Biblical Text: Luke 17:1-10
Full Sermon Draft
Most of the commentators on these verses take them as a disconnected jumble of aphorisms. The equivalent of Luke saying, “hey, I’ve got these sayings I’ve got to include somewhere, might as well throw them together here”. Not that this might never happen, but I think that reflects the strengths and weakness of our age. As far as strengths I think due to the scholarship on the last century we know a lot more about how we got the bible we got (and its fundamental reliability) than probably any generation since the death of the apostles. The weaknesses are that to get that information we atomized our understanding and neutered what I’ll call our story imagination. We know a whole lot about trees, and we can’t see the forest.
In 10 verses, as Jesus gets toward the end of the walk to Jerusalem, he turns to the disciples and gives something of a summary of the Christian life. Jesus affirms that divine justice is sure. The stumbling blocks that must come will get their punishment. But that shouldn’t be the disciple’s focus or hope. The disciples watch themselves and live law and gospel or repentance and forgiveness. The disciple’s joy is found in repentance and forgiveness, not in justice.
And this is where I think it takes the story imagination to keep it all together. Disciples of every time and place eventually get to that point where they want justice. The world lives by the Chicago rules – “they put one of yours into the hospital, you put one of theirs into the ground”. Moses brought the law which said an eye for an eye. Jesus is telling the disciples in the Kingdom of God – if the sinner repents when warned – let it go, forgive. If they don’t repent – leave the justice to God. And they reply to Jesus – “increase our faith”. We can’t do that. And Jesus gives one of those mysterious replies about trees being uprooted and planted in the ocean. This is core message from the sermon…this is what I take Jesus answer as. How did that work for you? Following the world’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the dead. Following the law’s advice you end up in the kingdom of the blind. Follow me – and crazy things will happen. Small things loom large, like mustard seeds. Things that are rooted yards deep and immoveable – mulberry trees, bitter hatred, generational grudges…sin…these things will come up and fly away. Imagine if you can…its easy if you try.
The disciple’s heart, the heart that is being made right, desires mercy. Along the way, turning all justice over to God and desiring Mercy, we find those things so deeply rooted in us that we don’t know who we are without them, are pulled up and we are changed. This is the point of the kingdom. This is the basic nature of the kingdom in this world. And if we are disciples, servants of Jesus, we can’t dodge this.