Luke 17:1-10 Trinity 17/Proper 22 : Year C

Two years ago Jeremy Guscott was a member of the successful English rugby union side. At that time he said how much he valued his wife and three small daughters. he said, 'I love my life and everything in it. I would not change a thing.'

Today a recurring injury has ended his international career and he is separated from his wife and children. Some of you may know him as a presenter of 'Gladiators'. He said, ' Being a sportsman can be a lonely, selfish life. You have to sacrifice a lot to be the best... The ultimate sacrifice is that Jayne and I have separated. That's mainly due to the life I've led and the things I've done.'

This story is repeated many times over by less well known people who put their jobs before their relationships.

Today's Bible reading is about relationships. These word were addressed to the disciples as we read in verse 1. They are equally applicable to us, today. The first four verses are about relationships between believers. The remainder about the believers relationship with God.

The American comedian George Burns said, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city." He was acknowledging the fact that families can be hard work and are sometimes better in theory than in practice.

Relationships between believers.

When someone comes to trust in Jesus they become joined to him, and joined to other believers. God has always called individuals as part of His family. Family members should love one another and take responsibility for caring for one another. However, this is not always easy.

Jesus outlines three responsibilities that Christians are to exercise.

Firstly, not to cause a fellow believer to sin, verses 1f.

Secondly, to rebuke a believer who sins against you, verse 3.

Thirdly, to forgive a penitent believer, many times, if necessary, verses 3f.

Firstly, not to cause a fellow believer to sin, verses 1f.

The word translated 'sin' refers to a causing to stumble or enticing or trapping someone. One commentary I read suggested that this was referring to a false teachers. When we see that Jesus has just told the parable of the rich man and Lazarus against the Pharisees, this is probably so. However, there is no reason to think that God will not punish others who lead his children, called 'little ones' verse 2 to sin.

The context could suggest that the sin in mind is trusting in money rather than God, 16:13. But when you think of some cults that encourage its members to be polygamous or to be involved in sexual immorality, including paedophilia, you can see that this must have a wider application.

The Mafia like image of a large stone used for grinding grain weighing someone down so they drown seems horrific. However, this does convey the seriousness with which God will regard Christians who cause fellow believers to sin, especially if this leads to them losing their faith.

We have an obligation to ensure that we do nothing that will lead fellow believers to sin. But our obligation to them is much more than not harming them. we are called to build them up by praying for them, encouraging them, teaching them, and setting a good example. But any relationship will experience difficulties which leads on to the second obligation...

to rebuke a believer who sins against you, verse 3.

This is not the only occasion Jesus taught his disciples to face a fellow believer with their own sin. Matthew 18:15-20 is another, well known passage.

The aim of the rebuke is to make the other believer aware that they have sinned, perhaps to give them a chance to give their side of the story, and, assuming that they have sinned to lead them to penitence, forgiveness and a reconciliation.

A situation that one may envisage is of a fellow believer doing something that offends you. in love you go to that person and tell them how they have come across. They could tell you that there has been a misunderstanding and a potential falling out is avoided. Alternatively, they could admit to their sin and ask for forgiveness

This leads to the third obligation...

to forgive a penitent believer, many times, if necessary, verses 3f.

Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, was asked if she remembered an especially cruel thing done to her years before. When she seemed not to recall it, a friend asked, "Don't you remember?" "No," said Miss Barton, "I distinctly remember forgetting it."

Forgiveness is not about feelings but a deliberate decision to imitate God. Jesus said in verse 3, "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, `I repent,' forgive him."

This does not mean that we should withhold forgiveness after the seventh time. We should be aware that God's offer of forgiveness is undeserved. We are sinners pardoned by God through the death of his Son. Therefore, we are to forgive other people. Not because it earns us a place in heaven but because it shows that we realize the basis of our own forgiveness. As soon as we condemn someone else, we condemn ourselves. That is why we pray in the Lord's prayer, 'forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us'.

We are to forgive and live.

As I said earlier, the remaining verses are about the believers' relationship with God.

Sometimes we may feel that the Christians life is hard work, something that we just cannot do in our own strength. We are not alone, the disciples felt like that, too. When they heard Jesus' teaching about how they were to relate to one another they said to him, verse 5, "Increase our faith!"

I would like you to imagine two contestants preparing for a drag race, the winner is the first to cover 440 yards. Mr T has a brand new Honda Civic Type R. It is a high revving 2 litre engined sporting car developing almost 200 brake horse power at 7,400 revs per minute. It has a six speed gear box that will take it to 60 m.p.h. in under 7 seconds and to a maximum of 146 m.p.h. Mr T, real name Timmy Timid thinks he might win the race.

Mr C. has a vintage 1485 cc Austin Allegro HLS. It has a low revving engine which has five gears, four cylinders, eight valves, produces 77 horse power and reaches 60 m.p.h. in 12.9 seconds. Mr C , real name Colin Confident, is absolutely certain he will win. He has rebuilt the engine himself and spent hours patching up the rusty body work with filler. He has removed all the passenger seats for a better power to weight ratio.

The day of the race comes. Timmy nervously waits on the starting line, his left foot trembling on the clutch. Colin arrogantly sneers at his opponent, "Japanese rubbish" as he confidently blips the accelerator. The lights go from red to green, Colin floors the accelerator, drops the clutch and surges away ahead of the Honda. Timmy makes an uneasy start, nearly stalling. Colin races ahead trying to rev the car a little harder before it expires in a cloud of black smoke leaving Timmy to claim the winners rostrum.

Mr Confident's great faith in an old Austin Allegro was misplaced. Mr Timid's lesser faith in a brand new sporting hatchback was justified.

6 Jesus replied, "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.

The mustard seed is not the smallest seed known today, but it was the smallest seed used by Palestinian farmers and gardeners, and under favorable conditions the plant could reach some ten feet in height. The mulberry tree could live for up to 600 years, had enormous roots and grew to 35 feet. The contrast between the small seed and the enormous tree is like the contrast between a weak faith and an enormous obstacle.

It is not the amount of faith that is important. The important thing is the one in whom you place the faith and to exercise that faith. Jesus is saying, 'Don't worry about the size of your faith, apply what you have and watch it work. Trust in God.' We are to really step out in whatever faith God grants us. Not trusting in ourselves but in Him.

I believe this is a message that our church needs to listen to and act upon. I think that one of the reasons that we are not being blessed is because we are not stepping out in faith. We are living lives that are too comfortable and self-contained and do not let God in so that he can work in a supernatural way. The idea of something the size of a small seed uprooting and moving something the size of a large tree is unbelievable but God can do more than we ask or imagine if we will but give him the chance.

Such a trust requires dedication and humility. These attributes feature in the next parable that Jesus tells in verses 7-10. He uses a, then, everyday example of a master and servant, better translated 'slave'. The slave had been working during the day, ploughing or tending sheep. Some commentators have suggested this is referring to evangelism or caring for Christians, but I wouldn't want to support this theory too strongly. Having worked hard in the fields the slave was then expected to prepare his master's meal before he can eat anything himself. In doing this the slave was only doing his duty and had not done anything extraordinary that deserved commendation.

Melanie recently asked Joshua to dry the dishes after a meal and offered him 20 pence if he would do this. He said he would do it for 30 and they agreed a final figure of 25. Some Christians are a bit like that. They think they can barter with God and be selective in their obedience to him, only obeying what conveniently fits in with the rest of their life. Often this attitude is markedly different to their attitude to their employer. They will remember important occasions, get up early, work long hours, apply themselves totally to a task as part of their job. Yet they will not apply themselves in a similar way when serving God. He gets the left overs of time, application, dedication and money. Perhaps this is an illustration of Jesus words in 16:13, "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."

Some people might feel insulted at this, but God is insulted and hurt by those who do not put him first.

The slave was dedicated. He got on with the jobs he was given, even when he was tired and hungry. The slave realized his position. He was inferior to his master and his job was to serve, he could not ask for or expect the master to serve him.

Jesus said that he had come not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many, Mark 10:45. His disciples are called to imitate him in selfless service because he is our creator and our redeemer. In comparison to him we are unworthy slaves and we should obey him without question

Paul D. Moody, American Doctor, " The measure of a man is not the number of his servants, but in the number of people whom he serves."

May our lives be characterized by selfless dedication to him who has given us so much.