words of the Psalm, “Trust in the LORD and do good, so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.” (Psalm 37:3)

I know a lot of people who are waiting. They are waiting

  • for the furlough to end
  • until they’re older
  • to have children
  • until they have a job
  • for graduation
  • to die
  • until they’re healthy
  • to make partner
  • till they’re married
  • till they have more faith

The fact is we’re all waiting for something. We’re in it for the long haul if we’re in it at all. But God has given us something to do. God calls us to both aspects of faith—the perspective and the activity—to live in faith and serve in faithfulness. And remember, what little faith you have is enough, because of whose you are.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • In what ways do you feel the need for more faith? Where is God calling you to faith and action in such a way that you pray, “Increase my faith!”
  • How does this message of Jesus’ affirming small faith and our nature as God’s children change your perspective of this passage in Luke, of your faith, and of yourself?
  • Read the three short chapters of Habakkuk. How does his example inspire you in your own life situation and faith?
  • Use the words of Psalm 37:3 (quoted above) to guide your prayers. What would it mean for you to “trust God,” and to “do good”? What does it mean to you to “live in the land” and to “enjoy security”?
  • In the Newer Testament, Paul vigorously argued for “salvation by faith” and quoted Habakkuk’s “the righteous will live by faith” (see Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11). Yet Paul argued just as vigorously for a life of faithfulness arising out of this faith. In what ways can you add faithfulness to your faith?
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