Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Come, Take Your Place
World Communion Sunday, preached Oct 2, 2022
It is World Communion Sunday, and churches all over the world are headed to the Lord ’s Table together today. To walk us toward the table, we have four little sayings of Jesus, all woven together by the author of this gospel we call Luke, the last of which has us around a table. So let’s pray then hear these four lessons of Jesus to us from…
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It 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. 3Be on your guard!
If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’
5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’
Sermon Come, Take Your Place
Four little lessons…
The first lesson in the Greek literally says something closer to “Its impossible for scandals not to happen.” Then, it doesn’t say “woe to anyone who acts scandalously.” This “woe” is to anyone who, by their actions or words, leads someone else into scandal. Jesus’ words of “woe” and warning are to those who lead others into bad spots.
Preachers take this saying seriously. If, Caitan and I, by our preaching or teaching, by our interpretation of scripture, or by things we do or say in our own lives lead one of you astray, then yes, you are in a bad spot, but WOE the size of a millstone is on us for leading you there. The millstone was the massive kitchen appliance where wheat was ground into grain. To make this image more contemporary, we might say, “It is better for a leader to have a refrigerator tied around their neck and be thrown into the Chester River than to lead someone astray.” A graphic disturbing image, but that’s what Jesus was going for.
In church, Preachers are not the only leaders. The Session includes Pastors and Elders, and the Diaconate included Deacons, all members of the church called by God and elected by the congregation to be leaders. Their role as Elder or Deacon is equal in responsibility to that of a Pastor in the Presbyterian church, and in some ways, even more so, since they have more powers in a church than we pastors do. In a way, Jesus is turning to pastors, elders, and deacons and saying be on your guard NOT to lead the people astray.
At the time Jesus was saying this, though, there was no church, no pastors, elders, deacons yet. Only disciples, people trying to understand and follow him. So this message is really to anyone interested in Jesus. Be careful what you say and do, because others are watching and following you in order to learn how to follow Jesus. Do not lead others astray.
The second lesson has to do with others who have already strayed. Just like Jesus promised, scandals are unavoidable. Mistakes happen. People do stupid things to each other, sometimes on accident and sometimes on purpose. If THEY go astray, and I help lead them there, a millstone of woe around my neck. But what if I didn’t. What if they made that mistake all on their own?
Jesus has two tidbits in this situation. When someone sins, offends, you MUST rebuke them, name it. Don’t ignore it. Tell them what you see, and invite them to repent, to turn from that direction and come back to the community. If they turn, confess… you MUST forgive. This isn’t a suggestion. You disciple MUST forgive them. Again, this lesson is not about the one who scandaled… its about the one who saw it and named it. When they repent, we must forgive. What if they do it over and over again? Yes, forgive them seven times a day if necessary. That’s what Jesus does for us, so that what we do for them.
Now, I once had a woman come to me about her marriage. She was a faithful churchgoer. He was not. She was afraid of her spouse, who had substance abuse, anger issues, and was physically violent. He would be sorry and beg her to forgive him. She felt this text commanded to stay in the relationship, as long as he apologized, which meant she would continue receiving violence and abuse from him. She heard Jesus saying she had to forgive him AND stay. I tried to show her Jesus is only saying the first part, forgive, to not seek violence or revenge against, to sincerely pray for and work for what is best, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay. We are also commanded to love ourselves.
The third lesson is probably a result of the first two. They are heavy and hard, so the disciples beg for Jesus to increase their faith. “Give us more faith, so we stand a chance of not leading others astray, and are able to confront those who are sinning, and are able to forgive those who sin against us.” The disciples know how weak they are in these areas, so they beg for an increase in faith.
Jesus’ response is painful… “If you had faith…” … “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.” It’s a bad assumption to assume our faith can do these things if it is bigger, or deeper, or more. It’s a bad assumption to assume we have any of the right kind of faith. Jesus is saying, even the tiniest little bit of true faith is more than enough to do miracles. So we should not be asking for OUR faith to be increased! We should be asking for just the tiniest little seed of real faith, true faith, Christ’s faithfulness work in us.
American Christianity often speaks of having faith, and believing. John 3:16 right? Whomsoever believeth in him… Believeth, have faith-eth… Once upon a time, it was all about our ability to fulfill the law. Then, Jesus came and fulfilled it for us because we couldn’t. Anyone who has faith in that is covered by what Jesus did in his death and resurrection. So, its not about works anymore. Now its about faith, belief, and we just want Jesus to turn and say, “your faith has saved you,” just like he said to the Centurion, the bleeding woman, and the sick man.
But he’s telling them, and telling us, its not about our faith. Our faith saves nothing. His faithfulness saves the world. We don’t need more of his faithfulness. He already gave us everything he had.
Finally, the fourth story. Jesus puts us in the Master’s chair with a servant coming in from laboring in our fields. What would we say to our servant who is coming in the door after working all day? Would we say, “Here sit down, let me make your dinner! You’ve been working so hard! You must be tired! Would you like a glass of tea? Here’s a basin to wash your hands and to cool your face. Let me take your shoes off and put your feet in some water to cool and rest them. How about some bread as an appetizer, or a nice drink for your dry throat?”
No, that’s not what we say to our servant. We’d say, “I’m hungry! Make my dinner, bring me a basin. Unlace my work boots. Where’s the bread? Open the wine?” Then once we’re all taken care of, the servant would be dismissed to serve themself. That’s how Jesus thinks we’d do it if we were the master, and he’s probably right.
But in Jesus’ story, we are not the master. Jesus starts with “Who among you would say to your servant,” then he flips it upside down, and we realize in life we are the servants. Jesus is Lord… “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, realize, “We are only servants; we have only been asked to do what is required of us!” How we lead others or mislead them, forgive others or not, those things matter but only show is we are living on our own faith or following the faithfulness of Christ. We want to know, not believe, and we want control, not trust. Is there anything in this whole conversation we can know, or we can control?
We can love and serve and continue working the Kingdom of God. We don’t do that for the special advantage or access it earn us. Neither our faith or our work earns us anything. We do it because we love and serve God, and therefore love and serve one another.
Then, when we come back through the doors after a long day or lifetime of loving and serving God, loving and serving our neighbors as love ourselves, and we come through the doors, we find something strange. The table, and everything is already prepared. Our master, our Lord is offering us, the servants, with a towel around his saying, “here, have a seat, let me help you slip out of your work boots and wash your feet.” There is already warm bread on the table, baked and broken, for us. There is something good to drink, opened and breathing and ready to pour, for us.
The Lord we serve doesn’t treat servants the way we would. This Lord is not like us. This Lord has faith in us we do not have in God. This Lord uses power for love and service, and gives God’s self away for others. In God’s house, there’s a place for everyone, everyone at the Lord’s table. Come, take your place.