O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Life in the Church
Life in the Church
Based on Luke 17:1-10
Preached on October 6, 2019
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Fellow baptized saints, the long dusty road stretches out ahead of you - winding towards the horizon and out of sight. The sound of feet walking across gravel crunches in echo off nearby hills. The sun is high, warm, keeping the way bright as you plod along. You’re headed for Jerusalem, and you accompany the King. You’re one of many, a nearly countless army of followers, lined up behind Him, intent on seeing the new kingdom Jesus promises is breaking-in. But you’re near the front. With Him. And so you tune your ear in towards His voice to hear Him teach.
“It is impossible for stumbling blocks not to come,” Jesus says as He watches a disciple stumble on the rocky road, “but woe to the one through whom they come.” He’s not talking to the crowds. He’s not talking to the religious rulers. Jesus is speaking to the disciples. The community of believers. He’s speaking to us - His Church. And this is the first time He has used the word “woe” with us.
He means this to be a serious talk. He’s got His cross in His eyes, what awaits Him in Jerusalem. And so He teaches us about the cross we’ve got to carry. He magnifies the grave responsibility the Church has - to teach the truth. True teaching is so important, it’s worthy of a woe. True teaching is what keeps the path clear. True teaching is what keeps us close to Christ. The Church is bound to mess up, Jesus says, and we’ve certainly seen that, haven’t we? Martin Luther had to call the entire Church to repentance when it had forgotten salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone for the sake of Christ’s holy blood alone. And what about today? How many Christian churches actually preach repentance? How many view doctrine as seriously as Jesus does – that it would get His believers our first woe warning?
There are stumbling blocks on this repentance road. False teachings and false beliefs that keep a Christian from freely confessing that Jesus is Lord and King of All. Woe to the one through whom they come.
That word terrifies me. It should humble all of us. Because it means we’re all connected – that what we believe and how we live is confessing something to those around us. We don’t always want it that way. But the reality is that people are watching you (and you know it). You don’t have to be perfect. No! Just the opposite. Their willingness to draw near to Christ is shaped by your willingness to admit when you are wrong and repent. They are watching to see if your God really is as merciful as you say He is, if He’s really going to receive you in mercy every time you fall short. And that you are ready and willing to admit it – because you have nothing to fear from Him. They’re watching - because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of death. They’re afraid of punishment. They think Christ is too good to be true. And they are watching to see if you’ll throw all your shortcomings on Him, honestly and truly and without hesitation. You get to be the one to give them reason to believe.
Well I messed that up Lord. Too many times to remember. I’ve been a stumbling block in the lives of your blood-bought precious ones. So now what Lord? Now what? Return to the water, Jesus says. Humbly. Everyday. Take the old Adam down into the depths of the sea. Leave him there at the bottom of the font. And take My hand as I pull you up new. Don’t resist. Don’t fight as you sink. But cheer Me on as I put that old stumbling block layer to death, so I can raise you up new to walk with Me in humility and righteousness and purity forever.
This is life in My Church. This is how I remain Lord of your heart and mind, cleaning out all the impurities, and strengthening your trust in my steadfast love and mercy. This is how My righteousness covers you, speaks for you, and keeps your legs strong on this walk.
Suddenly Jesus stops. He turns to the disciples who are locked on Him. He turns to you. Listen carefully, in My kingdom this repentance and forgiveness isn’t just between you and God. It is between everyone. It fills My kingdom. It is My kingdom.
If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if seven times a day he sins against you and seven times he turns to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Forgiveness is a living reality in My Church because this is how I release My people from their bondage to the old – this is how My kingdom breaks in – this is the new I am creating through My death and resurrection – death for the old and resurrection for the new – repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
You stand there speechless, still, holding your breath, and it is the apostles, the inner circle, who finally cry out to Him, “Lord – increase our faith – give us some - because when we hear you speak we feel like we have none! We can’t do it. This is too hard. We are not up for the task. Beloved, doesn’t it comfort you to hear the apostles speak this way? Is it not one of the most precious things to you - to hear His sent ones reach out in helplessness to Him? Give us faith. It’s a prayer. Offered to the right One too – the Lord. Beloved, do you want faith? Ask for it. Do you want to be more forgiving? Ask for it. Do you want to repent – to more fully turn your life to God? Ask for it. From our human need we call on Him to have mercy on us – and that is what He does.
“If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
A grain of mustard seed?!? But that’s tiny. Faith often feels small, doesn’t it? Jesus is keeping our expectations clear. I will give you faith. In fact, I have given you faith, but this is what you should expect from it. It doesn’t appear mighty and powerful – it doesn’t always feel fierce - but it is – it is more powerful than anything else in all the earth – not because faith itself is powerful – but because it is faith that holds the power of God, it is faith that holds My Word.
You have Me – by faith. Now, let Me show you what we’re going to do together. You follow His eyes. He is pointing to a mulberry tree. It’s the kind of tree used in that region to make caskets. Coffins. Jesus is pointing to the tree you’ve used to bury all your loved ones. The tree known for its deep, fast-growing roots and casket worthy wood. And you realize He’s still talking about forgiveness. Or in this case, unforgiveness.
Unforgiveness runs deep, Jesus says. Its roots grow quickly in your heart. It embeds itself in you and becomes very difficult to deal with, very difficult to uproot. But you know what those roots are growing up into – your very own coffin. Unforgiveness in your heart ends in death. It grows until you make your own casket out of it. But you have Me – by faith. My Word of forgiveness releases you from all your sins, and it gives you the freedom to release those around you. Trust in My boundless mercy with all your heart, and it can no longer hold onto to anything else – so that you can truly say to that mulberry tree – out of my life – I trust in Christ.
This is the kingdom that is breaking in. The kingdom of forgiveness. The kingdom of release. This is why He marches to Jerusalem to be crucified on a cross for you. And so to keep His apostles, His preachers, from stumbling, He has one last word for them: “When you see people’s lives changed, when you witness unforgiveness uprooted from their hearts by the power of My Word, stay humble. Lower yourselves in God’s sight, remembering who it is that is working. You may be the ones plowing and shepherding and serving at table. You may deliver My Word and Sacrament to My beloved sheep, but they are My sheep, and it is My Word and Sacrament releasing their hearts. You are not made worthy by doing your duty. No. It is simply your duty. You are made worthy by the same grace alone, through the same faith alone, and by My holy shed blood alone.
It's a long dusty road, this road of repentance. But you’re going to make it to Jerusalem, because you’re with the King.
May our Lord Jesus Christ turn us and all His Church away from ourselves, to the perfect freedom that is found in Him alone.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr