Sermon for October 02, 2016

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 2, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Luke 17:5-6

Sermon Theme:  “’Dead Duck’ Faith”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson, Cycle C, Preaching Workbook; “the Seed of Faith,”; original ideas; “Verses Showing Justification by Faith,” CARM; Nelson’s Three-in-One Bible References; Online article on Faith by Greg Koukl; Luther’s Small Catechism and Explanation; Scientific American Online)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin with a story.

A lady goes to the vet with a duck, which she presents to the veterinary surgeon.  The duck is quite clearly dead, and after a cursory examination, the vet duly informs the lady that her duck has breathed its last.

Outraged, the lady tells the vet he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and challenges him to prove that her duck is, indeed, dead.  The vet sighs, but then opens the back door of the surgery room and ushers in a large black Labrador who walks up to the examination table, puts his paws on the table, and sniffs the duck from head to toe.  The Labrador looks dolefully at the vet and slowly shakes its head and leaves the room.

The vet then brings in a large tabby cat, which he places on the table beside the duck.  The cat also sniffs the duck from head to toe and also looks up to the vet and shakes its head.  The vet removes the cat and then says to the lady, “There you are, I told you it was dead.”  He taps a few keys on his computer and says, “That will be $150, please.”

The lady, clearly shocked, says, “$150 to tell me that my duck is dead, that’s outrageous.”

“Well,” said the vet, “if you’d taken my word for it, it would have only been $20, but with the Lab test and the cat scan, it’s a hundred fifty.”

In other words, ‘Have faith in me and my diagnosis.’  We Christians talk about being saved by grace through faith alone, and faith comes from hearing the Word of God, but you can have faith in many things, — your veterinarian, your own doctor, your own intelligence, the plumber you call, the experienced roofer, a contractor, etc.’

You know, over the years, I have had a number of plumbers, roofers, contractors, etc., who incorrectly diagnosed a serious house problem, and the results of their “fixing” the problem were disastrous.  In some cases, though, faith can be a good thing, such as faith in our cardiologist or our Oncologist to diagnose and treat us; but only faith in Jesus has the power to move God.

So, obviously, this morning we are talking about faith in Jesus Christ.

I want to focus on verses 5 and 6 of today’s gospel, because they address this issue of faith.

There are over two dozen verses in the Bible which support the truth that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, — such as Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 10:9-10, Galatians 2:16, and Philippians 3:9, just to mention a few.

As we read those verses, two questions come to our minds, one of which was obviously in the minds of the disciples in today’s text.  One question is ‘How much grace’?  and the other is, ‘How much faith’?  Paul answers the first question in 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, wherein he says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take [the thorn in my flesh] away from me.  But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

In other words, “grace” is something only God lovingly dishes out, and it’s filled to the brim.

The second question, ‘How much faith?,’ is answered by Jesus in today’s sermon text.  But before we look at that answer, we need a Biblical definition of “faith.”  By reading through the Bible, we can see many explanations and many examples of faith, but the most succinct definition is from the Letter to the Hebrews:  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Greg Koukl explains that Biblical faith is not just knowing.  Faith is also acting.  Biblical faith is a confidence so strong that it results in action.  You’re willing to act based on that belief, that faith.

The question, ‘How much faith’ is answered by Jesus in our text.  “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!”  And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

That reminds us of what Jesus said to Peter and the other disciples in Mark 11: 22-23,  “Have faith in God.  I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.”

Those are startling statements about faith, aren’t they?  And they were said by Jesus Himself, the one we’re supposed to have faith in!  Many people in today’s world are very skeptical about faith, yet at the same time believe in psychics who supposedly have such psychic abilities as levitation (floating in the air), telepathy (transferring their thoughts to others), hydrokinesis (manipulation of water), and telekinesis (also called psychokinesis) {moving objects with their minds}.

Who wouldn’t want the power of telekinesis, whether it’s moving mulberry trees out of your yard or mountains into view?!  But Jesus isn’t talking about psychic powers which really don’t exist; He’s talking about faith in Him.  Faith in the only One who is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), unchangeable, and eternal.

Jesus used the mustard seed as a fitting symbol of faith.  It is a fitting symbol because of its smallness and insignificance.  The seed has greatness hidden within its tiny shell.  Whether the seed realizes that potential depends on what happens to it.

When we were baptized, the seed of faith was planted by God’s Spirit into our hearts.  Hopefully, that seed was watered and cultivated by family and congregation. The disciples asked Jesus to make their faith larger.  Jesus seems to say that the size is irrelevant.  All the necessary ingredients are there for a great faith, a mature faith.  It is God’s will to give us a faith with the power to uproot that which is worthless and wrong and to grow a mighty oak of righteousness.

Think about it like this:  Not one of us is plagued with brains that are too small.  Our problem is that, even though the idea we only use 10 percent of our brain is false, we really don’t fully exercise the intellectual capacity that God has already given us.  The truth is, the more we exercise our brains, the stronger they become.  Elderly folks who use their brains the most are less likely to develop dementia.  You can analogize that to faith.  God gave us faith, period,–  not giving five pounds of it to one person and only two ounces to another.  Faith comes through hearing the Word, so a believer strengthens his faith by coming to church and partaking of the Holy Supper and through prayer (without faith, you can’t pray, can you?).

To be sure, God gave us sufficient grace and sufficient faith.  And we’re talking about real-world faith here.  Belief that actually helps us function in the market place, the home, the school, the job – and even when everything is falling apart.

That faith is simply in Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us.  The confidence of faith is not in how great it is but that it is in the right One.  Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know the one in whom I have put my trust.”  Jesus says that faith in Him is sufficient, even if it is compared to a grain of mustard seed. He also says that this is what the kingdom of God is like.  “The kingdom of heaven in like a mustard seed,” Jesus said in Matthew 13:31-32, “which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

Because of who Jesus is and what He has done for us, we can live courageously (not faint-heartedly), having confidence in times of sickness and sorrow and confidence over sin and confidence beyond death.   This is a living faith.  Not a “dead duck” faith.  Amen.