Call on the Merciful Lord

“Call on the Merciful Lord”

Joel 2:23-32                Luke 18:9-14


It could be a sign of something…I don’t know.  But…on cold days like those we anticipate soon I can’t get my feet warm until I put on my comfortable old slippers…the comfortable OLD slippers…those new slippers won’t do.  My guess is that we have all had a pair of comfortable old slippers…maybe have a pair today.  They are soft…warm and gentle on the feet.

Today’s parable from Jesus is one we have heard so often that it too might be as comfortable as those old slippers.  It should not.  While this parable may fit our feet…it could also pinch…like those new…expensive dress shoes when you wear them for the first time.

Like the parable we heard last week this story has prayer as its focus…and it speaks to God’s grace.  The parable we heard last week showed that consistent prayer shows our confidence that God is gracious and caring.  This parable shows us what we think of ourselves and of God…perhaps without even realizing that’s the message.

It’s the story of two men who prayed…a Pharisee and a tax collector.  The contrast between the two men should be obvious.  Tax collectors were the scum of Jewish society.  They were lackeys of the conquering Roman government.  They were religious and political traitors to the Hebrew society.  They were utterly despicable. They were outcasts.  Today the closest social equivalent would be drug pushers and pimps…people who prey on society, who make money off the bodies of other people and by stealing from others.

On the other hand…the Pharisee had a strong positive reputation in the community.  He had studied long and hard to be better than others…as the historian Josephus described it…”in the observance of piety and exact interpretation of the laws.”  People believed that no Pharisee would ever sell out his people for personal gain.  Like everyone else they, too, were victims of the tax collectors.  You could count on the Pharisees to love the Law and attempt to uphold it.  Remember…however… reputation is only what can be seen.

In today’s parable the Pharisee began his prayer well enough.  He expressed gratitude for the sin that God had kept him from.  He had not stolen…had been faithful to his spouse.  For the people who heard him…his phrase…”even like this tax collector…” seemed appropriate.

In the church today you might hear someone who thinks and acts like the Pharisee say…”God, I thank you that I haven’t fallen to what so many of my contemporaries have succumbed to…sensuality, dishonest business practices…the God-less life of so many of the unchurched.”

Certainly…we should be thankful for the grace of God in our lives.  We have all probably said…”There, but for the grace of God, go I.”  But, there’s something wrong with the Pharisee’s prayer.

Note where he positioned himself.   Then think about where the tax collector said his prayer.  The Pharisee came to the Temple at the precise hour when it was most populated with others in prayer.  He went to the very front of the congregation.  He stood erect…above those bowed in prayer and worship.

A second point to consider…his prayer was loud enough for the whole congregation to hear.

Third…his prayer was all about him.  It was essentially a monologue offering congratulations to himself.  Five times in the brief prayer he said “I”.

Fourth…our discomfort with his prayer comes when he refers to the tax collector in ways that promote the Pharisee’s own Mr. Clean image to the crowd.  He attempted to promote himself to God by exposing the moral failure of another.  Also…he doesn’t seem to care about the plight of the tax collector.  He doesn’t show to him the kind of love that God shows to his poor…pitiful…sinning neighbor.

Some Christians today…make the same error.  They start their prayer by thanking God for his saving grace that has changed their lives…but they think that their success in life is due to their own discipline and effort.  They have turned God’s grace into their own personal accomplishment list.

The tax collector’s prayer was quite different.  He stood at a distance…probably just inside the gates of the Temple court.  He would not look up to heaven…but he beat his breast and asked God for mercy on him…the sinner.  Unlike the Pharisee’s proud proclamation of his own virtues…the tax collector humbly proclaimed his sins.

The tax collector had no desire to compare himself with others.  His plea…”Have mercy on me.” is the opening line of Psalm 51…the Psalm of David that followed his repentance for his adultery and the murder of the woman’s husband.  The tax collector’s hope is that just as God forgave David’s sins…God will forgive the sins of the tax collector.  He felt that the merciful gift of the removal of God’s anger was his only hope.

Jesus told the crowd to note the contrast between the two men.  The Pharisee…who presented his own merits…left the Temple unaccepted… unjustified…and facing God’s wrath.   The tax collector…who repented and humbly gave himself up to God’s mercy…left the Temple justified.  In an instant he had a new life.

This parable helps us understand Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith…a basic doctrine of our United Methodist Church.  Jesus made that doctrine clear with the telling of this story.

Jesus loved to end his parables with axioms… rules for living…and this time was no exception.  His words were…”…the proud will be humbled…but the humble will be honored.”  This is an often repeated message from the Old Testament.  It was sung by Mary at Jesus’ birth….”My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”  (Luke 1:46-48)

This parable tells a great truth…the spiritual attitude with which we pray in our heart of hearts reveals much…especially to God.

The unrighteous heart may never say it publicly…but its prayers reveal to God that it is really depending upon itself…not God…for eternal life.  Though lip-service might be given to humility and repentance…they are not real.  That heart’s own perception of its own goodness is held dear as the real source of salvation.

In contrast…the righteous heart is a heart that…calls on the merciful Lord to be gracious to the sinner.

Before I met Jesus I heard of this gift of grace from the Nobel prize winner…Bob Dylan…who wrote and sang these words. “The wicked know no peace and you just can’t fake it. There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary.  It gets discouraging at times, but I know I’ll make it.  By the saving grace that’s over me.”

Paul made it clear in his letter to the church at Rome…”God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

In sermons, Sunday school and seminary we have come to know that the gift of God’s grace is a cornerstone of our United Methodist tradition.  John Wesley called it prevenient grace…grace that is God’s active presence in our lives…an unearned gift that is always available.  It is God who takes the initiative to relate to you and me.  Wesley and Paul tell us it is God’s grace that stirs up within us a desire to know God and gives us the power to respond to God’s invitation to be in a fruitful, loving relationship with God.  That grace was available to the Pharisee.

But…this grace can be refused.

Today…and everyday…as Jesus…Paul… John Wesley…and even Bob Dylan…have told us…God’s grace is ours…whether we are on the mountain top filled with joy and exhilaration…or in the everyday valley filled with work and frustration.  It is available to us just as it was available to the Pharisee and the tax collector.   Let us not refuse it.  Let us…in the humble faith of the tax collector…call on the merciful Lord…with concerns and petition…with joy and praise.

To Plant

“To Plant”

Jeremiah 31:27-34              Luke 18:1-8


          Three years ago when I traveled through Indiana…Illinois…and Iowa I was reminded of the importance of planting…and the uncertainty of the result in harvest.  Farmers plant in anticipation and hope…but they know that factors beyond their control might intervene.  God plants…God knows the outcome…but…is it always what God had intended?

          Jeremiah told the people that God would plant new people in Israel and Judah…and that he would plant a new covenant on their hearts.  With just a few words Jesus told the disciple about a major part of their half of that covenant…a part that we too often neglect.

Jesus’ parable made a clear distinction between two very different characters…the judge and the widow.

The judge admitted that he did not fear God or care about people.  He failed a major qualification for a judge and apparently recognized no universal ethic outside his own self-interest.  And…his own mistaken belief that he would not stand for God’s judgment made him feel he didn’t have to render just decisions.  Some of history’s worst villains professed their love for humanity.  But…not this man.  He was truly incapable of rendering justice.

As we watch the current political campaigns and read the reports of the actions of some business leaders do we see others…like the judge…who are unaware of God’s idea of justice…or who are unwilling to grant God’s idea of justice?

Life had given the widow a bitter blow…just like Naomi in the book of Ruth.  Widows were among the most defenseless in Hebrew society.  The Old Testament tells us they were oppressed and taken advantage of.  Widows were also victims of laws and traditions we would consider unjust today…as was the case for this poor woman.  It’s quite possible she was one of those that Luke later described as victims of men who devour widows’ houses.  The poor woman didn’t want vengeance.  She just wanted justice…justice that restores.

There were few options for receiving justice or redress from a judge like the man Jesus described.  Perhaps the widow should have resorted to a bribe or a threat.  But her only recourse was a constant plea.  And plead she did.

Every day she begged the judge to help her.  The words used in the original scripture suggest that she confronted the judge everywhere…not just in the court.  She pleaded with him in front of his colleagues.  She confronted him on the street.  She pestered him in the market.  She called out to him at his home.  Her chances were slim with this godless…hardened…cynical man…but it was the only thing she could do.  Some of us might say…”the poor woman…this evil judge is not going to budge.  Sometimes there is no justice.”

For a time the judge remained unmoved, but eventually, despite his cynical resolution…he finally said to himself…”Even though I don’t fear God or care about men…because this widow keeps bothering me I will see that she gets justice so that she won’t eventually wear me out.”  Her persistence had probably embarrassed him publicly…given his reputation a black eye.

The lesson of this parable has often been misunderstood.  Many think that feverish begging in prayer is a virtue.  Many sermons have used this text to teach that we must frantically beg God to answer our prayers.  That’s part of what it’s about.

Here’s the rest of the story.  The parable of the unjust judge and the pestering widow is a story of contrast.  The real lesson is that God is not like the judge.  God is good and gracious.  And…we are not like the nameless widow for we are God’s chosen ones.  A distressed bugging of God is in fact inadequate prayer.

The judge was unloving…evil…ungracious… merciless…and unjust.  God is loving…good… gracious…merciful and just.  There’s no limit to God’s love…graciousness…mercy…or justice.

In the parable the woman was an insignificant nobody.  But…in life…as Christians we are God’s chosen people…created in his image and redeemed by Jesus…his son.  Because of who God is and who we are…there is no reason to frantically knock on his door or nag him for a response.

Some Christians think this parable tells us that our fervent prayers will begin to create a critical mass that God cannot ignore.   This imagines that God is something like the unjust judge.

Twenty-eight years ago C. Samuel Storms asked some relevant questions in his book…”Reaching God’s Ear”.  Let’s ask them…and do some evaluating of our prayer lives.

Do we repeat a request because we think that the quality of a prayer is dependent on the quantity of words?  Real prayer is simply an honest conversation with God.

Do we repeat a request because we think that God is ignorant and needs to be informed, or if not ignorant at least he is unconcerned and therefore needs to be aroused?  God knows and wants to know that you know.

Do we repeat our prayers because we believe that God is unwilling to answer and we must prevail upon him, somehow transforming a hardhearted God into a compassionate and loving one?

Do we repeat a petition because we think that God will be swayed in his decision by our putting on a show of zeal and piety, as if God cannot see through the thin veil of hypocrisy?

This doesn’t mean we should never engage God in fervent…begging prayer.  The parable teaches us that we must continue in our prayers…even when there seems to be no answer…because God…unlike the unjust judge…is loving…good…and gracious.  We persist in prayer not because we have not yet gotten God’s attention…but because we know he cares and will hear us.

Paul engaged in this kind of prayer three times…asking God to remove the thorn in his flesh.  In the end…the thorn was still there…but God gave him something more…more grace.

Over the centuries…and maybe in our own lives… many believers have struggled with the seeming silence of God to their prayers.  In this parable Jesus says that God answers all pleas for justice and does so quickly.  Jesus means that when God acts it will be quick.  It will occur on God’s timing…not ours. But…it will be speedy action when it comes.

We need to learn that in the seeming silence our loving God is answering…whether we see Him working or not.  God delights in answering his children’s prayers.

Sometimes the silence means that God’s answer is a loving no. Maybe we asked in the wrong way…or even though the request was good a better way is coming.  Sometimes the silence means that God has a bigger answer in store than we could ever have dreamed of or asked for.

Further…sometimes the silence of God is meant to instill dependence upon him.  Paul was left with his thorn so that he would lean entirely on God.  We are so interested in independence that if God granted some of our requests we would become self-sufficient…proud…and independent.  There can be no better way to cultivate a sense of dependence upon God than the need for persistent prayer.

With his closing question…”When the Son of Man comes…will he find faith on earth?”  Jesus was saying that continual prayer until he comes again is not only the evidence of faith.  It’s also the means of building faith until his return.  The God to whom we pray is not like the unjust judge who could only be badgered into responding…for our God is loving and gracious.  And…we are not like the nameless widow…for we are chosen ones.  Because of this…he delights to hear and quickly answer our prayers until he comes.

When the Son of Man comes…he will find faith planted…and growing…in us…if we have learned to live a life of constant prayer…prayer to a loving and gracious God.

God…who said, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”



Job 23:1-9, 16-17                 Mark 10:17-31

            In our well-to-do American culture many people tend to be more interested in economic well-being than in excelling in discipleship.  Most Christians do not accept for themselves…Jesus’ command to the rich young man…that one should sell all that one has in order to be a disciple. Few Christians…just over 5% in the U.S…..perform the basic of tithing to their churches.  And…there are churches that sit on wealth rather than using it for discipleship activities.  Many believe that sacrificing just one thing should be good enough.

Today…many people would be more likely to ask Jesus how to get the highest return on their investment rather than how they can serve God.  This kind of attitude sabotages serious commitment and leads many Christians to a dangerous laziness about their faith.  More than one minister has turned a blind eye to Jesus’ teaching on possessions.  Some even use religion to make greedy appeals to fatten their own bank accounts.  There are ads and messages that tell us we can receive a hundredfold more.  All we have to do is send a large contribution to a post office box to learn the secret they have discovered in some remote Bible verse or some ancient writing.

The values of our materialistic culture seep in and can undermine the spirit that should fill a follower of Jesus.  In the first century A.D. the Roman satirist Juvenal made an observation that is still true today. “majestic mighty wealth is the holiest of our gods.”  Many people ask why they should give up for others what they had worked so hard to get.  Some might even feel that the rich man did the sensible thing in walking away from Jesus.  They think that religious commitment should cost something but not that much…not everything.

Jesus said that the rich man lacked one thing…though he did not specify what it was.  It makes sense to assume that he lacked the very thing that our culture might lack.  First…the man lacked for nothing.  He had too much to give up.  Money brings people many things.  That’s why it is so attractive.  However…wealth cannot make a person holy or purchase eternal life.  It does not offer any deep happiness…even when people get more than their fair share.

Many people in our culture have plenty to live on…but little to live for.  Doubling one’s income and having more things does not make for happiness.  Many people…those in church and those not in church…sense that something vital is missing in their lives.  Material success allows them to live in comfort but fails to meet their basic spiritual needs.  Their spiritual emptiness becomes a gnawing hunger when they have to confront the reality of death and bereavement…the anxieties and stress of personal relationships…or the tenacious down drag of evil in their own souls.  They wonder if there is something more to life and something beyond this life.  When confronted by Jesus’ invitation to sell all and follow him…however…the world usually counts possession more dear than the hope of eternal life and a meaningful earthly life.  They lack for nothing. Sometimes…as a result they lack everything.

John Wesley wrote and preached…”earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.”  The key verb for Wesley was “give”.  There are those who are wealthy and give.  There are many more…at all levels of earthly wealth…who find excuses to not give.

The second thing the man lacked was trust.  God requires something more than simple reverence for Jesus and zealous public attempts at obedience.  God requires radical trust.  Like so many people today…this rich man wanted to serve God on his own terms.  He obeyed all the commandments that suited him but resisted giving his whole life over to God.  He was afraid to expose himself to the uncertainties and insecurities of the future or to make himself as vulnerable as a child.  He accumulated possessions to secure his life in this world…and he accumulated obedience to selected commandments as a way to secure his life in the world to come.

In a culture that has grown wary of commitment and risk…few people want to bet their whole life on Jesus.  They want to keep a material safety net and refuse to disentangle themselves from something that brings status…influence and privilege…beyond the safety net.  Few are willing to trust that there will be other brothers and sisters in the faith who will watch over them and care for them…partly because we know we do not sacrificially watch out for them.  To have life…one must trust God and give up the quest to create our own security…give up holding on to earthly treasure.

Third, this man lacked compassion for others.  Origen…one of the early fathers of Christianity… cites an excerpt from “The Gospel According to the Hebrews”:  “…the rich man began to scratch his head, for it did not please him.  And the Lord said to him, “How can you say, I have fulfilled the law and the prophets, when it is written in the law: You shall love your neighbor as yourself, and lo, many of your brothers, sons of Abraham, are clothed in filth, dying of hunger, and your house is full of many good things, none of which goes out to them?”  What has changed in the 19-hundred years since Origen wrote this?

Wealth can blind our moral judgment…harden the arteries of compassion…and lead to spiritual bankruptcy.  The man was unable to give what he had for the benefit of others because he cared only about himself and nobody else.  Remember…he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He was a prisoner in a dungeon of concern only for his own welfare…his own wealth.

This attitude contrasts starkly with the Son of Man’s self-giving love.  Jesus had compassion on the crowds and fed them and eventually gave his life for the many.   How can someone like the rich man live in luxury and be complacent about the needs of others…while professing discipleship to the one who gave his life for others?  Have you looked closely at the arguments being offered by today’s political candidates to pander to certain groups of people?   They are appealing to this attitude of caring only for oneself…the attitude of the rich young man who questioned Jesus.

During a bible study session a young woman told how she had come to rely on Jesus as she escaped tyranny in the Sudan…alone and with nothing more than the clothes she wore.  The study leader asked this question.  “Do we dabble in discipleship?”  Do we…dabble in discipleship because…like the rich young man…we are fearful of losing our earthly treasure?

Possessions pit humans against other humans and against God.  A recent survey of Americans showed that a significant percentage would still buy clothing even if they knew it had been produced by slave labor in a sweatshop.  The cheaper cost would override their compassion or desire for social justice.

Jane Goodall’s study of chimpanzees reveals a surprising trait about their life in community…a trait that humans share.  The chimps…who were normally placid and cooperative…changed their behavior when she gave them bananas.  They immediately began to fight.  The new surplus of food caused the dominant chimps to try to keep it all for themselves and to chase the others off.   The less dominant ones had to come begging.  In our own lives we see evidence that the more we have the more we want and the more jealous we become of those who have a little bit more.  Jesus tries to free us from these desires to accumulate…which ultimately destroy fellowship and a sense of brotherhood.

In his book…Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger…Ronald Sider argues that we need to distinguish between necessities and luxuries…and we must reject both our desire for luxuries and our inclination to blur the distinction.  Expenditures for status…pride…staying in fashion…and keeping up with the Joneses are wrong.  From God’s perspective they are foolish.

Teaching a Stone to Talk is a book written about 30 years ago by Annie Dillard.  In this book she writes of the Franklin expedition to the Arctic in 1845.  It was such a well publicized failure that it became a turning point in Arctic exploration.  The preparations that were made were more suitable for the Royal Navy officer’s club in England than for the frigid Arctic.  The explorers made room on their ships for a large library…a hand organ…china place settings…cut-glass wine goblets…and sterling silver flatware instead of additional coal for their steam engines.  The ornate silver flatware was engraved with the individual officer’s initials and family crests.  Search parties found groups of bodies of men who had set off to walk for help when their supplies ran out.  One skeleton wore his fine blue cloth uniform edged with silk braid…hardly a match for the bitter Arctic cold.  Another apparently chose to carry with him the place setting of sterling flatware.  What must he have been thinking to take sterling silver tableware in a search for help and food?

It’s hard to imagine that any of these sailor adventurers would have said…as they neared death on the frozen landscape…”I wish I had brought more silver place settings.”  Our hanging on to things that are ultimately useless will look no less foolish.  Many people cannot envision life without things they cherish.  The more they possess…the more they are possessed.

Lacking for nothing…do we lack full trust in Jesus and compassion…like His…for our sisters and brothers?

Like the failed Arctic explorers…the rich young man…do we…hang on to the earthly stuff so we can just dabble in discipleship and thus become in danger of losing the only life that counts?



Lamentations 1:1-6   Luke 17:1-10


          Jesus put some great responsibilities on his followers…and the apostles reeled from the impact of his demand.

They said, “Lord, increase our faith.”  They did not ask for more love and tolerance so they could forgive.  Nor did they ask for more understanding.  Instead they asked for faith so they could properly rebuke and forgive others.

Their cry…”Increase our faith!”…though it indicated they had faith…also confirmed they could not increase their own faith.  They knew better than to proudly declare, “I resolve to believe more—I will accumulate more faith.”  They understood that faith is a gift.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…not by works, so that no one can boast.”  That’s how Paul explained it to the Ephesians.

The disciples remembered the humble prayer of the father of the epileptic boy, who said, “I do believe, help me in my unbelief.”  They knew that greater faith only comes through prayer.  They understood that we receive God’s power only through faith…and that forgiveness requires supernatural power.  So they prayed for faith.

The great stories of the Old Testament teach us that people of faith have the ability to forgive.  People of faith are forgivers.

Abraham…the father of the faithful…was a man of faith.  When the herdsmen of Lot quarreled with his herdsmen, Abraham did not quarrel but calmly gave Lot his choice.  Abraham’s faith fostered a forgiving spirit.  Joseph, a man full of faith, forgave his brothers.  Moses…when reviled by Miriam and Aaron…did not retaliate but meekly trusted God.  And David stood over sleeping Saul as his comrades urged him to kill him and spared Saul’s life because he trusted God.

            If a person is truly great in faith…that person will be gentle and forgiving.  The man or woman of faith enters a rest that produces a calm spirit, which keeps him or her from seeking revenge, quickly extending forgiveness instead.

If we are having trouble forgiving, we need faith.  We need to believe that God is in control…that he is not slumbering.  We need to believe he loves us.  We need to believe he will take care of us.  We need to believe he is equitable.  We need to pray…”Increase my faith”…then take the step and forgive.

Jesus liked their request for faith.  He replied…”If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree…’Be uprooted and planted in the sea’…and it will obey you.”  Just like that tree with deep root we may have great unwillingness and inability to forgive deeply rooted in us.

Hand in hand with this inability to forgive is a propensity to blame.  It is so easy to blame others for the wrongs in our life and in our world.  It is almost like a growing past time in our nation.  We blame spouses and children for the unpleasant things that happen in our families.  We blame all police officers for undue deaths caused by a very small minority of police officers.  We blame all people within a definable group for the wrongs of a few people who meet the group’s definition.  For this reason there are those who would close our doors to helpless refugees from war torn nations.  Let me share with you a story aired on NPR yesterday.

“Jo Du was being helped into her gorgeous white wedding dress this week when a tooth on the zipper broke. It was Sunday in Guelph, Ontario, and no tailor shop was open.

Jo Du didn’t want to walk down the aisle to marry Earl Lee with pins in the back of her dress. But no one in the wedding party knew how to make the repair.

An enterprising bridesmaid knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask David Hobson if he might have a pair of pliers they could borrow. Mr. Hobson took in the situation — the bridesmaid, the lacy white dress, and a request for pliers — and said, “I’ve got better than tools. I’ve got a master tailor.”

David Hobson had a family of Syrian refugees from Aleppo living in his home for a few days: a mother, father, and 3 children. A local businessman, Jim Estill, has helped 50 Syrian families enter Canada and settle in the Guelph area — people from one of the most hellish landscapes on earth, brought to live in one of the safest, tidiest, and most serene towns in Canada.

The father of the Syrian family is Ibrahim Halil Dudu. He was indeed a master tailor in Aleppo for 28 years, and as soon as he saw the dress, Ibrahim Dudu got out his sewing kit and set to work.

“He literally sewed her wedding dress back onto her,” Lindsay Coulter, the wedding photographer, told CTV News. “Everyone was so grateful. They said thank you a million times.”

As it turns out, both the Du and Lee families are immigrants to Canada, too.

“Many of the bridesmaids were from China and were bowing to say thanks,” said Lindsay Coulter, who posted photos and wrote on her Facebook page, “Every weekend I take photos of people on the happiest days of their lives, and today one man who has seen some of the worst things our world has to offer came to the rescue.”

“I was so excited and so happy,” Ibrahim Halil Dudu said through a translator. “I like to help Canadian people from my heart.”

Earl Lee called the master tailor’s masterly repair, an “incredible act of kindness” from a “complete stranger who had only stepped foot in this country days ago.”

The master tailor and his family, the wedding party and theirs: immigrants and families of immigrants, who came to Guelph from opposite ends of the world, and made new homes, and look after each other.

If we find it impossible to forgive…and would rather blame…we need to pray…”Increase my faith.”  And God will do it…for He always answers a prayer that is according to his will.  Then…we can forgive and forgive and forgive…and our souls will be secure…gentle…and liberated.

Given the stiff requirement that Jesus gave his disciples…to not cause a little one to stumble…to rebuke those who sin…to extend unlimited forgiveness…to exercise immense faith….a disciple might think that by doing so he or she deserves great favor from God.

Jesus explodes that kind of thinking with a short parable that contains three questions.  They are answered with a no…yes…and a final no.  The answers come from the relationships that existed between masters and slaves in the ancient world…relationships that the people of that day understood and lived.

His first question…”Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep.  Would you say to the servant when he came in from the field, ‘Come along now, and sit down to eat’?”

The answer is “No!”

Jesus’ second question was…”Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink.’?”

That question is answered “Yes”.

Lastly…the question is…”Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?”

“No!” is this question’s answer.

Then…Jesus attempts to wake up the disciples…bring them back to reality…”So, you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus was saying that watching ourselves…rebuking…forgiving…believing…not blaming…is nothing extraordinary…this is the way we are supposed to live.  And when we do it, we are at best “unworthy servants.”  Such a life is our duty.  This life is ordinary Christianity.  Don’t we all wish we could be extraordinarily ordinary.

This final…short…parable…reminds us of an earlier passage from Luke.  (12:35-37) … “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.  It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes.  I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.”

In that parable Jesus revealed what he will do for faithful…watchful servants.  When the day is over, he will make them sit down and he will wait on them.  That is the kingdom feast.

Lest we wish to find ourselves in the deserted city described in the first verse of Lamentations instead of in a land of opportunity and promise…as we come to feast at the Lord’s Table this morning… let us put away pride…put away anger…put away differences…put away the tendency to blame and pray for increased faith that makes us extraordinarily ordinary Christians filled to the brim with forgiveness and faith.