Posts Tagged ‘Luke 17’

Odd Man Out 10-13-13

In this sermon I tackle another view on faith. It is based on Luke 17:11-19, the story of the 10 lepers.

Listen to the sermon here:

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. Excuse the odd punctuation and indications to pause. I gotta remember this stuff somehow.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen
There have been a few times before when I’ve discussed my sermon preparation process…how during certain weeks things went a little odd…strange revelations…eye opening examples…or the dreaded Friday writer’s block.
Well guess what…this week was a bit of an oddball as well…mainly because when Friday rolled around, I was out of the office and home with my kids as the Underwood school system was out for the day. Over the course of the morning, the three of us were lazy, just hanging around the house. I was picking away at some housework while letting my sermon percolate in my mind…and the kids got into a music mode. They sat around listening to music together…but there was a bit of a catch. (pause)
When my kids get hooked on a song, they listen to it over and over again…now parents…I’m guessing that you’ve been hearing your kids singing the new song “What Does the Fox Say?” (pause) I heard it over and over for about half an hour…and then after a short while, the song finally changed…and I heard One Direction’s “You Don’t Know You’re Beautiful” over and over again.
My first inkling was to get a little annoyed at hearing the same songs again and again…but then something dawned on me…the light bulb went off in my head…as I’ve been working on the sermon for this week…I’ve been thinking over and over again…this sounds just like last week.
If you were here last week or if you happened to catch the podcast of my sermon, you know that I talked about Faith…what is faith…what is faith not…where does it come from…how do we get it…faith faith faith faith…and it’s a good topic to think about…but after thinking about it for a week straight…I was a little surprised when I sat down, last Sunday following worship to read today’s Gospel lesson for the first time…and the very last phrase was…your faith has made you well…FAITH!!! THERE IS IT AGAIN!!!!
I’ll be perfectly honest…at one point I had the notion that I would just come up here…read the Gospel lesson…and say “Hey, remember what I said last week? Same deal” and go sit down…but then I thought about it a little more…and I realized that while, it’s the same topic this week…the story line is a little different…and it reminded me of movie sequels.
There’s certainly a trend in Hollywood these days to take established movies…and crank out another one…and it works…I know, I checked. The current top 10 grossing movies of 2013 include Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, Oz the Great and Powerful, and Star Trek Into Darkness. 4 sequels and 2 prequels…6 out of 10…and if you are wondering, #”s 15, 16, 17, and 20 are all sequels too.
Now what’s the secret to a good sequel? Make the story line similar…use at least some of the same characters…but change up the perspective and the setting so its not the exact same movie as the first time around. (pause) So does that work for today’s Gospel?
Let’s see…we’ve got Jesus…and he’s the main character, so that’s good…but we’ve got some new people too…10 lepers including a Samaritan…check…the location has changed so we’ve got that going for us…and instead of the disciples asking for more faith, we see that healing happens because of existing faith…check…yes friends…its official…we have a sermon sequel…we might as well call this one Faith…Part 2.
As I read this story, over and over again…I found myself wondering about the presence of faith…this faith that Jesus recognizes and applauds in the life of the Samaritan…and I found myself wondering…was he the only one that had it?  There are many instances in the Gospels when someone expresses faith and Jesus applauds it…in fact, he uses this exact same phrase 7 times throughout the 4 Gospels…Your faith has made you well…and in each instance…its an unexpected person…its never the disciples…its never the religious elite…it’s the foreigner or the downtrodden…or the neglected…its those that have no earthly reason to be praised…to be recognized…its those that are at the margins…and today’s story is no exception.
10 lepers…and now leprosy…let’s think about that for a moment…leprosy is a horrible disease. Your flesh literally rots away while you are still alive…finger and toes…hands and feet rot away and fall off…and whatever caused it…it was wildly contagious…that’s why we find these 10 guys off in the wilderness…outside of the town that Jesus is approaching…because that’s what they did if you were a leper…they kicked you out of town until you either died or you got better…
You couldn’t come into town…and if you happened to encounter anyone…you had to announce your condition so they could avoid you…that’s why the 10 lepers call out to Jesus from a distance…and so we find these 10 men…utterly marginalized. (pause) But it goes farther than that…we find out that one of them…is a Samaritan…now if you’re not familiar with the social dynamics between Jews and Samaritans at the time…it wasn’t really great…they were like the neighbors that hate each other…the Samaritans were considered half breeds…remnants of a horrible time when the Jews were in exile and intermarried with the Assyrians…they worshiped God but not “correctly.” In short…they were a culture of outcasts…and so this one man…experienced even more marginalization…and outcast…among outcasts…on the outside of the outsiders.
Perhaps that’s why the Samaritan was the only one of the 10 men who returned to show his gratitude for being healed…perhaps it’s because this one man felt the sting of being marginalized just a little more than the others did. Maybe the reversal that Jesus created in his life was just a little bit bigger…a reversal of his condition, he was healed…a reversal of his exile, he could return to his home and family…but even more than that…a reversal of his exclusion…for Jesus himself…God in human form…chose to act in his life, regardless of his status…regardless of his culture…God acted, even if he wasn’t one of the chosen ones.
But maybe it goes a little beyond that…I wonder what was going through the minds of all 10 of these guys. They ask for mercy from Jesus…clearly they recognize him for who he is…but instead of just saying “Ok guys you got it” and healing them…he sends them on a road trip…go show yourselves to the priests.
What do you suppose they were thinking to themselves…or saying to each other as they left…still sick…still unclean…and started walking to the local priest… Umm, what’s going on? Jesus didn’t do anything for us…that’s kinda weird right? But then…in the midst of their journey…the miracle happens…the healing happens…the cleansing happens…and it happens for all 10 of them…(pause)
Yes, only one returns…the Samaritan as we’ve already heard…but all 10 were healed…and Jesus says that it was faith that made them well…so it seems…even though the other 9 guys failed to show any gratitude…that they had faith in what Jesus told them…that the other 9 guys also believed in what God had promised them. (pause)
But I wonder…did any of them have any doubts?  Did any of them feel like maybe, just maybe it won’t work? (pause) Well, maybe…just maybe…that’s how the Samaritan felt.  Maybe…just maybe he was thinking “It won’t work for me…I’m different…I’m not one of them…Jesus just didn’t recognize me for what I am.” (pause)
Doubts happen don’t they? (pause) I think at one time or another, everyone experiences doubt…doubt about who we are…if we’re good enough…if we know enough…doubt about our status in life…doubt about our place in life…and yes…even doubt about our faith…is our faith strong enough…do we really believe the promises of God…Will God really accept ME.
I’ve encountered a lot of people who say that they can’t go to church because they’re too messed up…or because they look different…or they act different…or because they don’t have their life all straightened out…a lot of people fall under that category…and unfortunately…they tend to stay away…they won’t even approach God because they’re afraid…or because they’re stubborn….or because they think they’ll be denied.
But people…don’t we all experience that?  Haven’t each and every one of us…at one time or another…felt like the odd man out…haven’t we all experienced the doubts…or the fears…or the exclusion…haven’t we all been on the margins.  Ever been to high school? You probably know what I’m talking about…ever sat in a class, or a meeting, and felt like you were in over your head?  Ever been called on to explain something, and felt like you didn’t know what to say, or what to express…or worse yet, you sat there questioning whether or not you even believed it yourself?
In our lives…whether or regular day to day activities or in the expression of our faith…doubt happens…questions happen…fear happens…it happens to each and every one of us at one time or another…and when we are honest with ourselves…it probably happens a whole lot more than we want to admit….especially here in church right?
And so we put on the brave face…or we sit quietly with our doubts and questions…or we stop showing up…because our doubts can get in the way. (pause) But you know what…God choses to work despite those doubts…despite those questions…God choses to work in our lives regardless of our own sinful shortcomings…its those sinful shortcomings that prompted God to work in the first place…
And maybe it’s those that recognize how much Jesus has overcome in their lives that creates such an extensive gratitude…look back at the story…the one man that came back…one man out of 10…was the one that experienced twice the miracle…Jesus gave him the same result as the rest, despite being an outsider among outsiders…and when the man realized what God had done for him, he felt the need to express that gratitude directly…and I think we can learn from that example.
Because we’re all outsiders aren’t we? All of our relationships are strained by the presence of sin in our lives…no relationship is perfect…because no person is perfect…and the most important relationship…the relationship that we have with God…the one that we all doubt at one time or another…is severed by sin…but God overcomes it anyway.
God tells us…go on…just like Jesus told the lepers to go…and the healing occurs as we go on in our day to day lives…its not the living that heals us…its not us that heal ourselves…its God that acts…even when our doubts linger…God’s promises still apply…and I believe that we need to show that same gratitude to God…that’s why we gather together in worship…to offer our praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for what he has done for us…but we also show our gratitude in our day to day lives by following what Jesus himself tells us to do…go and make disciples…go and share what God has done in your life…share your story…and don’t worry about having all the right answers…or having everything in line and straightened out in your life first…because when we’re honest…we know that…will never happen in this lifetime…but praise the Lord…because he doesn’t wait for us to get it all figured out…God acts…even when we aren’t paying attention…even when we, are the odd man out…Amen

What is Faith

Today’s sermon came from Luke 17:5-10, though I cut the lesson short, focusing on the first couple of verses. Honestly, I think it took longer for the congregation to stand for the reading of the gospel than it did to actually read it. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith and I take a long look at what faith is and where it comes from.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the sermon text here, but note, I went off script several times…adding stuff here and there, occasionally switching stuff around. So the text may be difficult to follow at times.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The apostles said the Lord “Increase our faith.” (pause). Sometimes I wonder about the disciples. This batch of ragtag backwater ragamuffins that Jesus picked, seemingly at random…to be his closest followers.  Uncouth, uneducated fishermen…a tax collector…a political extremist…a bunch of guys that we really don’t know a whole lot about.
Why did Jesus pick these guys? Did they show him some sort of great devotion from the get-go? Were they just all really good looking and he thought it might increase his status with the cool kids to hang out with them?  Who knows?
All we know is that Jesus chose these guys, and for three years they followed him around. They watched him do amazing things…unbelievable things. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God in new ways…sometimes in understandable ways…and sometimes in confusing ways.  They saw him heal people, raise the dead…they heard him talk about his own death and resurrection…and to top it all off…Jesus planned on building his church on the shoulders of this random crew…Do you suppose they felt up to the task? Or did they maybe…just maybe…feel a little lacking? (pause)
Lord…increase our faith…They might as well be saying “You need to lay some magical Jesus powers on us Lord…then we can do all this stuff that you’re asking us to do.” Or perhaps they’d just heard the old George Michael song “Cuz I gotta have faith” and they thought it was catchy…hard to say.
Either way…they are looking for a boost on the faith scoreboard. Maybe they don’t feel as if they have any and they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we need some faith.” We see that you have faith in God and we’ve all seen what you can do…throw some our way and we’ll be good to go…we’ll head out and do miracles and then everyone will believe us.”
Or maybe they think they’ve got some, but not enough…Maybe they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we’re ranked in at level 5…but we need to be level 10…then we’re golden.”
We don’t really know the motivation of the disciples here…but we do know this…they go to Jesus and ask for faith…and faith…that’s a word that we throw around a lot in church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran church. We heard it in all three scripture lessons today…we’ve heard it in our prayers…we discussed it downstairs in confirmation class a little while ago…it’s a tenant in the Lutheran tradition. We are saved by faith in Christ…AWESOME!!!! But what the heck does it really mean?
I think this is a serious question, and one worth really thinking about. Faith runs the risk of becoming one of those Christian buzzwords. Something that gets thrown around a lot without ever being defined. So what is faith?  Think about it for a moment…if you were in a conversation with someone…someone that isn’t a church goer…and they asked you “What’s faith?”  What would you say? How would you respond?
Is faith simply following the rules?  Is it just going to church once every week or two?  Is it expressed by trying to do the right thing?  Is that faith?  (pause)  Well, no…I don’t think so.
I think faith…is actually a very simple thing…Faith…is believing in something.  It can be as simple as believing that if I put some money in a pop machine…I’m gonna get a pop out of it…or believing that if I set my alarm before I go to bed, it’s going to go off at the right time so I can get up in time to get everybody ready for the day…or believing that if I climb in my truck and turn the key, the engine is going to start.
It’s a question of believing in something…that’s faith…now granted, those examples that I listed off aren’t anything worth staking my life on…but I have faith that if I do any of those things, then its going to turn out like it is supposed to. (pause)
But if faith is as simple as believing in something…then what does that mean here in the Biblical sense?  What are the disciples really asking for here? Do they even know? (pause)  Often times in the Gospels, we see Jesus correct them…and today’s story seems to be one of those times.
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to plant itself in the ocean and it will happen.  My guess is that Jesus is getting a little snarky with the boys once again.  Of course you aren’t going to actually attempt to plant a tree in the ocean…that’s just silly…we all know it won’t grow there…so why would Jesus even say that?
Well maybe, just maybe…the example that he’s giving is irrelevant…and maybe the size of the mustard seed…or in this case the amount of faith that he’s talking about doesn’t really matter either….Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that if you have any faith at all…if you actually believe in the promise…then its done.
Maybe that’s all faith really is…Actually believing it…actually trusting in the promise made by God…the promise that if you believe in Christ as your savior…then its done.
Funny…as I sit and think about that, it almost seems like it’s way to easy. All we have to do is believe? Really? (pause) I mean…come on…REALLY? That’s it?  It can’t be it. (pause) Can it?
Well, what if that is it?  What if that’s really all there is too it? To this…faith…thing. (pause)  Well that doesn’t seem so hard now does it?  Kind of makes you wonder just why the disciples are having so much trouble with it…but you know…it seems like the disciples are always having issues with it…in really believing the promise of God. You’d think they’d be the ones to have it down, but it seems like in the Gospel stories its always the unexpected person that Jesus praises for their faith…the woman that washes Jesus’ feet. The woman who touches his cloak in the crowd and is healed…the centurian seeking healing for his servant…these are the people that Jesus praises for their faith…and its because they express belief. They each believe that what they are seeking, will be granted…they simply believe it and it happens.
Kind of reminds me of Yoda in Empire Strikes Back when he tells Luke Skywalker “Do…or do not…there is no try.”  When it comes to the promises of God, you either believe them, or you don’t…It seems that you either have faith, or you don’t. (pause)
But if that’s the case…if that’s really the case…then just where does faith come from?  (pause) I think that this is one point where we can look to the disciples and see that they were doing something correctly…they were looking for faith outside themselves…because faith…is not self generated. (pause)
You can’t make yourself have faith…I wish you could…I really do…but you can’t.  Faith takes two things…first you have to hear the promise…if you haven’t heard anything to believe in then there’s nothing to believe right?   (pause)  Secondly…you need God to act…and that’s where the disciples are getting it right. They are going right to the source…Jesus Christ…God the Son…God right here on earth…They had heard the promise straight from the source and now God needs to act…and we find ourselves in the same boat.  We hear the promise…that we are saved from our sin by Jesus Christ…and it is up to the Holy Spirit to act in our lives to create faith…to create belief in the promise. (pause)
And now here’s the kicker…all of this begs the question…how do we hear the promise in the first place? We have to hear it first right?  Without a promise there’s nothing to believe in…and we don’t have Jesus here to tell us about it do we? (pause) But we’re here aren’t we?
Think about it for a moment…each and every one of you are here because at some point in your life…someone saw fit to tell you the promise of God…at some point in your life someone saw fit to invite you to come…and if you’re still here…then it seems that you believed the promise…it seems that you caught the faith.
And that’s an important point right there…catching faith.  I firmly believe that faith is not taught…(pause) its caught…and if you don’t believe me, take another look at the reading from 2 Timothy for today. Paul tells Timothy “I am reminded of your sincere faith…a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now…I am sure…lives in you.”
Timothy’s faith is a generational faith…and I believe very strongly in the importance of that fact.  In a recent survey of faithful youth within the Lutheran church…the vast majority stated that their faith formed because of the work of caring adults…adults that were willing to invest in the faith of those young people…but the identity of those caring adults might just surprise you.  For the vast majority of those faithful youth…it wasn’t the youth director…it wasn’t the pastor…it wasn’t the Sunday School teacher…it was their Mom and Dad…and it was their Grandparents.
I’ll go on record…here and now…I’ll go on record saying that I believe that parents, you are the MOST important person in modeling a life of faith for your children…but while you might be the most important…you are not the only ones. Extended family…you’re responsible too…but you aren’t the only ones either…everyone…top to bottom…everyone is responsible for creating an environment where the promise of God….the promise that we are saved from our sin through Jesus Christ…is proclaimed…where the promise is lived out…
And when that sincere faith is present…when it is talked about openly…and honestly…that’s when the Holy Spirit gets busy to bring the new individual into a saving faith in Jesus Christ…because the faith that we have…the belief that God will do what God says he will do…its contagious…and that’s a fever worth catching. Amen.