Jesus says: “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’? Will 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’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” Luke 17:7-10
Jesus mentions no “Thank you!” There is no “Great job… I really appreciate you!” Not even a “Well done!” No gratitude mentioned at all. How rude! And here all along we thought being a Christian was about how God responds to us because of all we do for Him. All along we thought it was some kind of bargaining system that goes like this: If I do my best then God will surely respond. He will give me all the goodies, all the things that I need, and want. My life will be blessed.
I just have to be a good and faithful servant.
Now I know that some of you are up at your church day and night serving the Lord. Many of you are carrying the load of several ministries. I just started a new ministry at St. John Lutheran in Hamilton, Texas and I am learning quickly that there are so many here at St. John who work behind the scenes to make ministry happen. They keep this church running. There is youth work to be done and Sunday School, counting the offering, arranging the flowers on the altar, setting up communion, keeping this building and our grounds looking good. I am sure there are many prayer warriors constantly praying, encouraging… sending letters and making visits.
And please hear me when I say “Thank you.” You are appreciated! You and I owe each other our thanks.
But what about God? Does God owe us any thanks? Does God owe us any appreciation?
We sure act that way sometimes, don’t we? When life doesn’t turn out just like we want it to. When we compare our lives to others and it appears as if we are getting the short end of the stick. When other people prosper, and we seem to sink deeper into debt… deeper into trouble. When we lose someone precious to us–your spouse dies early but others people get to celebrate 50, 60 or 70 years of marriage. When your life seems so busy and chaotic but other people seem to have it so simple and easy…
In moments like these, we turn our hearts heavenward and say, “What’s up with all this, God?” Haven’t I been good? Haven’t I been faithful?
This whining and complaining sounds a lot like Elijah, the Old Testament prophet. We’re studying 1 Kings 19 this Sunday in Bible Study at St. John and I can’t help but relate his struggle after the whole episode at Mt. Carmel where Elijah stared down 450 prophets of Baal, who were whipping and cutting themselves, trying to get Baal’s attention. But then, Elijah, simply calls out to the TRUE GOD and HE sends fire from heaven. What a victory! How cool that must have been!
But then the wicked Queen Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah and Elijah acts like his whole world is falling apart. He runs and hides and in 1 Kings 19 we hear Elijah complain, “I have had enough, Lord…I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
You ever felt like Elijah? Seems pretty audacious to talk to God that way.
There’s a wonderful Yiddish word that describes this audacity: chutzpah. I read somewhere this definition for chutzpah: The quality exhibited by a person who murders both of his parents, and then appeals to the court for mercy on the ground that he’s an orphan! “Unmitigated gall” might be one way of expressing the idea in English, but even that doesn’t quite carry the full implication of arrogant, blind presumption involved when any sinner has the chutzpah to “stand before God and say, “I have done my duty… now, Lord, You do yours!”
There’s a formula for jokes that begins, “I have good news and bad news.” One is supposed to respond, “Give me the bad news first.” Well, the bad news is that none of us ever does even our duty. None of us loves the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, or our neighbor as ourselves. We have sinned… all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
And, the good news is that because all sin–every sin, my sin, your sin–so thoroughly damns us, and kills us and separates us from God, He had to go off and do the most incredible thing, the most unlikely and almost unbelievable thing: HE BECAME ONE OF US AND DIED FOR US ON A CROSS. JESUS ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE SEPARATED FROM GOD. JESUS TOOK OUR SIN AND DAMNATION UPON HIMSELF.
Go back to the parable with me – God’s Son did exactly what the master of the house wasn’t expected to do. As one theologian wrote – “God’s Son made Himself the servant to serve those who should be serving.” Jesus carried out His humble duty of dying upon the cross for our sins and salvation in virtual anonymity. Not once did He complain. Not once did He use His Divine powers to serve self. And there on Calvary there was no one saying “Thank you, Jesus!” Not even a voice from Heaven shouting “Ata-boy!”
On the cross Christ went “above and beyond” the call of duty for you and me. He did not seek recognition; He did not wait for applause. He got busy dying for you and me. And yet if you were to ask Him about it, no doubt His response would be– “I was just doing my duty.” Because that is the kind of God he is! A God who gives and gives of himself.
What could you and I ever possibly do for God that could compare to what he has done for us? I could sell everything I have and give it to the poor and it wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket compared to the costly preciousness of even one drop of blood that was poured out for me from veins of the Son of God.