It’s what we Lutheran say is the only thing that will save us. No measure of good works. No earning your way to heaven. It’s faith in Christ alone that will save us. If this is indeed the truth, which I suspect it is based on what Jesus is saying today in our scriptures, then, logically faith is everything. Nay! it is the only thing.
Every Christian at his/her baptism, or when he/she affirm baptismal promises is handed a blank canvas on which to fill their life.
They can paint a picture of their life on the canvas without anyone assisting them. We call that free-will and God’s blessed us the free-will to take control of the paints and decide best how to paint the picture of our life’s story. At our baptism and when we affirm our baptismal promises, we must take the paint brush in our hand and get to work.
Religion is never the goal of painting our life’s canvas but we must start there. We call religious instruction in the church, confirmation and using the analogy of painting your life’s story, confirmation is nothing more the frame around your painting. Religious instruction frames what the life of a Christian looks like.
Now there are many names for religion. At times we use the word religion, but other times we use other words to describe it. Sometimes we might call religion “faith”. Jesus spoke in terms of the “Kingdom of God.” We profess that we are people of faith, the Church, Christians, or Disciples. There are many names with various meanings but in the end they all describe the same thing. We are a people of faith, faith in Jesus Christ to be sure, but faith nonetheless.
We in the Church aren’t a business or an institution. We do not sell any products. We don’t advocate an earthy cause. We serve no worldly authority. We come to a building for worship that has been made by people and to do what?
Simply put- we come to worship to practice our faith. But we just as well could have met for worship in a home or in a park setting.
The head of our church is not here, not so that I can show him to you or offer you any sort of proof that our spiritual teacher and savior is here and exists. This means that faith is all we’ve got.
We are born through faith, live by faith, and we die by faith. After I die, then and only then will I know in full, as the Apostle Paul’s speaks when I shall see Christ face-to-face. Until then I’ve got to understand that this faith thing is all I’ve got.
Sounds pretty darn daunting, doesn’t it?
But, here’s the good news from our text this morning: Faith isn’t all that difficult. Faith in Christ is what saves us. Faith can set us free if we know how to live in faith. Faith is the angel to your religion. So how do you practice your faith and not religion? Jesus offers those who seek to follow him an outline in the 17th chapter of Luke’s gospel.
This morning he’s offered us three ways of take small steps in growing tiny seeds of faith. Three small steps to make up our journey of faith:
The first small step is learning to forgive. I start with forgiveness because this is the one that is misunderstood the most. We are told from our earliest moments that we are always to forgive. Let me back up a verse or two that precedes this morning’s text: Jesus tells teaches the disciples about the need to continuously forgive. We always emphasis the sin and the times we are to forgive. Forgiving is right and good and holy and needed, but we should never leave out the other word either and that word is “repent.”
We need to learn not just how to forgive but when to forgive. Forgiving someone who has wronged you and when they have not repented of their sin may just be enabling to continue in the downward spiral of sin. What I’m saying to you is that Jesus says to rebuke the sinner, but forgive her if she changes her way. Take the steps and forgive when someone repents. It is one of the primary things we do as Christians.
The second step we can take is to believing just a little. Jesus doesn’t ask you and me to have a mountain sized faith; just a little seed’s worth of faith will do us well. A mustard seed is really no big deal. But from this small seed grows a very large plant in a very short period of time. Using a tiny mustard seed, Jesus suggests a very remarkable thing. He says that if our faith is only as large as this very small seed, we can do great things, as great as moving a mountain from one location to another. In fact, he says, “Nothing would be impossible for us.” As Jesus talks to us about a mountain-moving faith, some of us possess a mountain of doubt.
Often people have doubts about God it seems to me they try to subject God to the limits of their own reason. They want to place God in a box, on their own terms, according to their own reason. They seem to say that if they were God, things would be done differently. Maybe the crux of the problem is they see themselves as God.
Jesus is suggesting something radically different. If we really want to get to know God, it is better to begin with faith. Remember: faith is everything. So no matter how little our faith might be – even if it is smaller than a mustard seed – God is saying to us today that there is great potential to grow the seed of your faith.
The third small step that is a small one is serving others in Christ’s name is a calling. Let me honest with you: God owes you and me nothing. And if it’s true that God owes us nothing, then we understand why self-righteousness is such a nasty attitude for religious people. Self-righteousness assumes we are due God’s blessing and grace because of our good behavior. Take a look at the second half of our gospel text this morning. It’s a parable that teaches us to avoid a self-righteous attitude. Imagine you are the owner of a farm with servants. When the servant’s work is done for the day and he comes in from the field, are you going to wait on him? Help him relax at his dinner table? Prepare his meal? Serve his supper? I don’t think so. The servant is not the master.
Jesus drives home his point: the master is under no obligation to say thank you to the servant.
Why? Because the servant was simply doing his job. It is what is expected of him. The servant is not worthy to receive any compliments when he does what is expected of him. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should honor those who do good works. It simply means it is our duty and delight to work in the kingdom of God and we are do nothing in return for our labors. First and foremost, we live for God expecting nothing in return.
As our communion liturgy says: “it is indeed our duty and our joy…that we should at all time give thanks and praise to god alone.” Our duty as a those who follow Christ: forgive those who repent, believe and cultivate the mustard seed sized faith and serve in the name of Christ who promises us the forgiveness of sins and the offer of eternal life. Amen.