Sermon Text: Luke 17:1-10
Pastor Steven Hillmer
Grace and peace are yours from Jesus your Lord and Savior, Amen.
In the worship folder I inserted a portion of Luther’s Small Catechism called the Table of Duties. It would be my guess that many of you have not for some time reviewed this Table of Duties; or perhaps you’ve never even heard of them. I’m also guessing that when you hear of such a list of “duties” – your first reaction isn’t one of joy and gratitude. Duties and chores like mowing the lawn and raking the leaves… doing the dishes… taking out the garbage and recycling… finishing the laundry: sorting, folding, putting away the cloths… these chores, obligations, requirements too often get done after repeated prodding with grumbling to follow. Even still, these all fit under the definition of doing our duty, of being responsible, of doing what needs to be done.
Luther isn’t the only one to pen a Table of Duties; Jesus too, talks very openly and frankly about the duties which are fitting for Christians – and he does so in a way that helps us see that this is more than a list of chores. Jesus helps us understand exactly WHY we do our duty – it’s because of WHO he has made us to be. Yes, as Christians, doing one’s duty finds its motivation in Christ, who is the greatest Faithful Servant of all. As we listen to our Savior this morning, it is our prayer that he would open our eyes and ears to see how Faithful Servants do their Duty with Joy and Gratitude.
Allow me to re-read the last verses of the Gospel where Jesus says, “Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”
- Understanding our Duty – begins with Understanding Who We Are
To grasp what our Lord and Savior is telling us about our duty, we need to understand WHO we are. Jesus uses a simple parable with ordinary terms from his day like a Master and his servant. The master has his role and place, as does the servant. The servant’s job is to serve and carry out the tasks assigned to him. In this case… perhaps it’s plowing the field, or watching the sheep; and later on, preparing supper. This is his role. He shouldn’t expect to be getting a trophy or participation award for watching the sheep that day – that’s his job, his duty. There’s no reason for him to think he’ll get to eat ahead of time; that’s not his place. And, at the end of the day, he has the satisfaction of knowing that he has done his duty, faithfully serving his master.
So much of this example applies to us. God is our Master. He made us. He redeemed us. He brought us to faith and given us life eternal. We are his and as such, He has the right to tell us what we are to do. And as we read the Scriptures, we find out that his orders and commandments cover every thought and word and act of every minute, every hour, and every day of our entire lives (cf. Mt 22:37–39). Yet even if we were to do everything that God expects of us in his commandments, we could never say to him, “Now God, YOU owe ME!” He would simply answer, “You have only done what I commanded. This is why I made you. I owe you nothing.”
Put it this way, if we try to do something to earn a reward from God, something like a place in heaven, our hopes are can only be based on ourselves, hoping that we’ve been good enough or have done enough to earn that reward. Of this we could never be sure. Luther once said that if in order to get to heaven we would have to pray the Lord’s Prayer without once letting our thoughts wander, we could never be sure, but faith is being sure.
It’s when we admit, “God, you owe me nothing at all; in fact, I sin often and deserve only his punishment,” then we realize that if we are to be saved, God must give us salvation as an undeserved gift. Then grace becomes a precious word, for it tells us that God loves us and saves us only because of his love, not because we have deserved to be saved. When our faith looks to Christ – then we can be 100% of our salvation.
This is why we pray with the disciples, increase our faith! Lord, help us grasp and hold to this simple truth that to be a servant of the Lord God Almighty – well it just doesn’t get any better! Help us to rejoice in “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Ti 1:15) Lord, help me to see what a high privilege and honor it is to serve you each day – in the calling you have given to me! Understanding this – sets the whole tone for us as we do our duty with joy and gratitude.
- With Joyful Gratitude, we do our duty no matter the Call the Master gives us
One of the areas that so many theologians have noted about Martin Luther was his profound understanding and grasp of the Doctrine of Vocation. If that term sounds unfamiliar, don’t worry, it’s really what we’ve been talking about already, and it’s what he zeros in on with the Table of Duties. Vocation comes from the Latin work – to call. God has given each of us a calling… as a mother, a father, a child, a brother or sister, an employer or employee. Throughout our lives, these callings to change, but what doesn’t is that we are called to these by God himself. That alone means that each calling has a truly high value and importance. We are fulfilling a role which God has prepared for each of us. Here are a few examples and you’ll see in each of them there is truly the opportunity to “do one’s duty” with joy and gladness:
- the young mother who cares for her newborn child, getting up through the night, changing diapers, holding her child closely in the rocker… has no less of a calling than the 50 year old business executive who runs a fortune 500 company. God has placed each of them in their roles and given them the unique talents to fulfill their calling. And both, at the end of day, chime in with our text saying, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
- the high school students who spend several hours each night getting through algebra II, world history, American Lit… God has placed you in this position to prepare you for the next stage in life. So, you faithfully do your duty in preparing for class, doing the calculation, reading the chapters – and at the end of the day, also join in with our text saying, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
- It’s the same for a pastor or teacher at our school… faithfully preparing to teach and preach God’s Word, working with students and parents and members, grading quizzes, visiting with guests and seeing shut-ins… doing so gladly and joyfully because this is the calling given to them by God, and at the end of the day, join in with our text saying, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
- It’s the same true for those who have retired… God has placed you in this station in life, given you years of experience and understanding to share with others; he’s given you time and skills to be employed for the Master for the good of his kingdom and, at the end of the day, you too join in with our text saying ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
- And even the toddlers who are learning to walk and talk, learning to fold their hands and give thanks for their food and to close each day with prayer … ends each day in the same spirit, saying, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
You can see how a Table to Duties becomes a helpful tool and reminder for each of us. It reminds us that each of us has a God-give role to play – a role which honors God and blesses our neighbor. So no matter if it’s getting in expense reports, vacuuming the living room, changing diapers or changing oil – we do so because we know whom we are serving – the one who has served us.
This really becomes the strength and power of this text. Even though Jesus uses a parable to teach us about serving and doing our duty… there was no greater servant than he! God is the master, yet he sends his only begotten Son to be the servant of all. Jesus came, not to tend smelly sheep or to work in the dirty coal mines, he came to care for sheep like us who reek of selfishness, who blacken ourselves in the soot of sin each day. Incredibly the Master punished his own Son in the worst possible way, so that our sins be atoned for and we be clothed in Jesus’ righteousness so that we can take a seat at the eternal banquet of heaven. How truly upside down, that we, the most unworthy of servants, have been given this grace of sins forgiven and a place at the master’s table. Yet this is, by God’s grace, who we are, and by his power this is one day where we will be.
It light of all this amazing grace and mercy, doing our duty, serving in our unique call and role – and knowing that it honors God is pretty special. In our text Jesus addresses one very specific and practical duty for all of us, and that is in the area of sin and forgiveness. Most truly temptations to sin are going to come, and sadly there will be times when you are sinned against, even repeatedly! Then what? In ancient writings you can find the answer which the rabbis of Jesus’ day gave: “a brother might be forgiven a repeated sin three times; but on the fourth, there is no forgiveness.” Jesus says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” It is our duty to forgive that repentant sinner – for how many times have we repeatedly sinned against our Father in heaven, and how again and again he has assured us of forgiveness! Why do we do this? Well, yes it is our duty, but even more so, it is also our calling and high privilege to correct, rebuke, encourage and uplift our repentant brother or sister in Christ – that they may remain close to Christ. And yes, even if we have to forgive and forgive and forgive over and over again our repentant struggling fellow Christian – what a high calling God has given to us – to lead people to their Savior again and again… and, at the end of the day, we once again join in with our text saying ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty – the joyful duty of serving our Lord and Savior.’ Amen.