Christ Lutheran Community Church

Upper Darby

October 6, 2019 Worship Sermon - "Our Duty and Joy"

Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser


Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

One of the things our gospel reading this morning shows us is how difficult it can be to take a passage that was written in a completely different time and place and make sense of it in our own day.  In order to explain something to his disciples, Jesus makes an analogy using the example of the relationship between masters and slaves and how we would never thank a slave for doing what he was supposed to do.   That analogy would have made perfect sense in Jesus’ day, when slavery was an accepted fact of life and slaves weren’t really entitled to anything; but in our ears, the analogy seems painful and harsh.  We do expect to be thanked for the service we provide; and we don’t expect, after working a long hard day in the fields, to be told to keep working.  We are fortunate that society has progressed over the last two thousand years, that workers have rights and that slavery is no longer legal.  It is a sign of the Kingdom of God being established among us that this analogy that Jesus uses now sounds so painful and awkward in our ears.  Freedom and justice are taking root in our world.

But I think the kernel of what Jesus is saying is still valid.  Perhaps this is what Jesus is getting at:
do you do what you’re supposed to do because you’re expecting a reward or do you do it because it’s what you’re supposed to do?  If all of our actions are based on the hope of a reward, then we’re going to go off track because doing the right thing won’t always bring us a reward.  Forgiving someone who has hurt you, offering help to someone who is suffering, seeking justice for those who have been abused: you may get a reward for doing these things, but then again, you may not.  You may gain the reward of reconciliation with someone from whom you were estranged, the reward of seeing suffering alleviated, the reward of living in a world where there is true justice, but you may not get rewarded.  Sometimes, we just have to do what we are supposed to do even though we may not get rewarded for it.  There are certain duties that each of us has in life and we just have to do them.

When I was in seminary, I had a classmate named Earl who ended up not becoming a pastor in part because he was gay and at that time the Lutheran church did not ordain gay pastors.  After graduating from seminary, I lost track of Earl for a few years, until one day he called me at my former congregation in Center City.  He told me that he had AIDS and had decided to refuse treatment.  He had rented an apartment in South Philadelphia where he planned to spend his final few months.  He asked me if I would bring him communion and I told him of course I would.  Before hanging up, he warned me that I probably wouldn’t recognize him because he had lost a lot of weight.  When I went to visit him, it is true, I almost didn’t recognize him.  He was skeletal.  Not only that, his apartment was completely empty: no furniture, not even a bed, just a sleeping bag spread out on the floor where Earl spent most of his days and nights.  Earl had cut off all ties with his friends.  His aim was to go into this apartment and die alone.  I was shocked by what I saw and concerned that he had no food, so I bought him a microwave and some frozen dinners.  But when his landlord discovered his situation, her response was remarkable.  She could have been angry about the fact that he had rented an apartment from her with the express purpose of dying in it.  But instead, she decided to nurse him and comfort him through his final weeks of life.  She bought him a bed.  She bathed him.  She dressed him.  She fed him.  And when he died, she paid for most of his funeral expenses.  Oh, and for what it’s worth, she was a Muslim.  When I saw how compassionate and caring and generous she was, I praised her for her actions and her response to me was, “I’m just doing my duty.”  I’m just doing my duty.  Maybe she was just being modest, but this woman, who was just doing her duty helped a dying man, whose lifestyle she probably would not have approved of, to pass from this life with dignity and alleviated pain. 

Many of you perform these same acts of compassion every day and quite often you don’t get thanked for it.  I think of those of you who are caregivers in nursing homes or who work with people with significant disabilities.  The people you are helping may not be able to thank you and they may even be grouchy when you try to help them; but your acts of kindness, which may seem as small and insignificant as a little mustard seed, make our world more human.

Jesus tells us not to expect a reward for our actions, but here’s what’s really crazy: then Jesus goes ahead and rewards us anyway.  Christ welcomes us into this home and bathes us in the waters of baptism.  Christ nurses our wounded souls offering forgiveness and healing.  Christ clothes us with robes of righteousness and garments of salvation.  Christ prepares a meal for us and continues to nurture us.  It is we who should be serving Christ, but in fact Christ serves us.  Let this service that Jesus provides you be the reward that gives you strength to serve each other.

As we gather each week for the Lord’s Supper, I pray these words: “It is our duty and our joy that we should at all times and in all places offer thanks and praise to you, O Lord, Holy Father, through Christ, our Lord.”  In this meal, our duty becomes our joy because in this meal Christ serves us.  As we gather around this table, we get a glimpse of the reward that lies ahead of us, the reward that we are straining toward as we seek the Kingdom of God.  The reward is life, abundant and eternal.  The reward is a community where all are fed and no one goes hungry, where enemies are reconciled and guns are melted into frying pans, where prisons become playrooms and all our free to serve each other with the love of Christ.

Christ Lutheran Community Church