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Sermon and Reflections For Ordinary 27 - Proper 22 - Year C
Lamentations 1:1-6 (3:19-26); Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
"You Don't Has To!"
Barry Robinson


From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson
Ordinary 27 - Proper 22 - Year C
Lamentations 1:1-6 (3:19-26); Psalm 137; 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
"You Don't Has To!"

     "So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do,
     say, "We are worthless slaves, we have only done what we ought to
     have done."

"One Sunday", said Milton Erickson, "my wife Betty and I were reading the
newspaper.  Our daughter Kristi walked up to her mother, grabbed the
newspaper, and threw it on the floor. 

     Her mother said, "Kristi, that wasn't very nice.  Pick up the
     paper and give it back to Mommy. Tell her you're sorry."

     "I don't has to," Kristi said.

     Every member of the family gave Kristi the same advice and got
     the same reply.  So I told Betty to pick Kristi up and put her in
     her bedroom.  I lay down on the bed and Betty propped Kristi on
     the bed beside me.  Kristi looked at me contemptuously.  She
     started to scramble off, but I had a hold on her ankle.  She
     said, "Wet me woose!"

     I said, "I don't has to."

     And that lasted four hours. She kicked and struggled.  Pretty
     soon she freed one ankle.  I got hold of the other.  It was a
     desperate fight - like a silent fight between two titans.  At the
     end of four hours, she knew that she was the loser and said, "I
     pick up the paper and give it to Mommy."

     And that's where the axe fell.  I said, "You don't has to."

     She threw her brain into higher gear and said, "I pick up the
     paper.  I give it to Mommy.  I tell Mommy sorry."

     And I said, "You don't has to."

     And she shifted into full gear.  "I pick up paper.  I want pick
     up paper.  I want to tell Mommy sorry."

     I said, "Fine."

                                    +

Whether or not Jesus said the words attributed to him in this week's gospel
or whether or not Luke has chosen a set of aphorisms to make a point to his
own congregation, they need to be read within the context Luke places them.
Jesus has just reminded his closest friends that they are to exemplify the
kind of love and honesty he embodied in very demanding circumstances - when
a fellow believer makes a grave error and "stumbles" in his or her faith
and when his or her behaviour becomes so offensive that it becomes darned
near impossible to forgive (7:1-4).

     "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."

Of course, the response of the disciples is what we would expect them to
say: "You've got to be kidding!"

"Actually no," said Jesus.

And according to Matthew when Peter begins to remonstrate about this issue
with Jesus and says, "As many as seven times, eh?" Jesus' ups the ante and
says, "What I meant to say was seventy-times seven." (Matthew 18.22)

You get the point, I am sure.  We are talking about the impossibility of
doing what Jesus expects his followers to do, to practice the kind of
forbearing and patience that goes beyond all reason.  And that is why the
disciples come to Jesus in this context and say,

     "Increase our faith!"

Wouldn't you?  Wouldn't I?

Of course, Jesus doesn't ease up one bit.

     "If you had the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to this
     mulberry tree, pull up your roots and go plant yourself in the
     sea, and it would obey you."

A sycamine tree, which is how the Greek translates, was a very large tree
with an extensive root system.  Ever tried to dig one of those babies up?! 

The hyperbole is meant to underscore the impossibility.  Jesus is being
deliberately ironic in order to press home one, salient point to his
friends.  Faith isn't a thermometer with various measures along a gradient.
It's like a zero-one contest.  You've either got it or you don't.

Then he tells them a succinct little parable that jolts us in more ways
than one.

     "Who among you . . ."

Jesus begins and we just know what's coming.  It's one of those
hypothetical setups that Jesus is famous for.  You don't want to get the
wrong answer to that question!  Trust me! 

"Which one of you," he says, "would say to your slave who has just come in
from minding the sheep, 'Hey, buddy, take a load off and sit yourself down
in my chair while I fix up some grub and wait on you hand and foot'?  Which
one of you would thank a slave simply for doing what you commanded him to
do?  Of course you wouldn't do any such thing!  Which is why when you do
all that I have ordered you to do, which one of you wouldn't say, 'Right
on!  Humble servants that we are, we are just following orders!"

Let's acknowledge right up front that neither Luke nor Jesus were
commenting on the moral efficacy of slavery.  For the world in which both
of them lived, the acceptability of that institution was the norm and both
assumed that.  But we also know that Jesus never condoned any behaviour
that resulted in one person dominating another.  So, let's get that ugly
bone out of the way and be done with it.  Furthermore, the way most bibles
translate the Greek word achreios as "useless" or "worthless" is really not
the best meaning here.  What it really means is "obligated".  In other
words, the saying means, "There is no need to reward us.  We are simply
doing our job."

The one giving the orders - and this is the point of the whole section - is
not some insensitive tyrant who lords it over us.  It is Jesus himself, the
one who loves us more than anybody else, laying down the law about what
following him entails.  You don't has to do anything.  But if you love me
and love the people I came to serve, you will do what I command without
hesitation.

There have been times in the history of the church when Christians have
been enjoined to follow Jesus for all sorts of reasons - because it was a
way of striking fear into the hearts of your enemies, because it was a way
to win yourself a place in heaven.  More recently, people have used
arguments like, "It is really just about common sense - this business of
faith" or that faith is the only way to be self-fulfilled.  Jesus cuts
through all that nonsense in this week's text and reminds us of the only
legitimate reason for doing what he did and that is because you love the
kind of man he was and the kind of God he came to reveal.

                                    +

     Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from
     thy ways like lost sheep, we have followed too much the devices
     and desires of our own hearts, we have offended against thy holy
     laws, we have left undone those things which we ought to have
     done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have
     done...

says an old prayer of confession those of us with gray heads, at least,
should remember.  It's not always about doing what's reasonable or what's
in it for you that will get you through.  It's also about doing what you
need to do, which you ought to do, whether you feel like it or not - just
the way somebody once changed your diapers and mine out of nothing more
than love.

     Ten years later, said Milton, my two younger girls yelled at
     their mother.  I called them and said, "Stand on the rug.  I
     don't think it's nice to yell at your Mother.  Stand there and
     think it over and see if you agree with me.

     Kristi said, "I could stand here all night."

     Rosie said, "I don't think it's very nice to yell at Ma and I
     will go apologize to her."
     
     I continued writing on a manuscript.  An hour later, I turned to
     Kristi.  Even one hour is fatiguing.  I turned back and said,
     "Even the hands of the clock seem to be moving slowly."  Half an
     hour later I turned and said, "I think that was a very stupid
     remark you made to Mother. I think it's very stupid to yell at
     your ma."

     She collapsed in my lap and said, "So do I," and sobbed.

     Ten years without disciplining a child - two to twelve.  At
     fifteen  I disciplined her once more, that's all.  Three times
     only.                  - Sidney Rosen, My Voice Will Go With You

                                    +

Lamentations 1:1-6 (3:19-26), Psalm 137 - These verses from Lamentations
and Psalm 137 should be read in tandem.  They represent the communal voice
of Israel in exile.  For those of us who have the courage to listen, they
present the possibility of a truthfulness and identification with the human
condition that is not found in many other texts.  With these laments, we
are forced to look at our world not as voyeurs (like we are when we watch
the evening news) but to recognize our part in it, to make us reexamine our
values.

1.   In what ways did Israel experience exile?

2.   In what ways have you or has someone you know experienced radical
displacement?

3.   What is it about 'church' that inclines us not to want to hear the
truth of such texts?


2 Timothy 1:1-14 - Paul gives advice, exhortation and encouragement to his
understudy and constant companion, Timothy.  Timothy, a third generation
Christian is urged to show courage as a minister of the gospel, not to be
ashamed of it, to join in the suffering of those called to be apostles and
so, to protect the precious treasure of the Good News.

1.   What may have prompted Paul to write these words of encouragement and
exhortation?

2.   How is faith transmitted?

3.   What is a faithful response to persecution and suffering?

4.   How does a faith that is tested form a person? How has it formed you?


Luke 17:5-10 - After giving his friends very demanding instructions about
how to deal with people who "stumble" and sin against others continually
(17:1-4), the disciples cry out for even greater faith.  Jesus' response is
to challenge them to practice the faith they already have and to remind
them by way of a jolting parable that there is nothing above and beyond the
service and duty of following him.

1.   Does this week's reflection suggest two kinds of duty or obligation?
Which one reflects Jesus' attitude? Why?

2.   When have you been hard pressed to forgive?

3.   Recount some times in your life when someone has performed absolutely
essential tasks for you out of a sense of duty?

4.   How has this week's reflection changed or confirmed your attitude
about raising children?


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - "There is no man that would not willingly call God
to account, hence the notion of merits has prevailed in every age." 
                              - John Calvin, A Commentary on A Harmony of
                              the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke

"The rat gnawing at faith, the saboteur in discipleship, is the conceit of
merit."                       - William H. Willimon


HYMN: "We Are Pilgrims"  (Voices United 595)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2004
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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