17th Sunday after Pentecost – 10/2/2022
Isn't it amazing how much we all need thanks and compliments for the things we do? Perhaps our need for validation stems from our childhood. We took our first step, and our parents were right there to say, "Oh, look at you! You're such a big boy or girl!" And then, of course, everyone clapped! Grandma and Grandpa were called, and in your hearing, they were told of your great achievement! But that was only the beginning! Then you were complimented, and everyone rejoiced that you went potty in the toilet. That you said your first word, that you got an "A" on your spelling test, that you made a basket and scored 2 points for your team, that you graduated from high school, that you got a job! Oh, and of course, all along the way, you were showered with awards, ribbons, and medals!
It is not hard to see, then, that we grow up expecting such "at-a-boys" from everyone around us: our peers, our neighbors, our bosses, and even our spouses. We become so expectant and, dare I say, demanding of praise that when it does not come forth, we throw up our hands and just quit. "Oh, what's the use?" we exclaim. "No one appreciates what I do anyway. I never get a thank-you. No one seems to care. Why should I?"
A young mother of three asked her husband, who was sitting in his easy chair watching Monday Night Football, "Honey, would you mind watching the kids for a while and then getting them ready for bed? I need to run to the store to pick up a few things to fix the dinner we were going to take over to Mrs. Jones tomorrow to help her after her surgery." He begins to grumble and says, "Hey, didn't I watch the kids for you on Friday night, so you could go to your Bible study with the girls? I don't think you appreciate all the things I have already done for you." "Oh, big deal," his wife replies. "That was the first time you did anything with the kids all month! You are their dad! What do you want? A medal!"
This need and expectation of affirmation for what we do carry over into our service to God and His church. We feel slighted if no one notices that we spent one whole afternoon picking up trash around the church. It irks us that we have put our heart and soul into teaching Sunday school for the past 10 years and no one gives us a good service pin or acknowledges our service before the congregation. We make a healthy contribution toward the building payment or the general budget, and no one even acknowledges it. No plaque on the wall... There was no room named in our honor—not even a thank you card! "Tell me why I keep doing this again?" we ask our friends. "Why do I keep putting myself out so much, sacrificing my time, when no one seems to notice or even care?"
But whether we have been trained to expect affirmation and medals or if they are simply the product of our sinful, self-centered, self-absorbed human nature, we ought to ask ourselves "Why?" Why do I need to be acknowledged, thanked, awarded, or honored for doing what, for the most part, I was commanded to do, expected to do, or even paid to do?
Now, whether we want to accept it or not, this sort of attitude does not square with being a disciple of Jesus, the Son of God Himself, who bore a cross for us. In effect, Jesus is asking us in our text today, "So what?" "Would you like a medal for being my disciple... for doing your job?"
Jesus tells the following parable: "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 the table? Will he not rather say to him, "Prepare supper for me, 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."
Of course, it is always appreciated when a master or employer takes a break from his servant or employee's labors or even serves him for a change. But that should never be an expectation. It's the servant's job to serve. The employee is hired to do the job his employer asks of him. Simply doing one's duty is no big deal. It's no reason to be honored with a medal! Come on! It's your duty!
This could be one of the greatest challenges we are facing in the church today! All too often, we have to be begged, cajoled, or even bribed with some sort of reward or recognition before we will serve in some capacity of the church's ministry. More and more, we even have to be enticed to come to worship; the service must be more entertaining. There has to be food there. Someone needs to take their kids off our hands for the worship hour. The other members need to make us feel comfortable or acknowledge our presence in some way, or we will not go back again. Since when is pitching in to do the Lord's work or worshipping Him anything but God's command and expectation of us? Is He or His representative supposed to give us a medal for showing up in church or helping to keep up the church?
Now, I know this is not what our 21st-century ears want to hear, but besides keeping the Ten Commandments, there are certain duties, or responsibilities, that just go along with being a disciple of Jesus. They are things the Lord simply expects us to do as we follow Him. The first is to always be on guard that we do not, with our words and/or actions, lead someone else into temptation, sin, or in any way turn them away from the truth of Christ. Jesus warns: "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" "It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin."
Yes, Cain, we are our brother's keeper. The welfare of his body and reputation, as well as his eternal salvation, are our business. Every action we take is seen by others, and it either influences them to do the right thing in God's eyes or gives them further encouragement to sin to the detriment of their eternal salvation. Likewise, our every word teaches others—our children, our neighbors, our co-workers—to know and believe in the truth or some half-truth or lie.
Living a Christ-like life in word and deed is not optional for us. After all, we follow the One who leads no one astray but only into truth and life. Nothing Jesus has said or done ensnares anyone into error or death. He is compassion for others personified. Our Master is the personification of putting the needs of others first. If it were not for Jesus' concern for our physical and eternal welfare, you and I would have no hope of the salvation of our souls or the resurrection of our bodies. Instead of causing us to fall, He took the fall for us, something that was not "expected" of Him, who is the LORD. Instead, He freely and willingly received in His own body the penalty for our sin.
A true disciple is like his teacher. He is all about truth, compassion, and sacrificial service! We deserve no merit badge, therefore, for simply being whom Christ has made us! Jesus does not owe us any medals for doing what is expected of His disciples. But we do deserve His rebuke when we fail to give a right witness to His truth. That failure can lead others to stumble and fall.
God has another expectation for all of Jesus' followers. That is to say, we are occupied with His forgiveness business. That means we occupy ourselves with the tasks of rebuking the impenitent and forgiving the penitent. Jesus did not come into this world to slap us on the back for what wonderful people we are or to give us a medal every time we might forgive someone who has sinned against us. As followers of the sin-bearer, we must forgive sin!
Jesus came to save sinners! He didn't do that by ignoring our sins as if they didn't matter. He rebuked what is false and what is an offense in the sight of God so that He could also take the guilt of those sins and put it to death in His body on the cross. All this He did so that every one of us sinners might enjoy God's unlimited, unearned forgiveness. Even with His dying breaths, He was all about saving sinners: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Jesus is more than an example for us. He lives and works in His disciples so that He can bring His forgiveness to others through them. Forgiving others is not something we, as His followers, have a choice about. It is what we are about, just as it is what Jesus is all about. It is our duty. We pray, "Our Father in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Of course, forgiving the sins of others can only happen where the sin is identified as such—an offense to God. This requires rebuking the sinner, confronting him or her about their sin, and helping them to see that by continuing to live in their sin unrepentantly they are placing themselves under the eternal condemnation of God's wrath. If they cannot see themselves in Hell, they will never see their need for a Savior who atones for that sin, and they will never see their way free of that sin and their way to Heaven. We must rebuke the impenitent. That is to truly love them. Christ's compassionate embrace of us constrains us.
At the same time, where there is repentance, it is our duty to forgive. Jesus says, "Pay attention to yourselves!" If your brother sins, rebuke him; if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, saying, "I repent," you must forgive him.
You see, from Christ's perspective, it is inconceivable that His followers, who have been redeemed in His sacrificial blood and have been pardoned of all their sins, cannot do likewise with their brothers and sisters. It is beyond the pale that "the forgiven" cannot find it within themselves to forgive. As recipients of God's underserved and limitless forgiveness, how can we justify establishing limits on our forgiveness as if forgiving the same person for the same sin eight times in one day is too much—well beyond any sort of reasonable expectation? If that is our standard, then imagine praying to the Lord, "Father, forgive me my trespasses as I have forgiven those who have trespassed against me."
Of course, forgiving those who have gravely sinned against us is not easy. And we should never say to those who confess to us, "Well, that's okay." That treats sin as no big deal. SIN is a big deal. It is never okay. It has brought the sinner to eternal death! The sinner is only saved through the forgiveness of his sin—only the word of absolution... Forgiveness brings resolution and peace to the sinner and the one sinned against. Forgiving sin is always costly. The forgiver, not the sinner, must atone for the sin, as Jesus atoned with His suffering and death for the sin of the whole world. As Holy Scripture clearly states, "There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood." But such forgiveness and atonement for the sins of another are not options for a follower of Christ. Forgiveness of others who have sinned against us is expected by God for those whom He has forgiven.
Accordingly, when we do forgive those who have sinned against us, should we then feel proud of ourselves for doing so or expect an "At-a-boy!" from God as if we are doing something extraordinary—something well above and beyond our duty? Hardly, instead, we ought only to say, "Lord, I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what is my duty."
Dear fellow disciples of Jesus, we do not need medals for doing what is our duty as the redeemed of Jesus Christ. After all, already at our baptism, the Lord gave us the crown of His righteousness. In those waters, He had already, by His grace, made us heirs of Christ's glory. Before we could do anything, He graciously spoke His word of commendation on the cross of His Son: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. The kingdom is yours!" Amen.