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A Dutiful Faith

Luke 17:5-10

The study of human behavior has always been a favorite interest of mine. I am fascinated by the rational process a person goes through, both consciously and unconsciously in making a decision. I am constantly asking why do people do the things they do? Why are people willing to make great sacrifices for a certain cause but, not even offer token help to other worthwhile projects? Why are people willing to take great risks in some areas of their life but, not in others? Why are people willing to fill their life with so much activity that they do not have any time to help a young person learn to read or sit in silence with an older person who is longing for company, or invite someone they do not know very well to lunch?

Psychologist tell us that ultimately all of human behavior hinges on a system of rewards. We make choices based on what course of action offers the most satisfying reward. Sometimes these rewards are biological based. When we are hungry or thirsty we go to the refrigerator and get a snack. When we walk across a sidewalk that is too hot to the touch, we will either put on shoes, begin to walk across the grass or stand their motionless and cry until daddy comes along to carry you. At other times we are motivated by more altruistic goals. Helping another person learn a task or accomplishing a project for the greater good of the community provides an inner sense of joy and gratification. Sometimes these rewards will be purely self-centered and immediate. We will only go to see a movie that will make us feel good when we leave or watch a sports event that our favorite team at least has a chance of winning.

I wonder what the motivation was for the disciples the day they asked 

Lord, Increase our faith!

Why did they need more faith? Did they still have doubts about who Jesus was? Or were they asking for the faith to believe that God could work through their very own lives? But why would they ask for the latter? Did they want to gain the admiration of the people by perform spectacular miracles? Did they want supernatural power to counter the dominating power of the religious and political leaders? Or did they merely want to be faithful servants with enough faith to believe that the God who spoke and brought forth Creation, who set the sun and the moon and the stars in the sky, who parted the water and the dry ground, who raised the mountains could and would work a miracle through them. Jesus words provide both reassurance and conviction.

First he reassures them that a little bit of faith goes a long way There is something in the human psyche that causes us to believe in the cliché, the bigger the better. We see this in our buying habits. Just before I went on my backpacking trip, my lawn mower gave up its last breath. The repaired shop had warned me that its days could probably be counted on one hand with a few missing fingers, so I was not too surprised, disappointed but not surprised.

After a week in the mountains, I spent several days shopping. I looked at all sorts of mowers. I was surprised to see so many big powerful riding mowers. I wondered, given the size of the average lawn in Wenatchee, who really needs a mower that big. When I began to zero in on the mower I wanted, I had to resist the pressure of the salesmen who kept trying to sell me one that was just a little more powerful and had just a few more features. I almost fell for the trap until I realized that I would never need a mower that powerful. I had a small yard and the grass was just not that thick. But the temptation was to buy the most powerful, the biggest, just in case. The bigger engine, extra money in the bank, the 1000 Ghz CPU with 30 Gig hardrive gives us security. Even if we never use them, we know that they are available.

Jesus tells us that we do not need extra faith. We only need enough faith. Faith is not a commodity that we put into the bank, or the closet to use for emergencies. The smallest, tiniest portion of faith is just as significant as the greatest. 

After reassuring them that even a smallest token of faith will purchase great spiritual blessing, Jesus tells the disciples a story that challenges their motivation for asking for faith. Maybe he was wonder why they wanted to increase their faith. Did they want to feed 5000 people? Did they want to walk on water? Did they want to heal the lame? Did they want to give sight to the blind? If they wanted this kind of faith, then they would have to understand that the nature of that faith would not be shown just by spectacular deeds but by every day service. It must take the form of a servant who after doing all his chores merely says

I am an unworthy servant for I have only done what I have ought to have done!

This parable is seldom found in the American church. Faith is viewed as a response to the blessings of God not a duty or obligation. "Come to Jesus," the evangelistic says, "He'll fix it. He'll heal it! He'll solve all your problems" In this mindset Jesus is the wonder worker who satisfies our cravings for prosperity, health, and happiness. Faith in God is turned into a method or technique for self-actualization not a response conveyed through a life of service.

It is almost shocking to think that faith should be expressed as duty. Duty has nearly been removed from our vocabulary. Victorian moralists and poets once bestowed honor upon the person who sacrificed their personal goals and ambitions for a moral or civic duty. Today contemporary ethicists argue that duty is an inferior moral motivation.

We grope for answers to troubled questions?

What should I do in the matter of an unwanted pregnancy?

What should I do in an unhappy marriage?

What should I when my parents can no longer take care of themselves and require more of my time?

Do your duty? When was the last time you told somebody that? If I would have put that down on my ordination exams when I was preparing for the ministry, I would never have passed. Today people make choices based on subjective feelings, serendipitous impulses, not out of a sense of duty. Duty connotes blind obedience, a mindless response, ethics that are nothing more than habit rather than independent reasoning.

The quaint young man who proposed marriage to his pregnant girlfriend because it was my duty has become the ethical equivalent of the dodo bird.

In his 1982 book, New Rules, Daniel Yankelovich noted a seismic shift in American values in the past three decades. In the 1950s, Americans lived in accordance with what Yankelovich calls a "getting/giving" compact built upon the assumption of self-sacrifice. The old rules were hard work, the suppression of impulses toward personal fulfillment in order to meet the needs of others. In return, you got a good job, a nice home, respect from friends, a sense of achievement.

In the 1960s and '70s a major cultural revolution replaced the old self-denial ethic with an ethic of self-fulfillment. New affluence made old rules obsolete. Self-restraint gave way to self-expression. Obligation to others was replaced with duty to oneself. Do your own thing. I've got to look out for me. Unfortunately, our new rules appear to be self-defeating. In being true to "me," in journeying deeper into ourselves, we haven't grown, we've shrunk. .... Whoever believes that they are a failure if they do not fulfill all their needs is setting themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. Nothing seems to subvert self-fulfillment more than self-indulgence.

By placing this parable in response to the question, Luke is presenting us with a definition of faith that contrast and conflict with the values of our society. He has Jesus turn the tables on the self-indulgent mindset. Faith is not for the ambition but servant. Faith comes not by doing the spectacular but by performing the mundane. Faith is not merely a feel good sensation to lift our spirits and put a song on our lips. Faith is the expression of a life lived in obedience to our Lord.

Luke has set this parable in response to the disciple's question. By so doing, he is drawing a directing connecting between the disciples and the servant. He is saying, "You cannot be a disciple without being a servant." "You cannot have faith without maintaining a lifestyle of service." This service does not end at 5:00. You do not get a break on the weekends. You are never too old.

Let me ask you two questions. With the first, I would like to see a show of hands. How many of you would like God to increase your faith? Now, I do not want to embarrass anyone so for the second question, please do not raise your hands. How many of you are actively serving in a ministry either in the church or community? 

The central message of the parable is that you cannot have faith without service. God will not increase your faith unless you are willing to live a life of servanthood.

As your pastor, I am very concerned about not overworking people. I strongly advocate, one person, one ministry. You cannot wear a multi-set of hats. I also know that people can serve God through various community projects and service clubs. I also believe that at times, families and personal needs prohibit people from serving in the church. However, we have reached a critical time in the life of our congregation. The Children's Ministry Team has several needs teachers for Sunday school and WACKY Club. Our Deacons have been short handed throughout this year along with several committees. Each person needs to seriously consider their commitment as a member of this church and their calling to serve. We cannot to maintain quality educational events unless people are willing to become involved and serve. Not just once or twice a year, but every month, every week.

Remember when you were really in love with someone? I mean really in love? And the flame burned with intensity and your mind was all clouded with romantic thoughts. Do you remember doing things for the other person that you would never have done on your own for anyone else? Things that brought you little enjoyment in themselves, but provide a wonderful feeling of joy because the other person, the person you loved, really appreciated them.1

The parable of the unworthy servant reminds us that faith is much like being in love. It is service to our Master by serving the needs of another person. But even after all is said and done. Even after we have done all that we could possible do, we can only conclude. "We are unworthy servants, who have only done our duty."

1 Much of the material for this sermon comes from William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 26 No.4 pp 3-6.

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1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390