Sermon for Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22, Year C

October 2, 2022

Habakkuk 11-4, 2:1-4                      Psalm 37:1-10                                    2 Timothy 1:1-14               Luke 17:5-10

          I confess that when I read lessons like the one from Luke, I have trouble.  Jesus talks of slaves as people who are less than their masters rather than people who are oppressed and desiring of equality. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?” 

          Jesus then asks, “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?”  The expected response is no and the lesson Jesus teaches does not contradict what to the people is the obvious answer.  This bothers me.  So much so, that after hearing it I have to remind myself that I did not live in that day and time.  And, I have to remind myself that Jesus is not speaking for or against slavery which is part of how society functioned in ancient society.  Jesus is speaking about our arrogance.  He goes on to say, “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” 

          His point – faith is not about doing what is expected of us.  It is not about regular attendance at church or even giving 10% to the church.  Both these are required according to scripture.  Faith, Jesus says, is more than doing these – “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the seas,’ and it would obey you.”  Faith is more than simply doing what we are taught in the scriptures, it is about believing in our hearts and acting accordingly.

          In the beginning of the 2nd letter to Timothy, we heard, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”  For many of us, the faith we have inherited is learned by doing.  We do what is expected of us, often without thinking twice about why.  Yet, we may expect to be rewarded – for doing what we ought to do. 

          Paul is all in and he is persecuted for his beliefs, his faith in Jesus.  Some believe that our faith is rewarded and our sins are punished – not so here.  Timothy is told not to be ashamed, for suffering that comes from serving Christ is a privilege.   “Join with me in suffering for the gospel,” we read, “relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”  Grace is not freedom from the pain that is a part of this life, nor is it a guarantee that we will be blessed with good health, long life, and wealth. 

Grace is about being received into the arms of God despite all the mistakes we have made.  Grace is about forgiveness and acceptance of us as we are.  The grace that God offers us enables us to be comforted in our distress and find an inner peace in the midst of suffering. 

          When we do what we do for Christ, we are not to be ashamed.  God, we are told, “did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”  This letter emphasizes both faith and action.  Timothy is being reminded to be true to the faith practices taught to him by this ancestor AND to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” The gift of God is the grace that gives us the strength to live the gospel – not just do what we ought to do.  Living the gospel does require courage, it does require self-discipline – and it requires us to follow the self-giving sacrificial example of Jesus, our Lord.

          Jesus was not intimidated by people in positions of power and authority.  He was not ashamed to eat with sinners, he was not afraid to touch the sick and heal on the Sabbath.  The law and the prophets he teaches is about loving our neighbor as ourselves, giving our hearts to God and to others.  We receive God’s grace in abundance, and God calls upon us to share in abundance.

          As we enter into our stewardship season, I ask you to remember this – we have received the gift of God and it is a gift to be shared.  Our faith itself is a gift.  How are we sharing our faith with others?  Giving of our time, giving of our talents, and giving of our treasures are all ways we share our faith.  This is how we live our faith – not by just donating our time, our talent, or our money.  We live out our faith when we recognize that we are stewards of all that we have – gifts that are both tangible and intangible.  These gifts are made holy when we share them with the church, organizations and institutions that are helping build better lives for others.  Loving God means caring for God’s creation. 

          St. Paul’s, like many of us today, is facing a great challenge as inflation drives the cost of utilities and other everyday expenses higher.  Add to this the cost of upkeep for facilities, some of which are over 100 years old, like the space in which we gather on Sunday mornings.  You are how we pay our bills and how we continue our ministry here.  You are the stewards of this gift to our community and we need your help.  This week we are beginning a series of small gatherings around a meal.  I anticipate these will go on through November.  Gathering for a meal with members of our church will be an opportunity for us to spend time with others who are a part of the St. Paul’s family and share our vision for St. Paul’s.

Meanwhile, I ask you to spend time making a list of all your blessings.  What has God entrusted your care?  What can we share to ensure that St. Paul’s is able to continue serving God in this community?  Watch for your invitation in the coming weeks and please do come if you can. 

          Today’s gospel reminds me of a lesson Jesus teaches his disciples much later in his time with them.  “I came not to be served, but to serve.”  This stewardship season, I pray that as you consider your financial pledge, you also consider other ways you can serve in the life of our parish.

Let us pray.

          Loving and gracious God, we give thanks to you for all the gifts you have given us.  Fill our hearts with gratitude and open our eyes to see what you have given us in abundance – what you have entrusted to us, that we might share our gifts with love and faith.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.