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Sea

October 1, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

Proper 22/C [Pent. 17] October 02, 2022: Ps. 62; Hab. 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

Sea

“[W]oe to him by whom [temptations to sin] … 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 … if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (vv. 1b, 2, 6).

Jesus speaks weal and woe to disciples and Apostles of the church’s responsibilities. He expects evangelizing, preaching, teaching, rebuking, discipling, absolving, and table service; to which he tells two sea stories.

First, if a new or weak disciple, from erroneous teaching, turns from the faith, that teacher might expect descent into the abyss, propelled by a millstone necktie. Delivery of word and sacrament devolves primarily upon the apostolic and pastoral offices; still the Congregation is not untethered from that received from pastors.

The Congregation’s priority is keeping the Lord’s Day holy; hearing God’s word for forgiveness in repentant faith; and forgiving as they have been perfectly forgiven, (“seven times in a day”, Lk. 17:4). Pastors catechize to strengthen the Church’s faith. In these things pastors and congregations possess a “holy calling”, a priesthood (2 Tim. 1:9) unto sacrificial thanksgiving.

When the Apostles discerned the magnitude of their responsibility, passing-on the “righteousness of life by faith” declared to Abraham (Gen. 15:6), and reiterated from Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4b), comprehended as pastors and congregations caring for each other in the “good deposit” (2 Tim. 1:14), they balked.

The Apostles had heard previous “woes” from Jesus (cf. Lk. 6:24-26). Apart from today the most recent directed to “Dives”, an allegorical rich man and presumably prince of the Church establishment, who in this life ignored Lazarus at his gate (16:19-31). On death, “Dives” was consigned to hell pleading before heaven’s gate for relief from Lazarus ensconced in Abraham’s “bosom”.

Jesus was forming his Apostles to teach the faith without error and preach the gospel in its purity (1 Tim 3:2); forgiveness grounded in himself, as Suffering Servant and key to Torah understanding. The law remains forever, understood as revelation to God’s character for inexhaustible mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to which we are called.

Between weal and woe, the Apostles were perceiving they had not “the right stuff”; the specter of failure frightened. Jesus prophesied the cross and would so again, began to register, in unison they plead, “Increase our faith!” (Lk. 17:5); to which Jesus tells another sea story.

Faith as small as a mustard seed accesses God’s power, concealed under Christ’s crucified weakness. If God willed to make the oceans mulberry orchards, then by the power of his preached word, it would be so. Faith is the miracle of God’s recreative power, releasing the world from sin, but damning unbelief. As it was, the Apostles possessed faith sufficient for their ministry (Gen. 3:17b, 18).

The Apostles were not to fear being the church’s one foundation with Christ. Saving faith, spoken of by Habakkuk (2:4), is not of ourselves; rather it is the power of Christ’s faith in whom we articulate as living stones; but first comes Jesus’ cross, the tree amid world planted in chaos, and then God’s perfecting resurrection of the Man for the Church’s singular faith.

St. Paul addressed a similar lack of pastoral confidence to Timothy, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:6b, 7) so also; the Apostles were afflicted with loss of confidence on hearing Jesus’ imperative, “you must forgive” (Luke 17:4).

Jewish scribes were correct; God alone forgives sin (Mark 2:7). And now men in the office of Christ and the priesthood of the Baptized in their “holy calling” (2 Tim. 1:9) possess God’s lavish forgiveness upon repentant hearts.

The Church as purveyors of God’s salvific power was unthinkable. Rebuking and releasing sinners are godly exercises not possessed by “Moses and the prophets”. The Apostles, themselves sinners, were over-awed at the impossibility of being “judges” for dispensing God’s forgiveness and binding. (Parenthetically, we observe that before sacramental administration of the Holy Absolution, a pastor asks the penitent one question, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?”, LSB p. 293).

St. Paul encouraged Timothy, his spiritual son, reminding him of the Church’s faith, learned at the knees of grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (v. 5).

Being a pastor is tough; inexperienced presbyters (meaning “elders”) are disadvantaged in congregations being called out of the world. Given time, grace, patience, and mutual forgiveness, pastors and congregations most often relate in love and respect; but apart from Christ, it is otherwise.

The Kingdom come in Christ brings about a sea change in our relation with God, and so toward brothers and sisters. The Church exists by God’s word in the rhythm of repentance and forgiveness wrought by faith. Hear then how Jesus calms his servant Apostles by the planting of “mulberry trees” into the sea. We need only be faithful in attending to his word for an on-going faith in the Church’s one confession.

We plow, supporting law/gospel preaching; we are shepherded, attending his teaching against apostatizing influences that may cause us to “stumble”; and we faithfully attend his Table for nourishment in the Substance of our cruciform and resurrection Life. Being pastor and believing priests is tough, called to sacrificial lives of thanksgiving in union with one another.

Jesus has made us in his “likeness”, as God’s Suffering Servant(s), to his holiness. We are “unworthy servants”; still, faith as small as a mustard seed is sufficient when pastors keep ears clapped onto God’s word of promise.

Consider our rewards from so small a faith; God deigns to share through us his greatest of miracles, the restoration of this fallen world being made new by the power of Absolution, love and the fidelity of self-control. Amen.

pem.