17th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
How many of us are surprised when watching the evening news, reading the newspaper or reading something online, and we hear about some person doing something scandalous? We may say to ourselves, “Oh great. What did some idiot do now?” It almost seems to be commonplace in today’s society. Often the people committing such acts are people in positions of authority where they have abused the trust of those to whom they were accountable.
The very first line of our Gospel reading this morning uses the word scandal. What’s that? You are looking at your scripture written on your bulletin insert and can’t find the word scandal? Do not be alarmed, you are not lost. We are on the same page; I am referring to the Greek text. Where you see the words ‘temptations to sin’, the Greek text says ??????????.
The Greek first meaning for the word ?????????? is:
to cause to be brought to a downfall, cause to sin (the sin may consist in a breach of the moral law, in unbelief, or in the acceptance of false teachings)
This is the very root of the word we use in our language – scandal.
If you think of the different instances where this word is used, you will easily see that scandal today usually refers to deceitful or immoral actions committed by someone who is caught in the act. In the world in which we live, it is impossible to conceive of these temptations to sin not happening.
These traps may not physically kill those who are caught, but they certainly destroy their credibility. Christ says whoever creates these traps for those who wish to follow him in the true faith are the lowest and most degenerate type of people who would be better off dead. This penalty of death is befitting the crime of destroying one of God’s inexperienced children.
Those who are inexperienced or new believers in Christ could be referenced here as the ‘little ones’ and not solely children. Like children, a new believer might not understand the actions of other Christians who are sinning and thus be caused to fall away. These new believers may have a childlike faith and wish to imitate those whom they revere. In addition, people who do not recognize Jesus Christ as their savior and mediator to God the Father, constantly try to trap believers so as to kill their faith.
When we sin, we harm not only our fellow human beings, but we also harm the relationship between God and us. In our current ‘morally challenged’ world, our sin may not be as readily recognizable as we might think.
Firstly, there is the habitual sin and the occasional sin. Habitual sins are those that repeat themselves as part of our lifestyle; occasional sins are those we commit seldom, on specific occasions, or in specific situations. Each poses its own problems. Nevertheless, even the occasional sin reminds us of our sinful weakness and the need to be on guard and fighting against all temptations to depart from God’s command.
Just as a child may be caught with his hand in the cookie jar, we are not to leave them in a sinful state because they have fallen into temptation, but we are to pull them from the snare and forgive them. Will the child be tempted to stick his hand in the jar again? Most likely, and with sincere repentance we are to forgive the child every time.
One of our systematic professors, Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb explains how our very culture can lead us to temptation:
[Another] struggle against sin continues for us as individuals and as members of larger groups. Sharing blame with other members of the group, however, does not lift blame. We still feel responsible for sins with which we had nothing to do as individuals but from which we benefit. Our standard of living, possible only because some in Western society exploit other lands, places a burden upon us even though as individuals most of us have never consciously tried to exploit anyone from the Third World, we would claim.
For example, we here did not personally have slaves or invent a system to deprive one ethnic group or another from justice, but they still suffer the consequences still in existence in our society. We suffer from this communal type of sin through the commitment of sin by other members in the group.
However, whether we speak of individual sin or personal sin, no particular actual sin offends God more or less than another. Failure to fear, love, and trust in God above all things—the original and underlying sin—separates us from the Author of Life.
How are God’s people to live in a world like this? Our world much like the world which the prophet Habakkuk describes in his day:
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted. [Hab 1:3–4]
Certainly, within this community we must show care. In light of this world, we live to practice repentance and forgiveness with one another, to the extraordinary degree of seven times in a day. With sincere repentance, forgiveness will be the result. The important point to remember here is that we are pronouncing God’s pardon, not our own.
If, today, an immensely rich man was to pay the debts of everyone here, and the creditors were to give all guarantees, wouldn’t the proclamation of this forgiveness by those whose debts had been paid be just as valid as if the creditors themselves had announced it? Of course! So it is also with our sins. After Christ paid the debt of our sins by being crucified on the cross, being buried and raising himself up again on the third day, and God the Father publicly announcing this, all people were given the power to proclaim this forgiveness of sins.
The disciples seem to say that this goes beyond the ability of what a simple believer could ever do. Do they think repeatedly forgiving their brother is too difficult for them? Is it too difficult for you? If you feel that forgiveness of your brother or sister for a repeated offense seems futile, I pray that you do not give up and that you hold to your faith in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I had a brother in Christ who habitually committed the same sin. Each time I would forgive him because each time he was truly and sincerely sorry for his sin. I did not look down upon him or hate him because of his sin. I actually felt anguish for his struggle. When he fell down, I felt pain for him. I wished I could take away his sin in order to end his struggle.
I can only imagine that this feeling is somewhat like the pain God feels when he sees his children in their constant struggle with sin. The great difference between us and God, is that God is able to take away our sin. He did it with the sacrifice of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
Are the disciples then looking for some miraculous faith? Do they need the kind of faith that could command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and placed in the sea where it continues to thrive and produce fruit? Do they need the kind of faith that moves mountains? Christ answers them with a curious comment. “If you had faith like a mustard seed…”
Jesus does not say if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, he states if you had faith like a mustard seed. What is the difference? Consider the mustard seed that, although small when planted, grows to great height and breadth; so large it becomes a home in which birds build their nests. You need not worry about the size of your faith; either you have faith or you don’t.
That faith comes from God – it is outside yourself, that is, you do not create your faith. We have utter dependence on God and his Word for the existence of our faith. In having faith, we are to trust God to fill us with his mercy and grace which in turn increases our faith. Faith is a living trust in the gospel, and that trust grows as it witnesses and experiences the gospel’s power.
How do muscles grow or our stamina, or our strength? By exercise. We grow in faith when we exercise our freedom of Christ’s salvation. Our faith grows when we obey, trust and accept God’s commands and promises. Many people doubt their faith because they doubt themselves. We must understand that our faith is a gift of God’s mercy and grace and anything from God outlasts, overpowers, and overcomes anything from the devil or from our own weakness of sin. It may sound silly, but it is as simple as this; have faith in your faith.
In his devotional book, God Grant It, C.F.W Walther wrote:
“Still, the question arises as to how we use this truth. It is not appropriate for a person to fold his hands in his lap and say, “Now then, if the absolution was so richly poured out for us, if the whole world is full of it, we have nothing else to do but to enjoy this and to hope for heaven.” That is not so! What would it help a prisoner if he heard that he is pardoned but then refused to leave the prison and exercise his freedom? It would not help him at all. So it is with the forgiveness of sins, which can be spoken to us both by every preacher of the Gospel and by every Christian. If we want to use this forgiveness rightly, we must depart from the prison of our sins. We do this by heartily accepting our absolution, by comforting our self in it. In other words, it is by maintaining a firm and certain faith.
If we hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, let us believe that this preaching is God’s forgiveness for us. If we hear a Christian comforting us with the forgiveness of sins, let us accept this as God’s comfort. If a servant of the Gospel speaks forgiveness to us, let us receive this as a word from God himself.”
This forgiveness of sins for our brothers and sisters, for our neighbors and our children is our duty as Christians. We call upon each other for support in time of need as we struggle against the murder and poverty of evil men. We forgive our fellow human beings when they repent their lust, immorality and depravity. We welcome those who turn away from their previous life of covetousness back into the community of Christ.
After all, this is what Christ commands us to do.
“Does [the master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” [Luke 17:9-10]
He is our master and we are his servants. As we become this community of faith, do not say that by what is asked of us we somehow deserve a reward from God. Do not be fooled that we have somehow gone beyond being servants of Christ and have become more than whom we serve, because living in this way is what we owe. To live together in forgiveness towards one another in faith towards God is in fact what the servant’s life is.
We serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Because of Him, we are now welcomed into the kingdom of God. In this we can rejoice and say, “Thanks be to God!”
 Robert Kolb, The Christian Faith : A Lutheran Exposition, electronic ed., 99–100 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2000).
 RCH Lenski, Commentary on Luke; Fortress Press: 1964, p. 868-869
 CFW Walther, God Grant It; CPH: 2006, p. 789