Do Your Duty!

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, we find no guarantee of an easy life. Instead, we are given a command to live a life of service and forgiveness. Jesus clearly illustrates for us what it means to be a servant of God. Here’s the Gospel text from Luke 17:

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 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. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

It seems that Jesus is really putting us in our place. We are like God’s butler, or maybe His intern; expected to obey perfectly and immediately with no reward in return. What a harsh reading! Yet, we should remember that God is God and that we are not. We have no right to order Him around. We also need to remember that this reading is not the whole story. Our hymn for this week takes the command to obey, connects it to the essence of our Christian life, and lets us walk away with eternal hope and joy.

Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus was written by 17th century poet  (and pastor’s son) Sigismund von Birken. Von Birken was such an outstanding poet that he was made a noble by Emperor Ferdinand III in 1654. This great piece of Christian poetry has much to say to us today.

Let’s start with stanza 1

Let us ever walk with Jesus,

Follow His example pure,

Through a world that would deceive us

And to sin our spirits lure.

Onward in His footsteps treading,

Pilgrims here, our home above,

Full of faith and hope and love,

Let us do the Father’s bidding.

Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where You guide.

Jesus is the one sure example for our lives. We dare not trust the world, the devil, and our sinful nature, which want to “deceive” us and “lure” us away from Him. Jesus cries out in the Gospel, “woe to the one through whom they [temptations] come”. This cry of woe is against the evil one, but it is also against all of us who have led others astray by our sin. It would be better for us if we were thrown into the sea and drowned than that we face God’s judgment for leading His little ones astray.  My conscience does not get past these verses unaffected, but we must move on. Let us follow Jesus through this hymn and see what He will do with our sins and with our lives. The stanza ends with a powerful prayer, “Faithful Lord, with be abide; I shall follow where You guide.”

Stanza 2

Let us suffer here with Jesus

And with patience bear our cross.

Joy will follow all our sadness;

Where He is there is no loss.

Though today we sow no laughter,

We shall reap celestial joy;

All discomforts that annoy

Shall give way to mirth hereafter.

Jesus here I share Your woe;

Help me there Your joy to know.

Here in stanza 2 we deal with the difficult concept of sharing in the suffering of Christ. In 1st Peter 4 we read:

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

When we suffer for obeying God as faithful servants, we participate in the suffering of Christ. Here we have the promise that those who suffer with Christ will rejoice and be glad when the glory of Christ is revealed. It’s like the third line of stanza says, “Joy will follow all our sadness; where He is there is no loss.”  The pattern of the Christian life is not one of living and then dying, but of dying and then living. We will see more of this in the next two stanzas.

Stanza 3

Let us gladly die with Jesus.

Since by death He conquered death,

He will free us from destruction,

Give to us immortal breath.

Let us mortify all passion

That would lead us into sin;

And the grave that shuts us in

Shall but prove the gate to heaven.

Jesus here with You I die,

There to live with You on high.

We have now followed Jesus all the way to the cross. Do you remember the statement of woe that Jesus spoke in the Gospel lesson? Do you remember the guilt from stanza 1? Here at the cross Jesus takes all of our sins, along with death and satan, and conquers them! Now we have the promise that He will “free us from destruction” and “give to us immortal breath”. What is our response to this amazing grace and love? We follow our Savior like humble servants, of course! We mortify all passion, knowing that the grave is now the “gate to heaven”. We die and then we live.

Stanza 4

Let us also live with Jesus.

He has risen from the dead

That to life we may awaken.

Jesus, You are now our head.

We are Your own living members;

Where You live, there we shall be

In Your presence constantly,.

Living there with You forever.

Jesus, let me faithful be,

Life eternal grant to me.

This stanza captures so clearly the resurrection teaching of Romans 6

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. We were buried with Him. That means that we died – and now we live. We live our lives in the joy of the resurrection, knowing that our Savior lives and that we will be in His ‘presence constantly.” We have been redeemed, washed, buried, justified, sanctified, and made alive by our Lord. We belong completely and totally to Him and we live as humble servants. We share in His sufferings here on this earth and we know that eternal joy awaits us. If our Lord should commend us on His return, all we will have to say is “We have only done our duty. You are the one who has saved us!”

Jesus, let me faithful be, Life eternal grant to me. Amen.

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