THE 17TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST AD 2019
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what he will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
And the Lord answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
And he said to his disciples, “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. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and 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.”
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.
“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.’”
Repeat offenders. What do you do with them? They get caught. They get locked up. They get let out. And they do it all over again. The drug dealer goes back to dealing. The thief goes back to stealing. The murderer murders again. What can you do with people like that? You’ve got to come down harder and harder on them until they get it, or finally, you just lock them up and throw away the key.
Repeat offenders. What do you do with them? Well, we’ve got laws for that don’t we? Laws that kick in when Corrections Canada can’t correct the uncorrectable. I’m not sure how successful they are. Based on the news it doesn’t seem to be going too well. Leaving God out of the whole correction thing I’m sure hasn’t helped, as He’s the only one who can put us on the right path, since He is the right path. but I’m sure no one wants to hear that nowadays.
Repeat offenders. What do you do with them? Well, we’ve got laws for that don’t we? And not just as a nation. Each one of us has our own set of rules, rules that the Lord Jesus asks us to take a look at this morning. We’ve all had a repeat offender or two in our lives haven’t we? Someone in our families, at work or school, or even here at Church, who’s messed up with us more than once. The first time is one thing. Everyone makes mistakes after all but the second, third, fourth time? What do you do then?
Well, we’ve got laws for that don’t we? You’ve got to come down harder and harder on them until they get it, or finally, you just lock them up and throw away the key, write them off, avoid them, don’t have anything more to do with them. There’s only so much you can put up with. You’ve got to figure out who the bad apples are and get them out of your bushel, because rotten apples will only sour the whole bunch. You don’t need those kind of people in your life. Life’s just too short for that.
Now we need to take note that Jesus isn’t telling us to be a door mat. He says, “if your brother sins, rebuke him.” The Lord isn’t telling us to just let people carry on in their sins that would hardly be a loving thing to do, because as bad as a brother’s sin hurts me, it’s hurting him far more. I might have some wounds and heartache, but they are in danger of hell, which is where we might want to tell them to go when the hurts are fresh and raw, but love desires not the death of any sinner but that he repent and live.
It’s a lot easier to simply damn people and be done with them, to call down fire from heaven to consume them, but as servants of Christ, it is our duty to speak the truth in love to others. We are called to rebuke those who sin against us, so that they might repent and live. We may have to hand them over to Satan at some point, as Paul says, so that they might learn not to blaspheme. But we shouldn’t rebuke them like Jonah rebuked Nineveh, simply as an opening act to sitting back and watching the firestorm from heaven.
Rebuking in love is rebuking with a longing heart. It’s not just about proving how wrong somebody is and how right you are. It’s not about straightening them out. It’s about looking past your own hurts to their need. Rebuking in love has already turned the other cheek. It has already prayed “Father forgive them”. And so it speaks not to condemn but to save. It speaks gently, to bring back not to drive away.
And if he repents. Forgive him. And here we come to the Lord’s rule for repeat offenders - forgive them. Even if he sins against you seven times in a day and turns to you seven times and repents, you must forgive him. At which point many of us want to say, “Come on, you can’t be serious, can you? This must be one of those times when Jesus means something else.” But no seven is seven here and in fact means much more.
Seven times. Can you imagine it? “Really Jesus? Seven times?” If someone sins against us once in a day, that can often be more than we can bear. Can you imagine having to put up with someone messing up seven times? Seven is a perfect number, one of God’s numbers, which normally means more not less, as Jesus points out elsewhere, when He gives the number as seventy times seven. It seems like an awful lot to ask.
And it is. Which is why the disciples ask the Lord to increase their faith. The kind of forgiveness Jesus is asking of them is not something that they can do on their own. Repeat offenders aren’t likely to get much mercy from them, unless God works that mercy in their hearts through faith. Forgiving someone takes a lot of faith, a lot of repentance and trust in God on your own part, a lot of knowing where you stand and where God stands, so that you can have the same mercy toward others as God has toward you.
Because when it comes down to it we are all repeat offenders, repeating far more than the seven times a day, and yet God in mercy continues to call us to repentance and continues to forgive us. Over and over again we fail Him, often in the same old ways. We should know better. We do know better. Yet even if the good is right before us, evil is close at hand. We can even watch ourselves doing it. Knowing full well its wrong. Knowing that God has said “you shall not.” Our conscience can be screaming out even as we shut it down.
And this, beloved, is where God’s rule for repeat offenders becomes the most beautiful Word of Gospel Good News for us. The Master who calls His servants to forgive those who sin against them is the One who forgives us. The little He asks of us is so much greater in Him. The little mercy that He asks of us is like a drop of water compared to the depths of the sea that is in Him. How small our hearts are asked to be compared to His heart that is greater than heaven and earth. If we poor sinners are asked to show such grace how much greater is the grace of the Holy One of Israel?
With the Lord there is hope for repeat offenders, repeat offenders like you and me. Here we are again after another week of life in this world and the little that the Lord has asked of us has come nowhere near to being done. If we are unworthy servants when we do all that He has asked, what are we when we have fallen short? Poor? Miserable? Hardly seems to scratch the surface, but thanks be to God, the words “written off” never come into it. That truth is written on the hands and feet and side of Christ’s body, as its spelled out in His blood for us this morning.
Make no mistake, the Lord rebukes each and everyone of us for our sin. He wants us to see it, own it, but then in mercy He calls us here, where He does the unthinkable, He says, “Come at once and recline at table.” And He serves His servants, that in His mercy we might be merciful, in His forgiveness we might be forgiving and in His love we might be loving. Repeat offenders? Yes. Thanks be to God, the Lord has rules for them … rules that He won’t break … rules that mean that there will always be mercy waiting for us here. Amen.