“Later you may eat and drink”-Sermon for Proper 22, Luke 17:5-10
I want to begin my reflections on Jesus’ teaching today in Luke’s gospel by noting the point in Jesus’ life and ministry in which he shares the sayings that comprise our gospel reading today…his teaching both about the mustard seed and then his mini-parable about the slave who though has worked a long, full and exhausting day in the fields…finds his duties are not yet complete…he still has more to do…more is yet required of him…he must muster the strength and energy, after that long day of labor in the fields, to prepare and serve a meal to his master…and then and only then find his rest and the nourishment his body desperately craves.
You see, Jesus shares this teaching while on the road. But not on the road in the back seat of an Uber on his way to a dinner party with friends and family…and not on a road trip to some sort of vacation destination…and not…say…returning from a long work trip on the road that finds its completion at a beloved home with a warm, savory meal and comfortable bed awaiting his return. Instead, today we find Jesus at almost the end of his earthly ministry and with his face set to Jerusalem. Jesus is on his final journey, his final road trip on this side of Good Friday. And, as we know oh so well, what awaits him at the end of that road, which he travels along, is the cross…Jesus’ ultimate and final act of love and redemption.
And with this in mind, I feel like Jesus is speaking today as much to himself as to his friends and followers. He is reminding himself that his work of saving the world from sin and death is far from complete. As much as he has accomplished…and he has accomplished so very much good in the name of God…as tired and exhausted as he must be…for he has worked tirelessly for the previous two years…with most of that spent on the road and, I note, on foot…still the most challenging, the hardest parts still lie ahead of him.
You see, whether Jesus knows exactly what that end will look like or not…what specifically awaits him in Jerusalem, I believe he does know it will not be easy. That it will be rife with conflict, pain and sadness. I think on some level he does know that all that he has worked for…all his teaching, miracles, healing, loving, caring for thousands and thousands of people...turning no one away…is coming to its ultimate culmination. The end is coming soon and very soon and that it will require everything from him…even his very life. Perhaps like a slave who has given everything to fulfill his duties in the field…has worked selflessly and incredibly hard throughout the day…but still has more to do…even as the sun sets…even as the darkness comes and exhaustion has fully set in. Jesus must still muster the strength, the courage, the power, the energy, the patience…to complete the work that remains before him…till his work is finally done and his tasks are finally complete…till he hears his master, the very God of life and love, of heaven and earth, whisper into his ear…well done my good and faithful servant…enter into the good rest that has been prepared for you from before time began…well done…I love you…you are with me now and I will never let you go.
And so, again, I believe this mini-parable that Jesus shares in our gospel reading this morning is sort of a preaching to the choir moment. Jesus is reminding himself that his work day is not over…the most important and challenging things required of him still lie ahead. Thus, he must double down, dig deep and find renewed strength…working late into the night-time hours…to entirely realize the commitments he has made to his master…to fulfill God’s loving purposes in the world, which, again, is nothing less than defeating sin and death…for all time…for all people…for all of creation…through his loving and sacrificial death on the cross…that in the fullness of time…life, light and love might rule for eternity…for you…for those you love…for me…for all who hurt and suffer in this often death-dealing world. Jesus’ work for good and for God on this side of glory, at least at the point in his life where we find him today, is not done. And, friends, neither is ours. And so, though I do believe that Jesus is speaking to himself…acknowledging the good and hard work that still lies ahead for him…he is also speaking to his friends and followers…both those joining him on road to Jerusalem and to us…all of those who comprise his friend and followers today…the church…the very body of Christ…alive and active right now.
I am reminded of something a priest friend once said to me…something like…our work as disciples of Jesus, as Christ’s own heart and hands in the world…our work of love-spreading of healing and serving and caring for those who desperately need us is never done. We are never too old to do this work and never to young, never to weak and never to strong, and we are not done until we are dead. Or, as John Wesley once said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, for as long as you ever can.” And so, now back to the beginning of today’s gospel lesson, we, like Jesus’ first followers, may want to shout out in the face of such a great charge, such a weighty responsibility…Jesus, “Increase our faith!”.
And I note, that though the disciples almost desperate call to increase their faith proceeds the mini-parable about the slave whose work seems almost endless…it follows some of Jesus’ most challenging teaching in all of Luke’s gospel that we have heard read in church in the previous few weeks….teaching about our relationship with money, about divorce and adultery, about forgiving those who have really hurt us, among other challenging teaching. And, indeed, living a Godly life, a Christ-centered life, an other directed love life, a sacrificial life, a kind, generous, and gracious life that matters and makes a difference…a life like Jesus, our great exemplar, lived…requires great faith. Faith in ourselves…our God-given gifts, our capabilities, our stamina and resilience, our wisdom and discernment. And, our faith in God…our faith that God loves us and will never let us go…our faith that God can and will forgive us even when we fall terribly short such that we can begin again…our faith in the supernatural power provided by the sacraments and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, bodies and minds. For such faith is the deep reservoir of power from which the strength, courage and wisdom flows that makes our witness and expressions of God’s love and our meaningful, difference making, world altering work possible.
And, though I refer to this faith in God’s power and presence in our lives and this faith in our own God-given gifts and strengths as great, and indeed it is great, Jesus, also, reminds us today that we need not fear living up to our high calling…the high calling of giving our whole selves, souls and bodies to the unending work of building God’s peaceable kingdom in our very midst, in which all are loved, cared for and belong. Admittedly, that sounds huge…maybe even overwhelming, but Jesus reminds us that all that is actually required to live into such good work is faith the size of a mustard seed, which is a little thing. It is not actually the smallest of all seeds…I read that an orchid seed is actually smaller than a mustard seed…but still it is a little thing.
But, I don’t think that Jesus is saying to have a small faith, but, instead, that God can use small things to accomplish tremendous things. Jesus is saying that you are enough…that whatever you can offer of yourselves to the work of God’s Sprit in the world is enough…if only you are willing to courageously and faithfully put yourself out there in the name of love…to just try. I believe Jesus is saying that the seed from which you germinate may seem a little thing, more mustard plant than live oak tree, when held next to the enormity of humanity and the enormity of what ails our world, but still…if faithfully offered…by God…your life will be powerfully used. I for one think that helping a single human life find healing and purpose through the care and attention we might give that person, as an expression of God’s love, is, in terms of the difference it makes, as miraculous as the power to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. Further, if willing to roll up our sleeves and faithfully enter into places and lives that are hurting, with God’s help, we can move through our own exhaustion and work long into the night-time hours. We can accomplish for good and for God more than we ever thought possible.
The very church we break ground on in about a month’s time and all that has been accomplished that has brought us to this day, which has been about loving and serving people, not really bricks and mortar, is a living example of the very mustard seed sized faith of which Jesus speaks. I know our story, St. Julian’s story of growth and vitality, has increased my faith. And, as Jesus’ mini-parable reminded both him and us, despite all we have accomplished, we are only at the beginning of things…there remains much good and Godly work that we get to continue to do together…and all we need to accomplish that work is already here…in the mustard seed sized faith we share. Amen.