Yesterday morning in church we had two beautiful events… well at least two that I noticed.
Rob Hosie took the sermon time to speak about his experience working with the “Streethope Ministry” bringing food and gracious hospitality to people who live on the streets of our city. It was a lovely inspiring presentation.
Then at the end of the service we welcomed the Syrian family we have sponsored to come to Victoria who arrived in our city a week ago Thursday. It was a moving and powerful moment.
These two events are deeply connected by the Gospel reading we heard in our service.
In Luke 17:5-10 Jesus spoke about the nature of obedience.
Jesus used the example of a slave, pointing out that a master expects his slave to obey whatever command the master gives.
Jesus’ teaching on “obedience” comes in response to the apostles request,
‘Increase our faith!’ (Luke 17:5)
Obedience and faith are inextricably linked. But, Jesus’ use of the “slave” image makes faith sound like an unpleasant, grinding, demanding life.
Is faith really nothing more than obedience? Is the life of faith just showing up to do your duty, mindlessly following the dictates of the master knowing that in the end that you are nothing more than a ” worthless slave”? (Luke 17:10)
The Greek text uses the word “hüp-ä-kü’-ō” (Luke 17:6) which is translated in English as “obey.” “Hüp-ä-kü’-ō” is made up by combining a preposition and a verb:
- “hü-po’” (preposition) – of, by, under, with
- “ä-kü’-ō” (vb.) – hear (from which we get the word acoustic)
So, “obedience” has to do with hearing. We are obedient, not out of duty, guilt, or pressure. We are obedient because we have heard the voice of Jesus (the Master) speaking in our hearts. The voice of Jesus is the voice of love and when we hear the voice of love, we will do what that voice instructs. The voice of love empowers us to do whatever it commands.
Rob goes out to the streets of Victoria with compassion and kindness because he is moved by love. Our community sponsored a Syrian refugee family to come to Victoria because our hearts were opened to the plight of people in Syria and we responded with loving action.
To “obey” is to open and listen. “Faith” is the act of listening deeply and trusting the voice of love that speaks in the depths of your heart. When we live in faith, ie. in response to the voice of love, amazing things can happen.
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. (Luke 17:6)
Love feeds people in the streets. Love moved a family thousands of miles from a land of turmoil and violence to a place of peace and hope.
The problem with acts of “kindness” done from duty, compulsion, pressure, or guilt, is that they are not in fact acts of kindness at all. They are self-serving acts that aim to appease the conscience of the actor.
Even an act of service primarily motivated by a desire to fix the brokenness of the world is not truly compassion.
The only gift that brings life is the gift that is freely given, motivated only by the love that is our true nature dwelling in every human heart.
The NRSV translation not withstanding, the slave motivated by love is not a “worthless” slave. The word translated “worthless” is “ä-khrā’-os“. It is also commonly translated as “unprofitable.” But a good slave was worth a great deal and was certainly a profitable commodity in Jesus’ day.
The slave motivated by love is not “worthless” or “unprofitable.” But, we are undeserving of praise or even thanks. We are not motivated by the desire for thanks, praise, or gratification.
Yesterday Rob spoke about his ministry with Streethope, not to make an impression upon the congregation but to express his gratitude for the privilege of being involved in the lives of people on the margins of society. I know when we introduced the Syrian family in church, Jordie and Habbous wanted to say thank you, which is lovely. But we have already been richly blessed simply by following the leading of love.
The needs to which we respond as a community give us the opportunity to open our hearts deeply and allow the flow of love to circulate more freely in the world. Everyone wins when our acts are led by the obedience of love.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
6 Jesus replied, ‘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.
7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? 8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”?
9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’