Summary: Even mustard-seed-faith can do great things. Jesus talks about these great things here.
Luke 17:1-6 HOW FAITH CAN CHANGE THE WAY YOU LIVE
Are you a strong Christians or a weak Christian? Are you a good person or a bad person? How do you measure that? And if you’re weak, how can you get stronger?
I know that recently they did some testing in the local schools to measure how smart the students are in the various subjects. When I was in high school, every fall, we didn’t have the ISTEP tests. Instead, we had the dreaded fitness tests. I don’t know if they do this anymore or not, but every fall, we had to take the “presidential fitness test.” Every fall. gym class became boot camp, as the gym teachers would make us run long distances and short distances, do push-ups and sit-ups. They were measuring our level of fitness, and if you did well, you received a piece of paper that you could put up on your refrigerator at home, congratulating you on being fit.
Is there a way of testing, not your fitness, but your soul? Testing your inner self, to see what kind of shape you’re in spiritually? Is your soul weak or strong? Is it in good shape or bad shape? Our Gospel lesson for this morning serves as a good test for our souls. Jesus was teaching his disciples about how they are to be around other people.
Test #1 – are you a good example to others? He told his disciples that in this world, sin is bound to happen. But woe to that person through whom sin comes. And then Jesus paints a pretty striking picture. He says that if you have to choose between causing someone to sin, or having a millstone tied around your neck – those were heavy stones they used for grinding grain – if you had to choose between the two, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and to be drowned at the bottom of Pine Lake – that would be better than causing a little child to sin. Why would Jesus say that? Apparently, causing someone to sin is a very offensive in the eyes of God, and God has a great deal of punishment in store for someone who does that. So watch yourselves, Jesus says here.
So that’s test #1 – are you a good example to others, or, by your example, are you causing people to fall into sin? Think about that – have you ever set a bad example for someone else – by the way you talk, or by the way you conduct yourself. Have you ever lost your temper in front of someone else, or had a moment of impatience? What about your language? What about your priorities? By your example, are you teaching your child that God is not important? By your example, are you teaching materialism, or drunkenness? Are you someone who claims to be a Christian, but lives and talks in such a way that people say, “If that guy is a Christian, I want nothing to do with it.” That’s test #1 – are you a good example?
Then there’s test #2 – Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” If he repents, then forgive him. And if that person sins again, and repents again, then you forgive him again. If he does this over and over, keeps on sinning, and keeps on repenting, then you are to keep on forgiving. C.S. Lewis once said, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea, until we have to practice it.”
Picture this now – you know someone who keeps making mistakes – maybe he loses his temper all the time, or he acts selfish, or he just goes down the wrong path. He’s very weak, and when you point his mistakes out to him, he truly feels bad about it. He’s trying to do better. “I’m sorry,” he says. And so you forgive him. But then he does it again. He’s weak, he’s flawed. And he’s truly sorry again. And so you forgive. No grudge. No fight. No cold shoulder. He keeps sinning, keeps making mistakes, but he keeps trying to do better, and you keep forgiving.
When the first Christian missionaries arrived among the Eskimos, they found that there was no Eskimo word for forgiveness. So whey they began to translate the Bible into their language, they took several Eskimo words and linked them together to make a new word for forgiveness. The Eskimo word is “Issum-agi-ou-jung-nai-ner-mik.” It literally means “Choosing not to think about it anymore.” When someone has wronged you, and he repents, Jesus says, “forgive!” In other words, let it go. Choose not to think about it anymore. It’s a choice. That’s forgiveness.
That’s test #2 – are you strong enough to forgive someone, over and over again? So how is your soul? Test #1 – are you a good example to others? Test #2 – are you strong enough to forgive a weak and struggling person, over and over again? How have you done on these tests? There are two kinds of people in this room – the honest people who say, “I haven’t done well.” And then there are the people who are living in the land of make-believe, who say, “I think I’m doing fine.”