Luke 17:1-10 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 22—Series C)
“A Little Goes A Long Way”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
October 6, 2019
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 17:
1And he said to his disciples, “It is impossible for temptations to sin not to come, but woe to the one through whom they come. 2It would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he was thrown in the sea so that he should not cause one of these little ones to sin. 3Pay attention to yourselves. If you brother should sin against you, rebuke him. And if he should repent, forgive him. 4And if he should sin against you seven times a day and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 5And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6And the Lord said, “If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7So which one of you, who has a slave plowing or tending sheep, who, when he comes in from the field says to him, ‘Immediately come and recline at table,’ 8but will he not instead say to him, ‘Prepare what I shall eat and dress properly and serve me while I eat and drink, and after these things you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So also you, when you have done all that has been commanded you, shall say, ‘We are unworthy slaves who have done what we ought to do.’”
How many of you have ever heard from your parents or said to your children, “Don’t use too much. A little goes a long way.”? Hand soap, dish detergent, laundry soap, Elmer’s glue, food coloring . . . especially in our day and age of concentrated everything, a little bit does the job. A little faith can uproot and plant a mulberry tree in the sea, and a little faith can forgive abundantly!
Jesus tells His followers, His disciples, that stumbling blocks are going to come into their lives. These stumbling blocks take the form of temptations to sin, depriving others of knowing who Jesus is, as well as withholding forgiveness from those who repent. Jesus says, “Woe to the ones who cause these little ones—believers, disciples—to stumble.” It’s a bad thing to deprive someone of knowing who Jesus is. It is wrong to withhold forgiveness from those who repent. You do not want to be a stumbling block by refusing to forgive a repentant sinner. Jesus came in order to release all people from their bondage to sin and this is done through the forgiveness of sins which Christ’s death and resurrection purchased and won for all on the cross.
The forgiveness of sins is at the very center of the Christian life. Repentance and forgiveness is the daily rhythm of the Christian life. We learned it this way in the Small Catechism section on Holy Baptism: “The Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” It is God’s Law in the Ten Commandments that show us our sins, reveals God’s wrath and anger against our sins, and tells us that we stand condemned to death and hell because of our sinfulness and our inability to keep God’s Commandments. The Gospel brings us to repentance and trust in Jesus Christ who died for our sins, winning the forgiveness that we receive freely by grace in the washing of Baptism, enabling us to live before God in the rightness and holiness of Jesus Christ given to us in Baptism.
Jesus warns us to pay attention so that we do not withhold or misuse the forgiveness of sins. Our Lord said, “If you brother should sin against you, rebuke him. And if he should repent, forgive him. And if he should sin against you seven times a day and turns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” To rebuke means to express strong disapproval, on the one hand, and to speak seriously and warn someone, on the other, in order to prevent an action or bring them to an end. So if someone sins against you, proclaim God’s Law, show them their sin and the hurt and damage it has cause in your relationship with each other and with the Lord. Why do this? So that they might repent and receive from you the forgiveness of sins won by Christ Jesus on the cross. And what if they keep doing you wrong and afterward repent? Forgive them!
But doesn’t Jesus ask the impossible? Rebuke and forgive—even 7 times in one day! Outrageous! The apostles, the Twelve, didn’t believe that they could do this. They thought that they lacked faith and so they asked Jesus, “Add to us faith.” Don’t we sometimes find ourselves at the same point? We end up saying things like, “If I just had more faith, then I could . . .” “If I just had more faith, then I would . . .” Jesus turns this kind of thinking on its head. We tend to believe that bigger is better, stronger, more powerful. Not so with faith. We’re all about the quantity of our faith. Jesus is all about the fact that you do have faith supplied by Him.
“If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” What the apostles think is impossible for them because they believe they lack faith, Jesus says is quite possible because they have faith! Even IF they should have faith the miniscule size of a teensy-weensy mustard seed, they have all that they need to forgive others in the name of Jesus, even if that forgiveness is to be granted over and over and over again to the one who repents. A little goes a long way in the Kingdom of God. The smallness of the Kingdom “in the apostles’ preaching, healing, and forgiving may make them feel as if they do not have enough faith, but like a mustard seed, the smallness of their faith in Christ conceals Christ’s great power and through them Christ will produce great wonders for the kingdom.”
And there is no greater wonder than the forgiveness of sins that we share with one another in the name of Jesus Christ. He went to the cross to die for us who sin against God way more than seven times in a day. He suffered death and hell to pay for all our sins of thought, desire, word, and action so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we might approach God’s throne of grace in true sorrow and repentance time after time and receive full and complete forgiveness for every sin, even the ones of which we are unaware. Those, too, are covered in the blood of Jesus.
As those who receive rich and abundant forgiveness from the Savior time and time again, so you and I are empowered by the Spirit through the Gospel to deliver that forgiveness to those who sin against us. This is nothing less than the Office of the Keys—that special authority which Christ has given to His Church on earth to forgive the sins of repentant sinners. And do you have the faith to forgive those who sin against you and repent? Oh yes! Even if you think its mustard-seed sized, that is more than enough to do what Christ has called you to do in His name—forgive the sins of the repentant by releasing them from the bondage of their sin and guilt.
So “faith like a mustard seed” says that you can forgive. “Faith like a mustard seed” says you already have what you need to live the Christian life and witness: You have Christ, or better, Christ has you! The One who came and died for you, the One who broke through death and came to life for you, the One who called you in Baptism and made you His own—He makes seemingly impossible things possible. In Christ, then, we confront the person who has wronged us, and we offer forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, we do the hard thing and share our faith with our neighbor. Even a little faith goes a long way.
The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has always lived by mustard seed faith. Little gifts, mites, combined across our Synod, make big things happen in mission across the world. Since 1942, the LWML has been a model of Christian discipleship! If our congregations are the soul of the LCMS; if our pastors, workers, and missionaries are the beautiful feet of the LCMS; if our seminaries and universities are the mind of the LCMS; if Lutheran Hour Ministries is the voice of the LCMS; then the LWML is the heart of the LCMS. The women of our church have taught us what it means to do enormously important Gospel-things with just a little faith.
It is true that even a little faith goes a long way because faith is a gift from God in Christ to you. It enables you to forgive as you have been forgiven. Faith empowers you to love others as you have been loved in Christ. Simply put, your Baptismal faith enables you to do what Christ has called you to do as His disciples. He has given you faith, added to your faith, and through the small things in the Kingdom, brings grace, mercy, and everlasting life to the world through the forgiveness of sins. Amen.
 Arthur A. Just, Luke 9:51-24:53 Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 1997), 645.