Proper 22 • Luke 17:1–10 • October 2, 2016
By Rick Marrs
This is a difficult text for Lutherans to hear. We are more comfortable with texts about God’s grace, and being his children and heirs of his promises, but Jesus is prone to saying things that challenge our regular metaphors, and that will increase our faith.
This is also a difficult text for Lutheran pastors to preach, especially since Jesus’s words seem to be more directly aimed at church leaders than to “general parishioners.” Arthur Just, in his 1997 commentary, points out that verses 5–10 are obviously directed at the apostles and their request for more faith, but that even the verses 1–4 imply that Jesus is speaking to disciples who are either already among the seventy(-two) or will be future church leaders. So how does one preach this text, if it is more for the pastor than for the congregation?
A sermon structure could follow the Lord’s Prayer, focusing on certain petitions, especially the first: God’s name is hallowed “Whenever the Word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven!” (Small Catechism).
Opening: How often and how well do you pray for our congregation and the ministry in which we are serving here together? How often, or how well do you pray for me, and for my preaching and teaching of God’s holy word here? When you do pray for our congregation, how do you do it? What is the focus of your prayer? Do you pray for various individuals in the congregation, their health, and their personal struggles? If so, great! But do you also pray for us, our whole community of believers who gather here to grow in faith in Jesus, and to lead others to his forgiveness? Let me suggest to you, to all of you, to us, that our prayers for our church might be guided well by a combination of the Lord’s Prayer and today’s Gospel lesson.
1. We should guard against praying the Lord’s Prayer as individuals. Jesus didn’t teach the Lord’s Prayer individually to Peter or Nicodemus with singular pronouns like “My father who art in heaven” or “Give me this day my daily bread.” We can and should pray the Lord’s Prayer privately, as part of our individual piety, but should always remember that it is a prayer for the group, for the community, for the church.
2. First Petition and its parallel to Luke 17:1–2. The pastor can emphasize any particular local struggles in teaching God’s word “clearly and purely” and living “holy lives according to it.”
3. Fifth Petition and its parallel to Luke 17:3–4. The Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness for us can be clearly proclaimed here (cf. Mt 18:21–35, Gal– 6:1, as well as other “pay attention” verses like 1 Tm 4:16, Heb 2:1, and/or 2 Pt 1:19).
4. Parallel between Luke 17:5–6 and Luke 11:1 (“Lord, teach us to pray”) and the Lukan version of the Lord’s Prayer. God promises to hear our faithful prayers and answer them (cf. Lk 11:5–13, especially his promise to give the Holy Spirit. Specific local ministry prayers could be suggested. Broader church-wide prayers could also be suggested, including prayers for the seminaries and the next generation of pastors. The Second and Third Petitions may be woven in here.
5. The proper distinction of God as “Our Father” and we his children, but also how we continue as “unworthy servants” (Lk 17:7–10) in our service to him. Explicit gospel can be repeated here as well, with Christ being our worthy Servant. Pastors who realize that they are always in danger of pride in their position (which is all of us) can also ask for their congregation to continue to pray for them to continue as humble servants of Christ who are plowing and planting, keeping the sheep, and dutifully serving the Supper.