Sunday, October 06, 2013

Pentecost 20C

“Lord, increase our faith!” the apostles plead.

A reasonable request. Especially when they saw Jesus work so many signs and wonders ,and heard him preach endlessly about the kingdom of God. If they wanted more of God in their lives, and if faith was the entry point in connecting with God, it makes sense that they’d ask for more faith.

And who could blame them? As people of faith, isn’t that what we all want? A larger faith to make us more than we already are? Better at being Christian? Greater confidence about what we believe? A stronger witness to what we see God doing?

My guess is that the apostles’ prayer is your prayer today. That’s why you’re here this morning. “Increase our faith!” we ask, or even demand of Jesus, because we feel that our faith could be stronger. We know our limitations. We’ve reached the boundaries of belief. And we know we can’t find more faith on our own.

So we come to church with our tiny faith tucked neatly in our pocket, out of sight, but hoping that here - among God’s people, through God’s redeeming Word and saving sacrament, our little bundle of faith will grow into maturity. The details may be different but the concern is common to everyone.

You think that your faith could be larger than it is. You feel like you lack the strength of certainty that Jesus seems to have, and that you often see in others.

You have questions that haunt you, doubts that dog you, and you maybe even have pain that simply won’t go away, a pain which constantly reminds you that you are weak and frail. And you lack the inner-resources to move your life ahead in any meaningful way.

Or you’re searching for something bigger than yourself or even bigger than your world, you’re looking for something that binds everything together so that the mess and chaos of the world will make some kind of sense.

You worry that hope is an illusion, a story we tell ourselves to make an unknown future a little less scary. You’re afraid that you’re forgetting how to love, because you’ve been hurt so badly.

You want to know that the droning of your daily routine matters - somehow - in God’s Grand Design. You want to believe that you haven’t walked the planet in vain, and that your life and your labour will live on after you’re gone.

You want faith that will help you truly know that when you close your eyes in death, you will open them again in the presence of God, and all your sorrows, questions, doubts, and frailties will be traded for confidence, newness, and strength.

And so, in response to all our longings, all our fears, and all our questions, we gather here as one family, lifting up the deepest concerns of our hearts, and together we pray, “Lord, increase our faith!”

Well, FORGET IT!! Jesus won’t help you. He didn’t even help his followers.

He makes FUN of them saying, “Hey folks, if you had the faith of a mustard seed, you could say to this Mulberry tree, ‘Hey there, Mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” But look at you! Hello! When was the last time you did THAT? Have you seen any flying bushes lately?

So we say, Wow, Jesus, we KNOW that we can’t do that, we can’t through force of will or heartfelt prayer or mental telepathy defy the laws of gravity and nature. Are you belittling the meagre faith we DO have because we can’t commit an ostentatious display of faith?

I came here for encouragement, not to be insulted. Why is asking for more faith such as bad thing?

At least that’s what it looks like Jesus is saying.

Well, it’s not. It all depends on what you mean by the word “if.”

The Greek language has two types of “if” clauses: those which express a condition contrary to the fact (ex: If you had faith [implying which you don’t]) and those which express a condition according to the fact (ex: If you had faith [implying which you do]). Verse six is the second kind of “if” clause.

“IF you had faith the size of a mustard seed [which you do], you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Jesus is saying that you already have all the faith you need to work miracles in your life and in the lives of others.

IF you have the faith of a tiny mustard seed (and you do), you can confront your doubts and fears, putting them to rest and learning to trust God with your life and with your death.

IF you have the faith of the tiniest of all seeds planted within you (and you do), you have the strength to meet the days ahead with confidence, believing that God at work in your life.

IF you have the faith so small you can hardly tell it’s there (and you do), you will know that God is using you for great things in this world.

IF you have faith so small you’re worried you can’t see it, (and you do) you will love because God loves, and God will never let you go.

I think we don’t see our faith because it IS so small. But small doesn’t mean weak or limited. We expect anything of worth to be large, grand-scale.

But Jesus always uses images of smallness to describe God’s kingdom. Yeast. A penny. Treasure buried in a field. A mustard seed.

Small things are easily hidden - or even forgotten. Overshadowed by competing demands. Drowned out by loud voices who insist that we stay in fixed our place, mired in our fears. Securely stunted.

But the mustard seed that God planted in you also makes it grow. Not in a snap of the fingers like the apostles’ demanded, but in our everyday living and dying. The moment by moment encounters of our lives.

Our mustard seed faith reaches beyond our limits and touches the world in ways we may not even see. Our mustard seed faith works WITH us and IN SPITE of us.

And our mustard seed faith works WITHIN us, so that our lives may be slowly and silently transformed into the image of the one who planted it there.

Our mustard seed faith is God’s work within us, helping us to feed the world with God’s love, nourishing others with God’s care and compassion, opening our branches wide for others to rest on.

So, we pray, Lord, increase our faith. Indeed, he already has. 

May this be so among us.  Amen.


Blogger Small Glimpses said...

Kevin - Came over from Streak's Blog. Your blog post are reframing my "hearing" of the words "If you have faith..." I will now remember "and you do". A statement of fact. I really like that and is a great encouragement to me today. A much needed encouragement in the face of present discouragements.

7:10 AM  

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