A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on October 14, 2007 by Pastor Dale Raether We Can Make a DifferenceLuke 17:1-10Can one person really make a difference? A lot of people would say, “No.” This world has become what St. Paul warned. He writes, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” With people living like this more and more, how can things ever turn around? Will this happen through politicians? Through the media? Through organized religions? Sadly, many of our nation’s institutions are part of the problem. And so, if we can’t even get our own country headed in the right direction, how can we change the rest of the world? As a result, a lot of people have dropped out, so to speak. They’re just concentrating instead on what’s happening within their own family. Except sometimes their families are so messed up, they can only concentrate on getting through each day for themselves.Isn’t good people dropping out also part of the problem? Now, it’s not my intent that we feel guilty for things over which we have no control over. However, in our text this morning Jesus encourages us that there is still much each of us can do. In fact, We Can Make a Difference. 1. Watch how we live. 2. Hold one another accountable. 3. Forgive. 4. Look to Jesus for strength.We read, “Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.So watch yourselves." Try to envision Jesus talking with His disciples, with lots of people crowded around them and their little children running around and chasing each other. If ever we wanted to make God angry with us (and obviously that’s not something we want to do, but if we did), the fastest way to do that is to lead little children into sin. For example in the paper Friday there was a write up about a new movie that’s coming out. As I’m reading it, I’m thinking to myself, “I gotta see this.” And then I got to the rating at the bottom. This movie has nudity. That is so wrong. God made clothes for Adam and Eve, because sin makes us feel ashamed. But when a person doesn’t feel that shame… That’s nothing for him/her to be proud of. Even worse, when a child of any age is taught by example that lustful thoughts and lustful actions are good things, that child is being led into sin. Leading a child into sin makes God so angry with everyone involved, that it’d be better for them to have a large millstone tied around their neck and they be dropped off a ship into the middle of the ocean, than what God’s going to do to them. This includes, when it comes to movies with bad stuff in them, the producers, the actors, the people who pay to see those movies, as well as the parents whose children see them watching them at home. If every Christian boycotted movies with bad stuff in them, would that change the movie industry? Maybe, maybe not. Yet it’d still be good for the families who aren’t watching them; and maybe it’d help their friends to avoid them also. However, the movie industry isn’t the only culprit in our society. Paul writes in Ephesians 6, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” The thought line here in the original Greek is that parents must be careful not to embitter their children. That’s what happens, when parents constantly put their children down or make unreasonable demands on them. As a result children can grow up always feeling guilty, rebellious, and unable to trust or feel love. That child, in turn, may turn to all kinds of sinful things to deal with life, which may still others into sin. So, who gets the millstone? The parents for sure!This is frightening stuff, isn’t it. None of us, parents, are perfect, and even if we don’t have children, who of us can say that we’ve never led someone else into sin by our bad example? So, instead of continuing to be part of the problem, Jesus urges us to watch ourselves. However, if we just focus on the things we can’t do or have to do, how long can we stand the pressure, before we let loose? Well, look again at the passage on the screen, “… instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” There are a lot of people, who think that their relationship with God is something they work up to. In other words, when thy have avoided enough bad stuff and have done enough good stuff, God will be pleased with them. The problem with that thinking is we’re all sinners. Also, our relationship with God is not based on what we do or don’t do. Rather, God established a relationship with us, when He sent Jesus and tied the millstone of our sins around His neck and dropped Him into the sea of His righteous anger. Because of Jesus, God has fully forgiven us. And now, God still sometimes allows us to suffer the consequences of sin. But those consequences are not punishment. Those consequences are LOVE to help us so we won’t continue in a sin. And if we do, those consequences remind us return quickly to Jesus for forgiveness and for strength to do what is right. Remember the old Leave It to Beaver shows. Beaver or Wally would do something wrong. Ward, their father, would send them to their room, and then latter talk to them. It would always be clear that Ward was disappointed with what his boys had done, but he still loved them and forgave them. And then after his little talk, he would give the boys their consequences, which they readily accepted. Our families aren’t always like that. But we are in the family of our Heavenly Father. May we always understand and feel His love, and grow in that love through His Word! Then in this atmosphere of love, let’s carefully watch how we live! And if we still have children at home, let’s make sure they know God’s forgiving love too and what He expects of them. And so, maybe we can’t change the whole world, but we can affect the lives of our family members and those around us. We read on in our text, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,') forgive him." Children of God, unfortunately, don’t always live like children of God. Sometimes they get led into sin, or, their own sinful nature gets the better of them. Either way, this is a bad thing, because their sins can mislead others, not to mention continued, willful sinning can result in loss of saving faith. So, what do we do about this? Well, if the person isn’t a believer, all we can do is give into God’s hands through prayer, and if he’s breaking the law, let the authorities take care of him. But when a person is a believer, and we know first hand that he’s doing something wrong, tell him. In the original Greek, it says tax (his conscience) with it, and keep on taxing his conscience, even if it takes the rest of his life, until he repents. But how do we do this? Be simple and direct: “What you’re doing is making God angry with you. Ask Him to forgive you. Ask Him to help you stop.” Now, if he blows you off, if he withdraws from you, because he doesn’t want you taxing his conscience anymore, he’s rejecting Jesus, and he had better hope that he doesn’t die anytime soon. On the other hand, when he says, “Forgive me”, Jesus tells us, “Forgive him”, and the tone of the original Greek is “forget about it and don’t keep bringing it up.” But what if that person later on commits that same sin again? Then deal with each new sin in the same way, putting it on his conscience until he asks for forgiveness, and when he asks for forgiveness, forgive him and move on.Think how different this world would be if all Christians held each other accountable – in love of course. Or, think what a difference it would make in a classroom if all the Christians insisted, “Everyone, let’s show respect to our teacher, so that we can learn!” Or think what a difference it would make at work, if all Christians insisted, “We’re going to do this job honestly and fairly.” So you see, we can make a difference in this world, beyond our families. However, some of us might argue that our faith isn’t strong enough to do these things. We read, “The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”” We don’t need a strong faith to watch ourselves closely, or to hold one another accountable, or to forgive completely. In fact our faith can be as small as it can be, but we can still do these humanly impossible things, because the strength of our faith is not the issue. Rather, it’s on whom our faith rests. And so, by faith we are joined to the almighty God. He hears all of our prayers. He answers them at the right time and in the right way. He guides us through His Word. He gives us opportunities to say what needs to be said. And by His Spirit He gives us the words with which to say it. For this reason, whenever we recognize the weakness of our faith, which should be all the time, rather than beat ourselves up for not having a stronger faith, let’s keep resting on Jesus. For example the verse of the day was, “Alleluia. I will proclaim your name to my people; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. Alleluia.” This is a promise. The world is dark with evil, but through the congregation of believers, that is, through us, Jesus will proclaim His Father’s praise. In other words, we are weak, maybe we even feel useless. But don’t believe that! Through us – through our example, our witness, our prayers and our offerings, Jesus is making a difference in this world. And if we can’t see that right now, by faith believe it anyway!But what if we’re just plain getting discouraged and worn out? Jesus helps us through that with this little parable. “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.'" Here’s the point of this parable. Just as a master in those days would not give his slave a break, because he had worked hard, so God doesn’t lower what he expects of us, because we’re trying hard at least. So, rather than pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve done so far, and then give up on trying to make this world a better place, let’s keep on looking to God’s standards. When we continually give God our all, we’re not doing anymore than what we should be doing. On the other hand, we will not get burned out, but we will be able to keep watching ourselves, we will be able to keep admonishing one another, yes, we will be able to completely forgive one another, if we keep looking to Jesus for strength. And then, this is His promise. He says in a chapter before our text, “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.” Think how we will feel in heaven, when in spite of our sins and weaknesses and ineptitudes, Jesus insists on serving us! What do you think our response is going to be? We will want to thank Him! By faith let’s begin thanking Him now by watching ourselves, by holding each other accountable, by forgiving one another and by looking to Him for strength. Amen.

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