Luke 17:5-10 – World Communion Sunday & Neighbors in Need Offering
A frog was hopping around a farmyard, when she decided to instigate the barn. But, being somewhat careless, and maybe a little too curious, she ended up falling into a pail half-filled with fresh milk. Now, not wanting to drown, she swam around in the milk attempting to find a way out. But the sides of the pail were too smooth and tall for her to scale. So, she continued to kick and squirm, until at last, she had churned all that milk into butter and was able to hop out.[I]
So, my question for all of you as we begin this morning is this: What’s the lesson of this little parable? Some might say, “The frog should have been more careful; she should have paid more attention to what she was doing.” Other’s might say, “No, I think the problem here is with the farmer, who leaves half a pail of milk just sitting around?” And still other might say, “The lesson here don’t quit, keep swimming until an opportunity presents itself.” What do you think?
Well, I shared this frog story today to demonstrate that there are a verity of ways to interpret the meaning of a parable. A parable may say one thing to you and speak another word to me. Sometimes the deeper meaning may be obvious while in other parables the lesson remains opaque. Some parables make us stand up and cheer, while others give us pause or cause to worry. The point here is that the lesson of a parable is often in the eye of the beholder. That’s simply the nature of the beast.
Take for example the parable we have before us this morning. The disciples after hearing about millstones and stumbling blocks and the need to forgive over and over again in the previous verses throw up their hand in expiration and say to Jesus, in essence, “If we have to do all these things, then increase our faith.”
What’s interesting here, to me anyway, is his response. Jesus doesn’t say, “Here ya go, here’s all the faith you want” Instead, he says, “Suppose one of you has a servant,” …this is the indicator that a parable is coming by the way; “Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? [Of course not.] Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; [and] then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? [Well] It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”[ii]
So, what’s going on here? Well, similar to last week’s Parable of the Prodigal, this text is about grace. Buried under all this obscure language with seemingly harsh overtones, underneath our understanding of mustard seeds and flying mulberry trees, and even beyond the surface references to faith; the foundation of this parable is grace. And this is important! It’s important because it’s finally not about how much faith the disciples had but about the quality and character of that faith. Jesus was pointing the disciples, and by extension, us, toward understanding faith as a gift from God and that we should use this powerful gift simply by doing what’s expected of us. And the grace in this text is that God offers us the opportunity to live-out our faith in a variety of ways; some easy and some, frankly, are costly. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship writes, “Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it’s grace because it calls us to follow Christ.”[iii]
So, the challenge, both then and now, has nothing to do with acquiring more faith, but instead, to accept and live-into the gracious gift of faith by participating in the present realm of God.[iv]
Okay. That sound great. But what does living-into the present realm of God actually mean? Well, today is a wonderful opportunity to answer that question. It’s World Communion Sunday and Neighbors in Need offering. Today is about unity among the faithful and, at the same time, caring for our neighbor. I mean, I can’t think of a better combination of actions as we think about living in the presence of the Sacred.
World Communion Sunday is about unity, finding common ground, with Christians all across the globe. Yes, like the parable of the frog, there are many different interpretations of what it means to be a follower of Christ. And in some cases, these differences are very significant. But today is meant to bridge our divergent theologies and to help us realize that we are all meant, as the Gospel of John so wonderfully stated it, …that we are meant be one. Unity within our diversity, conversation rather than accusation, sometimes agreeing to disagree; these are all virtues upon which we can all improve, not only in the Church, but in our society as a whole. Remember the vision statement that we so enthusiastically adopted this fall? “United in Christ’s love, a just world for all.” World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to begin to live-into the first part of that vision, “United in Christ’s love.”
And here’s the really cool connection in all this. Neighbors in Need offers us the opportunity to live-into the second part of our vision statement, “A just world for all.” When we reach out beyond ourselves and own self-interest, when we choose to get our hands dirty and participate in the hard work of justice, when we offer not only our resources but our whole-selves to satisfy the needs of our neighbor, we live-into our vision.
And here’s the thing. It’s like Jesus said in the parable; this is what’s expected of us. Seeking unity, loving God by loving our neighbor, is what God expects. And Jesus is saying that it should come as naturally to us as breathing or, since we’re talking about frogs today, a naturally as falling off a log.
One final thought before we move on this morning. I opened today with a quote from Maya Angelou. “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage,” she said, “you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” My Siblings in Christ, as you leave here today, and as you face once again the difficult world out there, may you all be encouraged… encouraged because I know you all have at the very least a mustard seed of faith and Jesus says that’s all you need! And I also know that the character and the quality of that faith will shine through. Have courage, my friends, courage to face a new day, new challenges; have the courage to paddle around until all the milk of despair is churned into the butter of hope. May it be so for you and for me. Amen & amen
[ii] Eugene Peterson The Message Luke 17:5-10 (NavPress Publishing Group) 2007
[iii] Dietrich Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959) 45.
[iv] Feasting on the Gospels Vol. 2 – Cynthia A, Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) pgs. 110-115 Homiletical Perspective by Katie E. Owen.