Ordinary 27C; Proper 22
World Communion Sunday
Lamentations 1:1-6; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
We constantly want more. Yet, Jesus tells us time and time again that we have all we need and then some.
Remember: This brief exchange in Luke follows Jesus’ discussion of forgiveness. Forgive seven times a day. Forgive the same person seven times a day if necessary. No wonder those listening – disciples and apostles, those closest to Jesus and those close but not yet all in – ask for an increase in faith. How else does one forgive and forgive and forgive? Surely only through faith. Jesus’ listeners know enough about themselves to know that what he requires will not be fulfilled without divine intervention and ongoing holy assistance. So they ask, perhaps plead, maybe demand: Increase our faith. And Jesus tells them: If you had even a modicum of faith, an inkling of faith, a mustard-seed-sized amount of faith you could change the world, defy nature, upend human nature and forgive, seven times a day and then some.
How many times do we plead with God for more: courage, peace, wisdom, discernment, strength, power, love, community, unity … and faith? And Jesus says: You have more than you need and then some. Like Timothy, we have the gift of God within us. We have the power of God to rely upon. We know the standard of sound teaching passed on to us. We have a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. In other words, everything we need to answer God’s call, do God’s will and follow the commands of Jesus Christ. And when the fire dies down and we stumble and fail, sin and fall short, there is forgiveness.
The odd transition in this Luke text reminds us of the truth of God’s grace. On the surface it does not appear to be a story of good news and grace. The language of slavery is problematic, deeply problematic to us in our context, as it should be. However, if we can get past the first century assumption regarding the system of slavery, we will discover a message of hope for those of us destined to never do enough to earn God’s favor. We often believe we need to do more for God, but the sacrifice of Jesus means we can stop working to gain God’s favor and trust our debt has been paid in full. In comparison to God we are mere worthless slaves, those on the bottom of the rung of society, and yet the very ones for whom Jesus came, the very ones so valued by God that God sent the Son to save us. We are justified by grace alone.
We seek to do more, but Jesus’ life, death and resurrection has done everything that we cannot do ourselves. We always want more, but Jesus’ life, death and resurrection gives us all we need and then some. The message on this World Communion Sunday is a resounding call to rejoice in the gift of Jesus Christ, knowing we are saved by faith, a faith that has the power to transform creation when we recognize the great debt Christ paid for us and extending that mercy to others, over and over and over again. Imagine the state of the world if our default position was one of grace rather than judgment, mercy rather than retribution, forgiveness rather than punishment, faith rather than cynicism?
On this World Communion Sunday and the days that follow we might seek to rekindle these gifts, review these sound teachings, guard the good treasure entrusted to us and exercise our faith, no matter how small, in ways that upend the status quo.
The alternative to such discipleship is stark if Lamentations is any indication of what happens when we neglect the good gifts God gives. Desolation. Desertion. Bitterness. Tears. The state of our life together suffers when those of us entrusted with the Good News of God fail to heed and share it. Despite the current climate of isolationism, we are all connected, living on one planet, created in the image of God. Relentless self-serving acts ultimately destroy everyone. Followers of Jesus know the expanse of divine grace, the lengths to which God goes to reach us, and the messianic mandate to love our neighbors, all of them, all over the globe.
Now is the time to rekindle that gift. Take hold of the spirit of power and love and self-disciple. Follow the sound teachings of Jesus Christ. Don’t be ashamed of the testimony we are entrusted to give and proclaim it boldly: Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. All of it, every tribe and nation. We are united in Christ. The source of our identity is Jesus Christ above all other loyalties. Everyone is created in the image of God and one for whom Christ died. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, paid our debt. We are justified by grace and therefore live in generous, joyous, forgiving response as witnesses to the ends of the earth.
We have all we need and then some to do this because we have Jesus. And because we have Jesus, we are enough. Imagine the state of our world if we trusted this certain promise and acted on this gift of faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed. On this World Communion Sunday, do not just imagine it, go out and try it.
- What do we do with all the problematic language of slavery in the Bible? Look at the various passages in Scripture that use this language. How have they been misused and what do we do with them today?
- Have you ever asked God for more of something? What was it? Did you really need more or did you need to trust what you already had?
- If this text is connected to the call to forgive that comes prior to it in Luke, how has your faith enabled you to forgive?
- What gift has God given you that you need to rekindle? How can you rekindle it?
- Who has taught and modeled sound Christian teaching to you? What were those teachings? Are there some you need to revisit, review or relearn?
- The text from Lamentations is bleak. Have you experienced seasons that feel hopeless, desolate? What happened? How were you sustained during those difficult days? What did you learn as a result of them?
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