Just Do It

Oct 03, 2022

Sermon 10-2-2022
17th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Luke 17:5-10
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     This is the “Just Do It” passage of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus is essentially telling his disciples, “Just Do It.” I’m sure most of you remember the NIKE trademark, “Just Do It,” that between 1988 and 1998 helped increase that company’s share in the North American sport-shoe business from 18 percent to 43 percent. It originally was, “Let’s Do It,” but evolved into, “Just Do It”.
     Professional athletes were featured in the “Just Do It” ads, conveying the message that purchasing NIKE shoes led to greatness. That’s what Jesus wanted for his followers, but a different type of greatness than NIKE’s “Just Do It” promotes, a greatness in which the last are first and humility trumps power.
     Remember the Pentecost Season Journey to Jerusalem continues; we, and those first disciples, have faced various challenges both with and from Jesus. Our goal is to discover how to be more devoted, and less distracted, disciples. On his day, the challenge grew out of Jesus’ teaching in verses 1-4 of chapter 17.  We did not read those verses, but they make it clear that Jesus has high expectations of his followers, especially concerning forgiveness.
     Jesus tells them that even if the same person (another disciple) sins against them seven times a day, if that one repents seven times, forgiveness is required. This evidently makes the disciples nervous, so they ask Jesus for more faith. “Increase our faith!” they proclaim.
     To us that sounds like a reasonable request, but commentators says that the Greek used for Jesus’ response suggests sarcasm, almost as if Jesus is saying, “It doesn’t take that much faith to do great things.” He tells them, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In other words, “You have what you need already; God has given it to you.” So … “Just Do It.” Find opportunities to act, using the faith you’ve been given.
     Then, Jesus tells a parable; it’s not as difficult to understand as the one we looked at a few weeks ago, but it’s still a bit of a head-scratcher. As always, context is important. Jesus refers to a slave and a master, initially putting the listener in the latter role. Slavery was common throughout the first century world, but there were aspects to it that were different than what was experienced in North America in the 19th century.
     First, Jewish law prohibited a Jew owning a Jew as a slave, although non-Jewish slaves were an option. Second, while there were people consigned to slavery for life without renumeration, slavery also was the most common means available to get out of debt. People could sell themselves to others for a contracted amount of time and use the money to pay off the debt. Once the agreed period of service was done, that individual was free.
     Still, the distinction between slavery and freedom remained clear. All slaves were bound to obey the authority of the master. In the parable, the master appears to be a small landowner with only one slave who works in the field as well as in the house. This is slave does his duty and does not expect special favors or even a word of thanks. Of course, the slave would never eat first and then serve the master; that was not what was expected of a slave.
     Then, as Jesus continues his story, he switches the point-of-view of the listener from master to slave, and the tense from singular to plural. The slaves do all that is expected saying, “We have done only what we ought to have done.” That’s what the disciples are to do. It sounds harsh, but … “Just Do It.”
     I have to admit that this parable always reminds me of how I grew up. Obviously, I was not in the slave category, but there were various expectations about chores, school, church participation and work that not only were not debatable, but also were not viewed as deserving special recognition or thanks.
     The one I think I’ve told you about previously is how, at age 13 (until age 18), I began working in my Dad’s plumbing and heating business from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. I cleaned, including the gross men’s bathroom; answered the phone; took out the trash and did other needed tasks. My presence there was not an option …  except when I was in Confirmation Class. Then, I walked the several blocks from the shop to the church, attended the class, and walked back to finish working.
     I did not receive special commendation, thanks, special privileges or anything other than minimal pay. That also was true for tasks done at home, for school and church participation, although I didn’t get paid for any of that. I was expected to “Just Do It.” Some of you can identify with that.
     This is a tangential comment, but I often am amazed at professional athletes who are paid millions of dollars to use their skills for the sake of their teams and, yet, seem to expect special commendation when they do particularly well in a game or competition. Isn’t that what they are being paid to do, to excel? “Just Do It!”
     The message Jesus is conveying in this blunt parable is that each of his followers has been given faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore should be faithful, serving without expectation of recognition and living out one’s gratitude. “Just Do It.”
     We do not need more faith; we need to be more faithful. It’s interesting that this passage presented itself (I did not select it) the week before Commitment Sunday. We are preparing to respond in gratitude to God’s grace by committing ourselves to give of our time, talents and treasures (money) to support the ministry of Jesus in this setting. We do not need more faith in order to do so; we’ve been given enough. What we need is intention and commitment.
     I recently read about an interview with Christian author and pastor Eugene Peterson who probably is most famous for his version of the Bible called The Message. In his 80’s at the time of the interview, he shared his opinions about what it takes to become a devoted follower of Jesus.
     He was asked, “As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship?” Peterson answered, “Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place.” (1)
     Instead, it is a place, as our Mission Statement proclaims, to worship God, grown in faith and offer hope. It is a place where we serve, not to be thanked, not to be recognized and not to receive honor. It’s a place where we trust God, and are faithful, sharing God’s grace in word and deed.
     That’s discipleship of the devoted, not distracted variety. “Just Do It” AMEN
  1. “How Big Is Your Faith” – Sermon on Luke 17:5-10 by JoAnn Taylor, October 6, 2013, www.apastorsings.org