“The Implications of Faith”
Faith is great. We know that we Christians are saved by grace, through faith in Christ. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the certainty of things unseen. Faith is a gift. Faith, hope and love – three great Christian virtues. And faith, even the size of a mustard seed, can move mountains.
Today, as Jesus teaches his disciples on the way to Jerusalem, we hear him delving deeper into just what this faith means for our life together as Christians. For living in the faith means a different kind of life than outside the faith, with the unbelievers. If we believe in Jesus, if we follow Jesus, then certain things are to be expected; certain things will follow. Let’s look at this passage which may seem at first to be an eclectic mix of disjointed ideas – but really has St. Luke, and Jesus, teaching us some of the implications of faith in Christ.
For starters, a warning. Temptations to sin are sure to come – even to those of us in the faith! And while we are not enslaved to sin any longer, Jesus concedes that we can still fall into temptation. So that’s the first warning – to watch not only for sin, but the very temptation to sin.
Even more sternly, Jesus warns us about being a temptation to others. Causing others to sin. Woe to that one! It’s one thing to sin all by yourself, but sinners love company in their sin. It may make you feel less culpable. “Hey, look, everyone else is doing it! I’m not the only one, it must not be so bad!” And whether the sin that you’re recruiting others for is gossip or laziness or despising of God’s word or any other sin – don’t be fooled. Sin is worse when you lead others to it, especially little ones – either children, or those who are weak in the faith. Watch yourselves! Jesus warns. Tempting others to sin is no small matter. It brings woe. It would be better to be tied to a millstone and cast into the sea. It is, truly, damnable.
And if that pokes some holes in your conscience today, well it probably should. For which of us shouldn’t be lined up for our own millstone? Who doesn’t, by their sin, deserve their own measure of woes? But the same Jesus who dishes out the woe came to take it. The same Jesus who warns of sin’s great consequences is the Jesus who absorbs them into himself. Woe to the one who causes another to sin. But thanks be to the One, who by his death, frees us from the woe of sin and judgment.
Next, Jesus talks about forgiving our brothers. If he sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But hard to practice. Hard to have the courage to speak a word of rebuke. Rebuking isn’t for polite society. It’s not good dinner conversation. But life in the faith is different. Christians march to a different tune than the world. And so we are called by Jesus to rebuke – though, gently if possible, as Paul encourages Timothy. And the goal, of course, is not to demean and drive away the sinner, but to elicit repentance and reconciliation. “If he repents, forgive him”. That’s the goal. That’s the desire. Even seven times in a day – or in other places Jesus says 70x7 – forgiveness is unlimited. Christians don’t keep score against each other. For we know how the score stands with ourselves.
How many times, how many sins does God above forgive you each day, dear Christian? Certainly more than 7. Certainly without demanding you enumerate and verbally confess each and every sin of thought word and deed. If we did that, or even tried, we’d never do anything else but confess! So deep and thorough is our own sin. But so high and all-encompassing is God’s forgiveness in Christ. That all our sins are covered – 7, 70x7, 7 trillion zillion. All washed away in baptism, and in the blood of Christ. And so how can we not forgive so freely? How can we hold our brother’s sins over him?
We saw a beautiful example of this in this week’s news – when the brother of a murder victim spoke words of forgiveness in Christ to the woman who killed his brother. He even embraced her in a hug before she was taken off to serve her sentence. Now here we see the implications of faith in a most poignant way – forgiving what some would think unforgivable. But that’s just a shade of Christ’s forgiveness for each of us.
Sounds pretty difficult, though. Avoiding sin, not tempting others, rebuking and forgiving our brothers who sin. Jesus sets the bar so high. And you get the idea that the disciples were feeling the same. Who can live up to these expectations, Lord? Who has such a great faith? And so they pray, “Lord, increase our faith!” Not a bad prayer.
Much like the prayer of the man whose son was plagued by a demon – the one who prayed, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” Friends, it is these kinds of prayers that God always answers with a yes. For we know his will, he has revealed it to us – and it is just that – that we would have faith, and more of it.
We pray similarly after communion, “…that of your mercy you would strengthen us through the same (that is, through this sacrament), in faith toward you…. And in fervent love toward one another”. Strengthen our faith, Lord! And he does!
And to what end? What does faith do when it grasps on, ever so tightly, to the promises of God? I does amazing things. Things you’d never expect. Jesus here must have been walking by a mulberry bush, and used it as a handy example – “if you had faith – even a little faith – like the grain of a mustard seed - you could say to this bush to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you!” Ah, but that’s not what faith is interested in, showing off, doing tricks. Rather something even more amazing – saving sinners. Grasping grace. Making the words and promises of God our own. Even saving us, to life eternal.
Nor is faith about measuring faith. Faith trusts not in itself, but in its object, Christ and his word. Faith doesn’t look inward, but outward. Faith looks to Christ and him crucified, and there finds its assurance, its hope, its fulfillment.
And finally faith has fruits. Faith produces works. Faith prompts and effects in us the fulfillment of our duty as the servants of God. Of course we are always careful to say, as scripture does, we are not saved by those works, but by grace through faith. But we also know that faith without works is dead.
But in much the same way that faith doesn’t look inwardly at itself, faith also doesn’t keep score about one’s good works. It’s like the servants in Jesus’ example. They do their duty – without care or concern, without thought of gain or reward. They do all that is asked of them, and then simply say, “look, we’ve only done our duty”.
In a world of entitlement mentality, what a breath of fresh air are the good works that flow from faith. In a milieu of “what’s-in-it-for-me?”, the Christian faith asks a radically different, “How can I serve God and my neighbor?”
Consider the story Jesus tells of the sheep and the goats – in which he praises the sheep for their good works – visiting the prisoner, the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, doing all this good to the least of these, and in essence, doing it unto Christ himself. But the sheep answer in bewilderment, “when did we do all this to you?” You see they weren’t keeping score. Their deeds flowed from faith. Their works weren’t some spectacle for the world to see, but they were simply doing their duty.
So you, dear Christian, go and do likewise. Live out all the implications of faith – avoiding temptation, and never causing others to stumble. Confessing your own sins, and receiving Christ’s forgiveness, only to forgive also those who trespass against you. Grow in your faith, and pray that you would ever more. And in all you good deeds, simply do your duty, to the glory of God and good of your neighbor. All for the sake of faith, faith in Christ, that great gift and blessing. Amen.