Saturday, October 12, 2019

Living Out Our Baptism: All Four Installments

I recently shared a four-part series called Living Out Our Baptism. Here are links to all the messages.

Part 1: What is Baptism?

Part 2: The Church: God Helps Us Live Out Our Baptism

Part 3: The Little Church

Part 4: Getting Personal

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


[This was shared this past Sunday during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

Luke 17:1-10

The whole idea of humility, of being humble, is taking a beating these days. 

Snapchat and Instagram are full-up with selfies. 

We revere athletes, actors, and politicians who arrogantly look down their noses on the rest of the world. 

We celebrate and retweet the posts of those who specialize in unkindness and vindictiveness. 

And every day, you and I are tempted whenever we go shopping to judge and deem ourselves superior to those we see along the aisles and at the checkout.

Of course, our penchant for arrogance goes back to the garden of Eden. There, the serpent tempted the first human beings with the idea that, if they broke free from God, their loving Creator, they could create their own life apart from God: they could be their own gods. 

We’ve been mesmerized by this fiction ever since, inflicting a world of hurt on each other and on ourselves. 

All wars, 

every instance of child and spouse abuse, 

all the feuds between families and among families, 

all the prejudice and discrimination, petty egotism, snobbery, and gossip, 

every case of murder, thievery, adultery, covetousness, not to mention every time human beings bow down to false idols they think they can control by their sacrifices or piety or good works, 

every time we think that our race, ethnicity, nationality, or financial condition makes us better than others, 

every time a person looks on the vast cosmos and dares to say that there is no God, 

and every time a Christian thinks that God’s gift to them of faith in Jesus somehow makes them better than others, 

every time any of these things appear, we cave into this delusion that we can be like God which we inherited from Adam and Eve

It is our original sin. 

We keep trying to ignore, deny, or live around the simple truth that God’s Word teaches: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18) 

And why is pride so destructive? 

Because pride violates the first commandment. The proud have a false god: themselves. 

But we can only find life through repentance and faith in Jesus. So, when we worship at the altar of ego, we place our hope in a god that will die. 

A Christian songwriter put it simply: “Pride kills.”

We will either die in pride or we will live in humility.

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus talks about humility as an essential element of Christian discipleship. Take a look at the lesson, please: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.’”

The “little ones” Jesus refers to here seem to be the outcasts, those hated and disdained by society’s so-called “good people” with whom Jesus so readily interacted: People like prostitutes, extortionists, foreigners, beggars, the lame, and notorious sinners. 

Jesus is warning those of us who call ourselves Christians to take care that instead of inviting and welcoming society’s “little ones” into fellowship with Christ and with us as He tells us to do, we turn them away or cause them to sin all the more unrepentantly

This past week, several of us were talking about how often restaurant personnel hate working the Sunday afternoon shift because they know that the Christians taking in lunch after worship are going to treat them like garbage and leave either no tips or miserly ones. A disciple of Jesus understands that a Christian saint is no more than a recovering sinner undergoing reconstruction by the Holy Spirit. But an unbeliever will look at the parade of hypocritical church people eating lunch in their restaurant on Sunday afternoons and think, “If that’s what Jesus does to a person, I want nothing to do with Christian faith.”

Jesus says that when Christians act arrogantly toward non-Christians, we might as well put millstones around our necks and sink into hell. Proud Christians block the grace of God given in Christ not only to those they treat disdainfully but to themselves as well. “So,” Jesus tells us, “watch yourselves.”

Then, in verses 3 and 4, Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Refusing to forgive those who have genuinely apologized and sought our forgiveness is the height of human presumption and pride. And we will never be free until we set those who have apologized to us free from the debt they owe us. 

This is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” 

The word that Jesus uses for forgive in this passage is, in the Greek in which Luke wrote his gospel, aphiemi, literally meaning I release. When we forgive others as Christ forgives us, we not only release them of their debt to us, we also release ourselves from our bondage to sin. We let the forgiveness of God given in Christ flow into our own lives.

Skip down for a moment to Jesus’ words, starting in verse 7: “‘Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

These words of Jesus may seem cryptic to us. But again, the theme is the essential place of humility in the life of a Christian. 

As is often true in His parables, the short stories with deeper meanings He often tells, Jesus here creates a scenario which, to his original first-century hearers, would have seemed outrageous. 

In that top-down society, no wealthy land-owner would tell his servant to take a load off his feet and eat with him. And he wouldn’t thank the cook on his payroll for doing his job. 

The obvious conclusion is that if a follower of Jesus loves a neighbor, or sacrifices for a fellow believer, or shares the good news of new life through repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, she or he does so not for applause, recognition, or thank-yous. They do these things because Jesus so lives inside them that it doesn’t even dawn on them to not love their neighbor, to not sacrifice for the fellow believer, to not share the gospel of Jesus with someone in need of Him

For them, such expressions of faith aren’t planned events. They’re simply the supernatural outgrowth of a life lived with Jesus in daily repentance and renewal. 

Humility, you see, is not an acquired life skill, it’s something that happens in the lives of those who seek each day to walk with Jesus

Our motives, our values, and the way we view everything get changed as Jesus takes up residence in the center of our lives when we take our gaze off of ourselves and fix our eyes firmly on God the Son, the Word made flesh, Jesus.

And that leads us back to the middle two verses of today’s gospel lesson. The apostles hear Jesus’ words and realize that, because of their (and our) inborn sinful nature, the kind of humility that Jesus commends in these verses is impossible. So, they make what seems like a reasonable request. 

Verse 5: “Increase our faith!” 

This may not be a pious request at all. It may be what can be called the “increase our faith dodge.” You hear it all the time. 

Christians who don’t want to heed Jesus’ call to follow or be servants in His Church or share their faith in Christ, will say things like, “My faith isn’t strong enough” or “Everyone else knows more than I do or can do more than I can do.”

I suspect that people don’t really believe these things as often as they say them. 

And I suspect that they’re really not that interested in having more faith or following Jesus or sharing Him with others. 

I think that often, these are the expressions of a false humility. People figure they sound pious and Christian when they speak of what they can’t do, can’t give, can’t try. And so they keep right on, not doing, not giving, not trying.

Jesus’ response to the apostles is direct. Verse 6: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” 

To follow Jesus, to heed His call to love and serve our neighbor, to get our minds off of ourselves and onto the God Who creates, gives us faith in Jesus, saves us from sin and death, and empowers us to live more selfless lives, is not about waiting around for God to give us more faith

It’s acting on the little faith the Holy Spirit has given to us in the big, loving God of the whole universe we meet in Jesus Christ, then daring to live the life of love, joy, and connectedness to others for which He has set us free. 

It’s only in those who respond when Jesus says, “Follow Me” that God grows faith: Only when we refuse to look at other disdainfully, only when we dare to forgive those who seek our forgiveness, and only when we heed His call to believe, to love and share Christ’s gospel with others in our lives.

C.S. Lewis observed that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less.” 

Without our consciously realizing it, humility becomes part of us as His Word works in us to create faith and we think of Jesus more and of ourselves, less. 

When we turn to Jesus, humility begins to break through. 

And when humility breaks through, we not only know joy for ourselves, we will share it with others. 

We become the conduits of God’s grace for everyone we know. 

Turn to Jesus each day and the pride that can kill us will meet its master

Turn to Jesus each day and He will fill you love for Him instead of pride in yourself

Turn to Jesus and live. Amen

[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]