Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost LUKE 17:5-10

Does God see a strong, vibrant faith in each of us? Does God see a total peace of mind?  Perhaps there are times, in worship, or being alone, or in a meaningful moment with someone we love, when we believe God is smiling on us. But tomorrow when nothing goes right and everything goes wrong, when too much is being asked of us, do we react as faithful believers? 

Or in more complex situations, when we’ve been treated poorly by others, or there’s a blow-up in the family, or we’re frightened by terrifying world events, how do we react? Are we angry?  Or understanding and forgiving?   Which reaction is the real me?  Jesus outlined the life of faith for his followers and he told us how we should live.  Wherever God leads, we will never grow in faith to where we can say , “God,  I’m a good and faithful child now.”

We cannot put faith behind us and say “I was baptized a long time ago and since God will not go back on his word, I don’t have anything to worry about.” Truth is, growth in faith is always a work in progress, like a mustard seed, one of the smallest of all seeds. Jesus makes one of those exaggerated statements not to be taken literally but as a figure of speech.

If our faith is what it should be, then we could move a tree into the midst of the sea. How ridiculous, of course, but the statement is a great illustration.  A tiny seed can survive drought, fire, earthquake, flood, storms, or being stirred even by a bulldozer.  In spite of all, it gives birth to a tree that becomes an umbrella in the forest.  If our faith were equal to that kind of certainty, then no storm, no wrong decision, no destructive power, no upset, no struggle could take away the life that blossoms.

We relate to God through His grace, not our power. Then Jesus gives us another way of looking at ourselves.  If you have worked with your servant in the fields, at suppertime do you forget who the master is and who the servant?   Do you say come and sit with me?  Or do you say, serve me, then you may eat.   Would you thank the servant for doing his duty, for doing what is already expected?

“So you, when you have done all that is commanded, you should say to yourself, we have only done our duty.” Perhaps the answer for our true identity can be found in an Old Testament story.

When the children of Israel escaped from Egypt for the Promised Land, they complained they should have stayed in Egypt because there they had something to eat.

Then God sent manna from heaven. Every morning they gathered from the ground what they needed, each for his family, and by some miracle of measurement, whatever was gathered was in sufficient quantity that the whole family could be fed.

Or it might have been just enough for the single person who was traveling alone. In either case, what was provided by God’s hand was enough to feed a household.  To grow our faith, we should look on ourselves as God looked at them.  God told them at Mt. Sinai:   “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.

“Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” God did not bring these people out of Egypt and establish a perpetual covenant with them only to let them starve in the desert.

Have you ever escaped from some Egypt by the hand and power and will of God? Have you then questioned whether God had done the right thing? Faith asks a singular question: “Do you believe you are in God’s hands, or do you not?  St. Paul gave the Corinthians a clear answer:   “What God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”

God is in charge. Certainly there are times in every life when events or circumstances suggest that God is not in charge.  Some of us in this room may come to the end of life in unrelieved tragedy and unspeakable illness. Yet, God is in charge and there will come to us the great dawning, a bright new endless day at the throne of the God who never sleeps.  There are some who fear that life will end in death and defeat.

Nevertheless, God calls us to go out every morning, pick manna from his hand, and ask, “What will you have me do today?” Our posture, our attitude for life, is suggested by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night he was betrayed. “Lord, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” Whenever we wonder who we are, when we look for the real me that we keep buried down there somewhere, are we willing to adopt the attitude Jesus had in the garden?

Jesus believed above everything else that he was born to bring in the kingdom of God. He would fulfill that expectation not by turning stones into bread or casting himself unhurt from the top of the temple. He would become the epitome of obedience by giving his life as a ransom for many.

Above all else, Jesus believed it was required of him to sacrifice himself in death so that in his resurrection he would overcome the just punishment that you and I deserve for our disobedience. His willingness to die and rise for us does not relieve us of repentance and turning life around.

When Jesus saw that he was the Lamb of God who would bear our grief and carry our sorrows, he did not flinch. Of course he could have sought another way, but when in the midst of his Gethsemane prayer he saw the cross before him, he responded to God, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

Can we imagine hearing that same kind of prayer from our lips? The Israelites in the wilderness after esacape from Egypt, said, “Thank you, God, for the manna you have brought to us.

“You have borne us up as on eagles’ wings. You have brought us into the Promised Land where your presence never leaves us.” Can we say, “You have given us your son born in the Bethlehem of each of our hearts.  You have promised that when the going gets tough, your Spirit will intercede for us with sighs when we can’t come up with the words.”

Then, do we want to ask, “How can we say ‘thank you, God for saving us from the slavery of sin?” We can take the manna of forgiveness in the body of his son., that’s how. Now as we stand at the very threshold of the banquet hall of heaven, is there so mething we want to complain about when God calls us to the life of the kingdom?  God meets us in word and sacrament.  God speaks to us in the renewal of our baptismal vow, in the empowering presence of his word which comes by his Spirit.

Isaiah tell us that God says of his own word, “It shall not return to me empty but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” If we are carried in God’s arms, sheltered from any harm that might ultimately separate us from the love of God, then is there any challenge too great, any service beyond our willingness to gladly deliver?

Should we not stir ourselves from being sleeping disciples, and go forth into the world proudly bearing his cross as our banner? Shall we ask God, how we can respond to him in the everyday life of the world?

As we go about daily living, we often look out upon an abyss filled with darkness, chaos, violence, personal destruction, power struggles, self-defeat, confusion, lack of faith. It is with good reason that we flee to the assembly of God’s people where we can get in touch with the God who is in charge. Here we can be certain of meeting and hearing from the God who gave manna in the desert, the God who sent his son to Galilee. Here in worship we feast at the table of the Lord in a foretaste of the banquet which is to come in eternity. It is here that we open our hearts and our minds and say with our own words how grateful we are to God our father.

Finally, the answer comes. It is here where we see ourselves with all the varnish peeled back. Here we identify ourselves as the children of God,  because that is who we truly are.