20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 2, 2016
Luke 17: 5-10 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
The disciples said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” They’ve been through a lot, and now the heat is on Jesus, as conflicts with the Temple leaders and Biblical experts get meaner. Jesus has just told them – in front of everyone – that they need to watch out for themselves and for each other. “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.” Even if the same person sins against you seven times a day, you must forgive, he tells them.
I totally get why they are asking for a faith transfusion. Our own world isn’t much better than theirs. It’s hard to keep your civility about you when you look at all the craziness around us. Shootings, hysterical political rhetoric, uncertain economic futures, housing shortages, prices going up for everyday things and services like a new jail and a new pool. Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Umpqua Community College. Friends there tell me that the community is still recovering and that every school shooting is a reminder of the shattering of the peace of their own home town. How can we cope with the fallout from such wounding? Lord, increase our faith.
My friends Terry and Michelle’s gay son was just beat up in a gay bashing incident in Seattle. They are worried and he is scared to death. Lord, increase our faith.
The Presidential debate was mostly just more shouting and name-calling and I didn’t hear much about how either candidate wants to improve the lives of ordinary Americans. Lord, increase our faith.
We want our faith to give us courage, to give us hope, to make us strong in the face of the dangers and strains of our lives. And we think that what we have is not enough to face up to the struggles we meet every day. We want to be strong and fearless. Lord, increase our faith.
Bah! says Jesus. You already have what you need, you just need to learn to trust it. Jesus wants us to know that faith is not about agreeing to a certain set of principles about God and who God is. Faith is not about believing all the exactly right things about Jesus and Mary and Joseph, or the actual parting of the Red Sea. Faith is really our courageous trust that God’s promises to be with us, to love us always, that death is never the end of our life together with God – that those things are truly the truth about how the world works. Faith is trusting that we are loved into God’s family, always invited to God’s table, and that nothing we can say or do will ever remove God’s love and invitation from us. Faith is about trusting that God’s love and forgiveness have transformed each of us into a person who sees the pain of the world and wants to comfort and heal and encourage and feed those who need it.
Once we are able to trust, we find that what feels like the tiniest grain of faith is all we need to be the people God has called us to be. Faith grows strong by being used, in the same way that muscles grow strong from being exercised. Practicing trust of God’s promises through the ups and downs of our life is what increases faith. You know the old joke about the tourist asking the New Yorker about how to get to Carnegie Hall. “Practice, practice, practice,” is the reply. So it is with us. Each time we rely on our trust in God’s work in our hearts and in our world, trust builds, our faith grows.
Or Jesus puts it another way in his little story about the slaves. Slaves or servants are just expected to do their job. They don’t expect the master to wait on them, they expect to serve the master dinner and then go eat themselves. Jesus can’t give you the faith you need, you need to take care of your own work. If God’s love for you and forgiveness for you have changed your heart, you will want to do your part in creating the world that God longs for. You will want to love your neighbors, the whole world of them – by seeing their needs and being gracious to help.
Take a minute to think about something gracious and loving that you have done this week either to a friend or for the world. Write it down on your bulletin and fold it over. Now hold it up if you’ve written something. That’s a lot of loving things. Just imagine how much poorer the world would be if none of this had happened. Imagine how much poorer your own life would be if this had not happened. And you were just doing your job of passing on the love you have received from God through Jesus. This is your courageous trust at work, your faith the size of a mustard seed moving mountains. We are so afraid we will not be enough, that our faith will not be enough. Jesus tells us that we already are enough, and that by practicing the trust we have, our faith grows into something fierce and fearless; something strong enough to move mountains. Amen.