Thursday, October 6, 2016

Sermon, October 2, 2016: "Keep on Obeying" from the series "Keep On..."


Community UMC, Quincy

October 2, 2016

“Keep on…Keep on Obeying”

Pastor Andrew Davis

Luke 17: 5-10
 
Being a child of the media and growing up in the 1980’s and 90’s, I remember when Nike had the slogan, “Just Do It!” Since shoes and athletic wear is what Nike is most well-known for, Nike encouraged people during that time to just do it, just go for it, go and do what you love and let your passion burn brightly.  But then while I was thinking of Nike’s slogan and other slogans I vividly remember, I also thought about Sprite’s slogan that began in the 1990’s, “Obey Your Thirst” which entices viewers into consuming Sprite when feeling thirsty.  Not so sure that’s really healthy, as I tend to reach for water before Sprite when it comes to obeying my thirst, but it was effective and is still in use today. 

So naturally, as I was writing on Thursday and struggling with what to talk about when it comes to obeying the Gospel, just like we are encouraged by Sprite to obey our thirst, my colleague Pastor Leslianne showed me the bulletin cover for today’s worship at the Presbyterian Church that I served before coming here.  In it, is a comic where two lambs are having a conversation about faith and the conclusion is “just do it!” When living our faith, we should just do it, or just obey Jesus when it comes to our Gospel lesson from Luke this morning. 

        As we embark on a new series for this month, “Keep On…” with today’s sermon being “keep on obeying,” there are multiple titles and subtitles this morning’s particular sermon could take.  However, we only see the word obey once in our very short Gospel lesson, as Jesus tells the disciples ““If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Lk. 17: 6, NLT).  This is coming off the heels of the disciples’ request to “increase our faith” where Jesus is more or less is saying just trust me in what I’m saying and just obey!  Just do it! Like the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Mark and Matthew, Jesus is telling the disciples that it’s not rocket science to just obey or to just have faith.  The mustard seed is tiny, but the plant that sprouts from it spreads quite rapidly and also grows quite large.  When it comes to having this little bit of faith, “mustard seed faith is grounded in obedience to Christ. Obey. Every hour. Every day. And then the next one. And the next one. And so on.”[i]

        As short as this morning’s Gospel lesson is and the essence of what we will get in thinking of keeping on, trusting, and obeying the message that Jesus is saying here, Audrey West at Lutheran School of Theology lays it out like this:

Our passage is framed by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, on one side, and the Samaritan leper who returns to give thanks, on the other. It constitutes the second half of a four-part series of loosely connected teachings related to discipleship, which may be summarized thus: (1) Don’t be the cause of another’s sin (Greek skandalon, stumble); (2) Forgive, again; (3) Miniscule faith is sufficient; (4) Discipleship is not about reward: Just do it![ii]

 

        When it comes to keeping on, we just need to do it!!  How many of you at one time another felt like just giving up, but a still, small something told you to keep on going?  I think all of us experience this at one time or another.  In the Bible/book study of Adam Hamilton’s Revival: Faith the Way Wesley Lived It, Rev. Adam Hamilton writes in the introduction that “in every Christian’s life, spiritual vitality or passion wanes over time.”[iii] I think that’s true and there is a definite need to keep on, even when it comes to obeying Christ and his commandments, lofty as the commandments might be.  Just do it, even when giving up seems easier than keeping on.  Just obey, obey your faith, and trust the message Jesus is telling us.  But also just spread your faith, even if it’s the size of a mustard seed.  As Audrey West said, “miniscule faith is sufficient” when it comes to faith, just as long as we can trust and obey the message that Jesus is teaching us.[iv] 

        But for the disciples, and perhaps even for us today, we always have this sense of wanting more and that miniscule is not adequate or enough.  Hence why the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.  The disciples don’t trust themselves enough.  However, “Jesus assures the disciples that with even a little faith they can live by his teachings on discipleship” and that also goes for us too.[v]  We can still live by Jesus’s teachings even with just a little faith, as it takes our best effort in obeying and trusting in what Jesus is teaching us.  I attribute some of the feelings of inadequacy we may have at times to the culture that we live in because it doesn’t seem to think that anything is enough.  So often, society wants more, more, more, but we can only do so much because “regardless of how much we do, we [realistically] cannot do more than is expected of us.”[vi] But Jesus tells us otherwise that faith in the size of a mustard seed is fine.  To bring this idea a little further, 

Self-improvement is a mantra in our culture. Every day, we hear hundreds of offers from companies that want us to buy their product or service to improve our lives or our skills in some way, often by promising us more of what we already think is a good thing. This is what many advertisements do, and the average American is exposed to hundreds of them across multiple media platforms every day. So for us, the disciples’ question “Lord, increase our faith,” (that is, “give us more”) may seem quite reasonable.[vii]

 

        Yet Jesus throws it back at the disciples by telling them they just need to get out there and spread their faith, not necessarily increase it, but instead obey the teaching in the Jesus's message.  Of course we want to grow in faith, and that is something we all need to continually strive for no matter if we are just starting the journey, or have been on it for a long time.  Yet when it comes to what Jesus is saying, just do it!  It’s kind of like housework/cleaning, yard work, studying and reading for the next class, or even exercise.  It might be something we enjoy, but if it’s something we don’t enjoy doing (like cleaning), it can be a burden.  However, it’s also one of those things where we want to increase our motivation just like having our faith increased.  But instead, we just need to do it.  We just need to obey what our instinct is and what we need to do.  But more importantly, just doing something without being asked and not expecting reward is necessary and essential, the same lines along the second part of the small parable that we just heard, in which the servant obeys and does not receive or expect praise from the one he serves. 

        As we think about our faith and what it means to keep on obeying, Jesus is in a way shifting the parable’s focus not so much on the servant doing all that is expected, but to the disciples and essentially to us.  It’s definitely something to chew on, as it’s ultimately us who are servants of God, going into different places and doing the different things that God calls us to, but also trusting in the message that Jesus is teaching us that we just need to have that little bit of faith in order to carry out what is expected of us.  But we do need to spread that faith to others and share it, being like the bush that grows out of that mustard seed while trusting and obeying the message Jesus teaches us.  It’s how

Jesus, reminds in the rest of this week’s reading, if we keep this point straight: Jesus is in charge, not us. The faith does not spread like mustard weed if we think we've got all the strategies down just right, or if we think we control the mission and act like we do. The mission is God's, not ours. We get to help, even as we've been helped. We go and serve at the bidding of Jesus, like a family servant, not because we feel like it or because we want to make our own ministries bigger (see mustard seed faith!). And when the day is done, ours is to say, "We are servants of no use to anyone else. We have done your will, O God."[viii]

 

        So as we go into this new week, let’s see where we can keep on, where we can keep on obeying Jesus’s message even with just a little faith.  Where can we take that faith to others by spreading it like the mustard weed?  But what are also things we can do without expecting rewards or praise, whether it’s in our church, our community, or our greater world?  As we keep on going the rest of this month, we’ll be thinking about what it means to keep on healing, and keep on trusting in God’s mercy.  Let’s keep on obeying Jesus’s message as we continue along this journey and when it comes to spreading our faith, just do it!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen. 



[i] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2010. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016#Atmos.
[ii] Audrey West, “Commentary on Luke 17: 5-10” in Working Preacher, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3028
[iii] Adam Hamilton, Revival: Faith As Wesley Lived It (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2014), 11. 
[iv] Audrey West, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3028
[v] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. IX (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 322
[vi] Ibid., 323
[vii] Ministries, Discipleship. ‘Lectionary Calendar’. 2010. Accessed September 30, 2016. http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/twentieth-sunday-after-pentecost-year-c-2016#Atmos.
[viii] Ibid.

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