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Increase Our Faith

Luke 17:1-10

Rev. Kurt Hering

Pentecost 20, Proper 22, series C
Christ Lutheran-Elkhart, and Faith Lutheran-Hugoton  
Kansas


right-click to download MP3 of this sermon

Sun, Oct 2, 2016 

Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.

The mulberry tree Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson today is our sin. As difficult as it would be to uproot such a tree and cast it into the ocean, it is even more so to forgive sin. Just as the fruit of the mulberry tree must be pierced to make it edible, so did Jesus have to become sin and be pierced, perhaps on a tree made of this poor man’s mulberry wood, to take our sin away and make us fit for His Kingdom.

Jesus didn’t come to transplant mulberry trees or move mountains of earth. He came to give His life on the cross as a ransom for our sin.

To hear the entire sermon as it was preached to the saints at Christ Lutheran-Elkhart, KS for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, "Increase Our Faith," click on the audio link provided above. The sermon begins at 11:15.

Graphic: Cedar tree in Lebanon with Jesus on the cross carved into it.

For those of you who prefer to read or read along while listening, the preaching manuscript the preaching manuscript follows below. .

Nota Bene: Sermons are meant to be heard. Bullet points in the manuscript are explained and filled out during the preaching, so you will need to listen to the audio file to get the full message.

TEXT: And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."

So the Lord said, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

That is some picture painted by Jesus, isn’t it? His talk of uprooting and transplanting a mulberry tree may sound rather silly to us, but the tree Jesus speaks of was not the nursery rhyme tree the monkey chased the weasel round. It was a large hybrid sycamore-fig tree with deep roots, often planted by the sides of the road to provide shade for hot and weary travelers. Poor people used for its wood as an alternative to expensive cedar. It bore fruit several times a year, but that fruit was of inferior quality and had to be punctured to make it edible, therefore, like the wood its fruit was a poor person’s option.

How utterly strange and awe inspiring a feat it must have seemed that such a huge, very common and useful tree be pulled up by its deep and sturdy roots and planted in a body of water many miles away. Yet it was certainly within the realm of possibility when spoken of by this man who had changed water into wine, given sight to the blind, and fed five thousand with a couple of fish and loaves of bread.

But having said this, having painted this picture of the fruits of faith, even just the tiniest bit of faith, how many accounts do we have of the disciples doing such a thing as uprooting a large shade tree and levitating it across miles of desert into the sea?

Of course, we have no records of such a miracle by Jesus, or any of his disciples, so what could Jesus talking Jesus possibly be talking about? Let’s take a look and find out.

In order to know what Jesus is talking about, it is always helpful to know who Jesus is talking to. Chapter 17 begins, “Then He said to the disciples”—likely, seventy two Jesus sent out two by two into the villages to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of the Lord in the forgiveness of sins.

As for the message itself we read, "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. (vv. 1b -2)

This harkens back to our parable from last week’s Gospel lesson of the rich man and Lazarus, and is a warning against the belief and teaching of the Pharisees that placed the burden of keeping the law upon the people. Jesus is warning the disciples that they must watch that they do not fall into similar errors, for such errors inevitably will pop up in the church on earth because of the sinful desires of teachers who want to be loved and obeyed and hearers with itching ears who would rather not be reminded of their sin and unworthiness before God.

Therefore Jesus speaks this short, simple and forceful command, “Take heed to yourselves.” (v. 3a) The language here is very similar to that of the Apostle Paul speaking to young pastor Timothy: Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. 1 Tim 4:16

How are the disciples to take heed to themselves? By watching what they taught and practicing what they preached. Having warned them, Jesus goes on to tell them exactly what the doctrine and life, the teaching and practice of the disciples and the church was to be:

If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him." (vv. 3b-4)

This was a very hard thing for the apostles to hear. Surely they recalled the Pharisees reaction and accusations to Jesus claim to forgive sins as reported in Luke 5:21 24, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

This forgiving sins was serious business with drastic consequences in a world that did not recognize Jesus as the Christ of God and would eventually spike him to a cursed tree precisely because He presumed to forgive sins. In fear of what lay ahead as a result of Jesus command to them to rebuke and forgive, the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." v. 5

So Jesus speaks of a hypothetical and unthinkable miracle, "If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.” v. 6

But is Jesus here commanding His disciples to prove their faith by a ministry of uprooting large shade trees and levitating them across miles of desert into the sea? Certainly not! Jesus performed miracles in order that people would believe He was the Christ, the Son of God--and this not just so they would tremble and bow at His power, but so that they would believe Him when He said their sins were forgiven by Him. 

You see, miracles are of no lasting benefit if they do not contribute to faith which receives and believes in the love of Christ that took Him to the cross to forgive our sins. That is what Paul is talking about in 1 Cor 13:2 when he says, ... and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

The love we are to have is the love of Christ that forgives sins. That is not an easy thing at all. In fact, the lack of forgiveness among us—not God’s lack of forgiveness for us, but our lack of forgiveness often even of our own fellow church members and loved ones—is the cause of great division and stunts growth.

Jesus here wants the disciples; His church; you and me to know that a miracle—whether one of healing, or of pulling a large shade tree up by its roots and planting it in the sea--is nothing compared to the forgiveness of sins. Human physicians can heal many of the most difficult diseases, and human landscapers can replant even very large trees. With our computer and communication technology we are rapidly approaching a return to the time of the Tower of Babel, when God came to earth and confused the language of man because they had become so powerful in their own wisdom that, now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Gen 11:6

But only God can forgive sins and conquer death--only the Son of God who laid down His life and then takes it up again. And what is more, this Son of God tells His disciples, His church, to go forth in His name and forgive sins as well. In fact, that is the very reason for the church’s existence and the definition of its life of worship. And it is no more welcomed by even the religious world today than it was in the day of Jesus and His apostles. 

So often the words of our Savior from this Gospel lesson are taken out of context and used to place an incredible burden on the little ones of Jesus’ Kingdom, by which is meant all believers who must become least if they are to become great. 

"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

If only you have faith, the TV preacher says, your cancer will be healed; your financial woes will be turned to prosperity; your marriage will be happy. But alas, it is not always so, even among those of great faith. In fact among those of God’s chosen, the road is often toughest and most cruel.

Dear baptized children of God, that the road is tough, that we face suffering and eventually even death does not mean there is any lack of faith on our part. Jesus miraculously raised Lazarus from the dead, yet he surely passed from this earth at a later date, as will we all – not for lack of faith but because we must die to this world of sin to live forever with God. Just as the devil struck the heel of the Son of God in His death on the tree, so does he strike our heel in his final attack on us. Just as certainly as Christ’s death sealed God’s victory over sin, death and the devil, so too by our death we enter into that victory. That is God’s baptismal promise to us. [Romans 6:3-5]

The mulberry tree Jesus is talking about in our Gospel lesson today is our sin. As difficult as it would be to uproot such a tree and cast it into the ocean, it is even more so to forgive sin. Just as the fruit of the mulberry tree must be pierced to make it edible, so did Jesus have to become sin and be pierced, perhaps on a tree made of this poor man’s mulberry wood, to take our sin away and make us fit for His Kingdom.

No, Jesus didn’t come to transplant mulberry trees or move mountains of earth. He came to give His life on the cross as a ransom for our sin. Having given His life, risen from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father, He sends the Holy Spirit to deliver the forgiveness He accomplished on the cross to us in the waters of Baptism, the proclamation of the Holy Gospel in the liturgy and preaching of His Church, the Holy Supper of His very body and blood. It is by these means of grace He has given to His church that Christ moves the mountain of man’s sin and transplants the deeply rooted sinner into His waters of Life. And having done so for us, He sends us forth in faith as His church to do the same for others--forgiving our neighbor, our enemy, and even the friend or relative who has sinned against us as we have been forgiven by our crucified Friend and Brother--in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.



Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.



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