Summary: A sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Series C, Proper 22

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19th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 22] October 7, 2007 “Series C”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, you sent your Son into our world to reveal your will and grace for our lives. But we confess that we have not always lived according to your Word which Jesus revealed to us, and that we have often taken your redeeming grace for granted, by failing to forgive and love others as Christ has loved us. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, increase our faith, and empower us to reflect your saving grace to others. This we ask in Christ’s Holy Name. Amen.

Lucy Lind Hogan began her commentary on our Gospel lesson in these words, and I quote: “The Gospel readings for the previous weeks have introduced us to a number of interesting characters – the rich man and his shrewd if not unscrupulous steward, and another rich man who ignored the poor man Lazarus who sat by his gate. These parables explore themes of faithfulness and forgiveness in rather unsettling ways…

[However], when we begin to study a portion of the Lectionary [that is, our assigned readings for each Sunday,] it is important not only to remind oneself about the passages read in the previous weeks, but also to read what has been ignored. In this case, following the parable of the rich man and Lazarus come some rather harsh words of Jesus concerning our relationship with others. There is no parable to soften the words of judgement… End quote. [1]

Quite frankly, when I first read our Gospel lesson for this morning, even before reading the commentaries, I grabbed my Bible and read the verses that preceded our text. After all, what prompted the apostles to say to Jesus, or, perhaps more accurately given the exclamation mark, to plead with Jesus to “Increase their faith!”

After all, I believe that if I was an apostle, and I didn’t understand the parable of the unjust steward, I would have asked Jesus to explain it to me. And I believe that he would. And by this time, since the apostles had been with Jesus in his ministry for quite some time, I think that they would have understood that God has compassion for the poor and those who were deemed outcasts of society. Thus, I don’t think that the story of the rich man and Lazarus would have shocked them.

So what was it that led the apostles to plead for Jesus to increase their faith? Unfortunately, the Lectionary chose to ignore the first four verses of this seventeenth chapter of Luke, which gives us that context for their question.

Listen to what Jesus says: “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea, than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciples sins, you must rebuke the offender and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same persons sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Lucy Lind Hogan is right. Jesus does not pull any punches in these words. His words are blunt and to the point. He calls upon us to truly care for one another, and if we do anything that might cause someone to sin or lose faith in God, we would be better off to be thrown into the sea with a weight around our neck.

And his second point is no less shocking! Jesus tells us that we are to challenge those who sin, that they might repent, and if they do, we must forgive them. Even if a person sins against us seven times a day, and turns to us and asks for forgiveness, we must forgive them.

As I thought about these words of Jesus, I thought of times when I had kept quiet, not wanting to get involved, or thinking that it really was none of my business to interfere in someone’s personal situation, even though I knew what they were doing was harmful to themselves or to others. After all, it’s different if someone comes to you for advice. By keeping quiet, did I cause someone to sin?

I thought about times when I had acted, not kept quiet, and believe that I did the right thing. And then I thought about the pain that I felt when my actions caused a real rift in my relationship with that person that lasted for years. Sometimes it was the person for whom I cared being unable to forgive me for caring. Sometimes it was me not able to forgive myself for taking the action that I did.

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