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.