A Sermon for Series C Proper 22 – 2016 “Unworthy Servants put to good use”

Old Testament Lesson  Habakkuk 1:4; 2:1-4

Second Lesson  2 Timothy 1:1-14

Gospel Lesson  Luke 17:1-10

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Luke 17:1-10]

Think back to the days before you were confirmed.  Think again about Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed.  Do you remember the words?  What does this mean?  I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified me, and kept me in the true faith.

In other words, the Holy Spirit uses God’s holy Word to convict us of our sin and make us realize just how desperately we need a savior.  Then, having gotten our attention, he reveals that Savior to us in the same God-breathed, inerrant, word by imparting faith in us so that we can see our Savior as the Spirit points him out to us while God proclaims his Son in scripture.  We’re saved!  Saved by grace, through faith – not from ourselves, but from a gift of God – not by works.

It’s not a long drawn out, stepwise process; but the moment the Holy Spirit places faith in you, faith in your Savior Jesus in you, you’re saved!  And that faith is alive!  It grows and grows for the rest of your life; but although it is your personal faith, it isn’t grown by you.  Every grain of faith poured into you is a gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.

So now that you’ve got it, what do you do with it?  How do you get it to grow?  How will you know when you’ve got enough?  And how much is enough?  Is a grain enough; or do you think you need more?  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.” 

Could any of them do that?  Can you do that?  No?  Then, what was Jesus getting at?  Was he telling his disciples, and us, that we have no faith?  Not likely; of course they had faith; of course we have faith.  We believe; and only through faith can that happen.  So what was he talking about, and what did he mean when he said, “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ “

To answer that, we have to think back again to the explanation of the third article of the creed, and remind ourselves how we got this faith.  Remember?  It was a gift given to us, to enlighten us, to sanctify us, and to keep us in the true faith.  It’s a gift.  And not a gift to be used to our glory, but to God’s glory.

Having the gift of faith plants us firmly in the Kingdom of God, changing our lives forever; and it comes complete with the forgiveness of all our sins and eternal life; but it does something else too, something that changes life outside of ourselves.

In faith we become useful tools; just the right tools for the Holy Spirit to use.  No matter what the task at hand, things always go smoother when you have the right tools.  And the right tools are never run-of- the-mill tools either; they’re high quality, craftsman tools.  Tools uniquely suited to produce the desired effect, accurately and precisely.

The craftsman needs tools so unique they aren’t sold in stores; and so he ends up making them himself.  He has a special place in his heart for them; he cherishes them, he takes good care of them, they belong to him.  And when the craftsman builds or restores, it’s always through his personal tools.

But no matter how unique, no matter how necessary the tools are, without the craftsman holding them, guiding them, knowledgably using them, the tools themselves can accomplish nothing.  And when the project is completed, the honor, and the glory, go to the craftsman; not to the tools.

It’s the craftsman who selects what is to be molded and shaped; knowing how to turn inert materials into a creation that’s alive.  It’s the craftsman who selects the right tools for the project.  It’s the craftsman whose steady hand ensures the quality of the work.  The tools get no credit.  All the glory should, and does, go to the craftsman.

Our God is the Master Craftsman.  He builds his kingdom with unique, specially designed tools; tools he creates from materials you would never expect him to use.  He starts with raw materials filled with wild, wandering grains; filled with knots and tough, unworkable burls.  He starts with raw, sin filled materials, he starts with you and me.

In our raw and sinful state, we’re the wrong materials to be used to build God’s kingdom.  We’re the wrong materials to shape into craftsman quality tools.  And, no matter how we strive to change that, it’ll never happen.  There’s nothing ‘right’ in our world, only wrong.  The perfect materials that God used to create us were corrupted long ago, when sin entered the world.  Now, no matter what we do, we can’t reshape ourselves enough, we can’t restore ourselves enough to be His own.

Anyone else would call us unusable, but not our God.  Through his loving eyes, he sees that inside this resistant, defiant piece of raw material; this material that’s dead to him, there is a man, a woman, a child that belongs to Him.

He sent his Son to cleanse us, to restore us, and on the cross he suffered and died to remove our sins; that we might be returned to our heavenly Father.  Then at our Baptism, he worked yet another miracle.  He removed those knots, he removed those tough unworkable burls; and he straightened those wild, wandering grains.  He took the sin that controlled and contorted us, making us misshapen and unusable, and cast it away; never to be seen again.  He took this raw material and fashioned it into the tools he would use to build his kingdom.

Now, he uses us to do his will.  He places us, his recreated tools, in his firm grip and guides us in his will; by his holy Word that directs us; and his sacraments that unite us with him and with one another.  The work we perform is his. Whatever’s produced is in accordance with his will, as his kingdom grows among us.

His kingdom grows through the proclamation of his Word; the sharing of the Gospel.  And His Gospel lives in the lives of those who hear it, as the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel to call them into saving faith.  As his tools, the Spirit uses us to proclaim his Word; accurately, precisely, in all its fullness; proclaiming it to our families, proclaiming it to our brothers; proclaiming it in the teaching of his Word, the sharing of his love, the giving of forgiveness that we were first given by him.  All of this is the proclamation of the Gospel; and in all of this, the kingdom grows.

It’s God who knows when the time is right to mold, to shape, to recreate; to turn those who were dead in sin into a creation that’s alive.  It’s God who prepares and selects the right tools to proclaim his Word, and to prepare the way for his Spirit.  It’s God whose steady hand holds that tool as it works.  The tools get no credit.  All the glory should, and does, go to God our heavenly Father whom we thank for using us as his own, personal craftsman tools.

And so when we’ve done all that we’ve been commanded, it’s enough for us to say: ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’

Amen.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle