Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Do your duty. . .
Have you ever had one of those horrible moments when someone asked if you noticed but you were not sure what you were supposed to notice? In our great need for affirmation, we act like little children who must tell anyone who will hear what we did. Over and over again we tell the battle stories of our lives, the misery of our work, the problems we have at home, and on and on. But the truth is most of this is ordinary stuff. We want someone to notice, to listen, to understand, and to affirm us but most of these are the daily duties of our mortal lives for which we are ought expect no special commendation. Jesus said in the Gospel for today: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”
So what is our duty? What are the things for which we ought expect no special commendation? Jesus tells us. Do not tempt others to sin. Shape your lives so that they do not invite others to do the wrongs you have done. Speak so that those around you will not will not be drawn away from the Lord. This is not simply our duty to the Lord but to our neighbors, to those around us. Our first duty of love is not to tempt those around us to sin.
And with this is the call not to ignore the sins of others that will lead them astray. In other words, when we sit silent before the wrongs of those around us we only confirm them in their sin and lead them to unbelief. The duty of love requires us that we not fail to rebuke the sins of those around us lest our failure to speak encourage them to condemnation. There is no live and let live in the kingdom of God. Love compels us -- not superior righteousness or moral superiority but love. Love called us to repentance and love calls our brothers and sisters back to the way that is Christ.
Just as we are not to tempt others to sin nor stand silently by as they follow the path of sin to their destruction, neither can we fail to forgive those who repents. Not because they deserve it but because God has forgiven us unworthy sinners, we forgive those around us. Even if they sin against us the same sin seven times a day, when they come to us and by their repentance ask to be forgiven, we forgive as Christ has us. Forgiveness is not a reward for those who have reformed their lives but the means by which the sinner is reborn in grace. Love forgives. As we have been forgiven in Christ.
Our duty is not to tempt, not to contribute to the sinfulness of those around us, and not to fail to forgive them. But love does not stop there. The duty of love is to serve those around us – our family, our neighbor, our employer, and those in need. Love does not choose whether or not to serve but love serves as Christ has served us in love. His love is our motivation. Not the worthiness of those around us, not whether or not the needs comes at a convenient time, not if we want to serve those around us, but as Christ has loved and redeemed us, so do we love and serve those around us.
Of course the weight of all this duty of love seems too much. Like the disciples of old, we cry how can we possibly do all that is asked of us? If we are going to do all this, then we will need more faith. “Increase our faith” we cry. The burden of love is too much for us. The temptation to us is to run from love for its duty seems too great and we fear we will never obtain the faith we need to satisfy love’s duty to our neighbor. Faith does not wait until stronger to act nor does it wait for a better moment.
Jesus insists we do not need more faith but to use the faith we have. Our duty to our neighbor cannot wait for us to grow enough faith to make this love easy. No, indeed. Even if we have the faith of a mustard seed, we have enough faith to live our lives in faithful response to God and in faithful love and service to our neighbor.
There is a part of us that believes if we have the right explanation or instruction, we will figure it out. There is also a part of us that cries for a miracle to confirm that this is what we are to do and that we can do it. Uprooted trees and miraculous signs are great but we don’t need them to ease the way. The way is not sight. It is faith. What we need to exercise our faith and confidence in Christ, to live out what we proclaim.
Then there is the final shibboleth. Will it make a difference and will anybody notice? If loving our family, neighbor, employer, and the poor will not make a difference we can see with our eyes and really improve their lot, what is it worth? Why bother? If nobody notices and I receive no credit for what I do, why bother? These are the ways we work to justify our lack of love for our neighbor and our failure to warn the sinner of the consequences of his ways. But these are not the words of faith. These are the words of unbelief.
Every day we know God’s mercies new – not because we deserve them but because it is God’s nature to love even the unworthy and undeserving. We come together today before the cross where we meet the ultimate love for the sinner. Here we see that Jesus is not asking anything from us that He has not already done for us. We love because He first loved us. Our love is not noteworthy because it is love in response to the love that saved us through the cross, bearing the full weight of our sin in His suffering, and dying that we might live.
Living our lives in response to that love means asking for no special notice or reward for what we do but living toward our neighbor as Christ has lived for us. Of course this is hard. It goes against our sinful natures that want to live only for self. It goes against the world which pleads to be noticed, affirmed, and rewarded. Though we live in a world conditioned by sin to act because of reward, you and I were reborn in baptism to live different lives, new lives, lives shaped by Christ’s life for us.
Today Brooklyn joined us in God’s kingdom through the waters of baptism. She was planted in the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit lives in her just as you and I have been planted in God’s Kingdom and the Spirit lives in us. The way of this Kingdom means being in the world but not of the world. You and I live apart from the world not in physical place but in the kind of lives we live. The way of this life and the way of the Kingdom of God is faith – faith that move us to do what is love’s duty as Christ has loved us.
The way of the Kingdom of God is not self-serving nor it is for personal gain or glory. The way of this Kingdom is faith. As Christ has lived a holy life, so do we strive for holiness lest we tempt others to sin. As Christ called us out from the way of sin and its death, so do we call those around us to repentance. As Christ has forgiven us and still forgives us, so do we in Christ forgive. As He has provided for us for this life and for eternity, so do we take up the cause of those in need.
You are not a victim. You earned the curse sin has caused you. You are not a victim. Christ has loved you in spite of that sin. He went to your cross, to wear your suffering, and to die your death. He has called you to faith so that you might live in this hope, rejoice in this mercy, and be transformed by the power of His love. You are bit a victim. You are most of all the privileged who have received the mercy of God. You know the privilege of God’s grace and what it means to be called the baptized children of God. The world claims victimhood; your claim is grace.
So do what is your calling and your duty. Do not tempt others to sin by your sins. Live holy lives as much as you are able and if you fail let it not be because you did not try. Go to church. Raise your children in this faith. Serve the Lord through the ministries of this church. Support this church with your tithes and offerings. Forgive those who hurt you as Christ has forgiven you. Use now the faith God has already supplied you and do not wait for perfect faith or perfect timing to live out your baptismal new life.
And at the end of the day, we struggle not to whine because this holy calling did not change the world or because we did not enjoy our service or because nobody noticed what we did or recognized us for our efforts. Faith acknowledges our debt to grace, rejoices in the love that has saved us, and claims the duty of that love in our relationships here on earth. We are all unworthy servants. Even when we do our best for the Lord, we are only doing our duty.
But do not forget this. What the world never notices, the Lord sees. What the world does not credit, the Lord knows and has promised everlasting reward. Let this be enough. God has given us the kingdom. Amen.