Saturday, December 28, 2013

Take Your Place at the Table (Luke 17:5-10)

     The other day, I stood out front of our house, yelling at our crabapple tree . . . I kept telling it to uproot itself, and quietly chop itself up into nice little logs.  You see, I really do not care too much for the crabapple tree in our front yard . . . it drops little apples on my car, on my driveway, on the neighbor's driveway, in the street . . . the birds like it because they like the crabapples, but then they leave little reminders of their presence all over my car . . . the branches are constantly drooping down on to my car . . . I really do not care much for our crabapple tree.  So, there I stood in our front yard admonishing it to drop over dead . . . 

     . . . nothing happened.  It just stood there . . . mocking me as it dropped a crabapple onto my head.  Now, I don't get it.  You heard Jesus this morning in our scripture reading . . . if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can tell the mulberry tree to uproot itself and plant itself in the sea.  Faith as little as a mustard seed!  You know how tiny a mustard seed is?  Shoot, I have more faith than that . . . but, you can drive my house and still see that crab apple tree standing there.  I think that Jesus is pulling our legs!

    I think all of you know what I am talking about when I say that . . . Jesus is pulling our legs.  Countless times over the years I have been asked by many people, why doesn't God answer my prayers . . . Jesus said that if you believe and ask, it will be delivered.  Every single person who ever asked me that question, truly believed . . . truly had faith greater than a mustard seed . . . and, openly and honestly asked something of God that they did not get.  Of course, most of us just push the slight off by telling ourselves that it was not time to get what we asked for . . . that God will give it to us when we really need it.  But, deep down, we are all thinking to ourselves . . . is there something wrong with me . . . is Jesus just pulling my leg?

     Our scripture reading this morning begins with the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith.  They honestly want to be faithful, and Jesus gives them the little statement that if they have faith as large as a mustard seed they can go into the tree removal business.  Which in my mind's eyes, since the apostles are pretty much like any other human being, they straggle behind Jesus, and with every tree they pass they are quietly telling it to jump into the sea.  They are doing this because they do believe . . . they do have faith bigger than a mustard seed . . . and, if Jesus says it, it must be true.

     But, Jesus' statement didn't just end with that little illustration . . . no, Jesus went on to tell them a parable.  A worker is out in the field, working hard, and then comes in for supper.  Jesus asks, do you think the boss is going to tell the worker to pull up a chair and help himself?  Of course not!  The boss is going to tell the worker to go into the kitchen, whip up a meal, serve him, then clean up the mess, and help himself to leftovers.  Then Jesus asks, do you think the boss is going to thank the worker for all he has done?  Of course not!  This is what a worker is supposed to do--work!  That is what is expected from the worker . . . do the job.

     Then, off-handily, suggests to the apostles, that they ought to just do what they are suppose to be doing and be happy with it.

     Now, one of the things that we have often heard about the apostles--Jesus' disciples--is that they wanted the kingdom and everything that was suppose to come with it, without having to do the work.  We have heard how they kind of felt like it was their privilege and reward for having been hand-picked by Jesus . . . to be among the chosen to follow.  We have heard how they just sort of expected to become holy because they were associated with Jesus.  And, we have heard, that they did not always listen closely to what Jesus said, and nor did they always live up to the expectations that Jesus had.  They wanted to take the easy way . . . "Lord, increase our faith!"

     Jesus understood where they were coming from, but he was not going to make it easy for them . . . he couldn't.  He couldn't because increasing one's faith is not as simple as making a statement to a tree about jumping into the sea . . . it is not as easy as offering up a prayer to God.  No, increasing one's faith takes work . . . a lifetime of work . . . that Jesus has told them over and over again . . . that he has shown them through the actions that he takes.  It is the taking care of the business that is at hand . . . it is loving God completely and loving one's neighbors.  It is thankless work, or at least work none of us should ever expect to be thanked for . . . that is rewarded from the inside out . . . our faith is increased.  We grow closer to God, we grow closer to one another.  Jesus never said that it would be easy.

     To have faith and to increase one's faith, takes work . . . hard work that is focused upon doing God's will.  God's will, simply put by Jesus and those before him, was to love God and to love one's neighbors.  There are no rewards for doing what God expects you to do . . . you just do it and reap the satisfaction of knowing that you are growing closer to God and one another in relationships that are grounded in love and grace.

     Today is World Communion Sunday. Around the world followers of Jesus are gathering at the table to break the bread and lift the cup.  They are gathering to celebrate what the broken bread and cup represent . . . the gift of grace and love to come into relationship with God and one another.  They are gathering--no manner what ilk of follower they might be . . . Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Baptist, holy roller, or even another member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . . . to celebrate the common unity--the communion--that makes us all one.  It is a symbolic gesture of what could be--the kingdom of God realized.

     But, we are not there . . . at least not yet.  The work has not been done . . . it has not been completed.  And, it can not be completed by the followers of Jesus gathering from all around the world at the table praying that it be so.  It can't be completed because each and every one of us can look around this sanctuary and see who is missing from the table.  I imagine that every congregation that is gathering around the Lord's Table this morning can ask the same question--who is not here at the table with us?  There is still a lot of work to be done.  

     That work is in loving God . . .not just on Sunday mornings or that hour we dedicate to God each day in devotion . . . but, every single moment we breathe.  That work is in loving our neighbor . . . who is our neighbor?  Whoever it is that might be with us at any given moment--that is who our neighbor is.  The work is not the words we say, but the actions that we take . . . the way that we relate to one another and to others.  Work that we are expected to do, not because we will earn some great reward or flashy thanksgiving; but because we agreed to do the job when we agreed to accept the grace offer by God through Jesus Christ--that is our job.

     On this World Communion Sunday, take your place at the table.  Take your place at the table . . . look around . . . look around and see who is not at the table . . . be reminded of the gift . . . be reminded of the job.  Go forth renewed in your work and invite others to come and take their place at the table . . . Jesus' table.  Amen.

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