In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
This sermon is inspired by Geico’s latest ad campaign. So I give a big thank you and a shout-out to Geico and your Ad-execs. And all of you here today can help me by filling in the blanks when I indicate it’s your turn. Everybody ready?
It’s what you do.
If you’re a disciple of Jesus, and you hear all his expectations of his followers, delivered with stern-sounding consequences, you realize your faith supply might be pretty limited. You wonder if you can deliver on the expectations. It’s what you do.
That’s why we included the 4 verses before this gospel selection from Luke when we read the gospel today. [They aren’t in the lectionary.] Jesus delivers a set of expectations in these first 4 verses that turn the disciples to jelly. They’re told “woe to you: if you cause a follower to stumble. Better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you’re thrown into the sea.” Yikes.
And then they’re told that they must forgive another disciple each time / that person asks for forgiveness. Over and over and over again. It’s supposed to be what you do.
So these disciples tell Jesus, “Wait a minute, we don’t have enough faith in us to meet your expectations!”
And so they beg Jesus, “Increase our faith!” It’s true: When we feel too small we ask for God’s help. It’s what you do.
And his answer to them is really interesting—he says in effect that it’s not how much faith you have—rather, it’s that you have faith at all. Even if you have a mustard seed’s worth of faith, that’s enough to command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. Now, of all Jesus’ pronouncements in the gospels this one is right up there with the top ten of hyperbole. It’s his characteristic tendency to exaggerate to make a point. And that point is that YOUR faith is enough.
What is faith, anyway? Listen to this great reflection from Brother David at the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Massachusetts. He writes,
“Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God. It implies a radical trust in God, faithfulness in one’s relationship with God, and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.” [~Br. David Vryhof, SSJE]
And for some of us, that is quite a leap. And that’s ok.
Now, moving on, the gospel gets bogged down a bit in an obscure parable about masters and slaves and expectations. But the bottom line is this: God expects us to act out of the faith we have. And GOD gives it to us in the first place. Acting out of faith isn’t anything remarkable. It’s just what you do.
But let’s return now to that very human of emotions—feeling that the faith we have really isn’t enough. And there are certain occasions when we feel it acutely. When it pinches.
The OT lesson gives us one very good example from the prophet Habakkuk: the lament of someone who is trusting God to answer prayer but who can’t see any answers yet. Do you know how that feels? It’s a complaint standing in a long line of complaints that God receives every day from people everywhere. And all those complaints are very good prayer, as long as they’re coming from a sincere heart. Sometimes complaining to God is what you do.
Our psalm gives us good advice about another frustration in the life of faith: the frustration that comes when all around us mean-spirited and unprincipled people are doing well when the really good ones aren’t doing well at all. And what’s the advice we hear?
Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire. But not necessarily right away. When babies are sick, when good people die young, you feel strongly that there’s been some sort of divine mistake, and you complain to God. You understand that at some level, maybe having stronger faith would help you cope with these injustices, but nonetheless we complain to God when the way of the world seems very unfair. It’s what you do. And it’s ALSO very good prayer.
And we can be certain that it’s God who increases our faith, and maybe that’s the fruit of wrestling for answers. But there are some things we CAN do in order to make ourselves available to God so that we CAN be reached and taught and formed. OK you know what these things are already. Help me out here: how can we make ourselves more available to God’s Spirit working in us?
We can spend time in quiet or word-infused prayer. We can read and study Scripture. We can participate in the community of the Church. We can serve other people. We can participate regularly in worship, and enjoy nature, art, and music, because these things open us up to the Divine.
Now, here’s an opinion that’s hard to hear. It’s from a Pentecostal faith healer at the turn of the 20th Century, whose name was F. F. Bosworth. He says something that’s still absolutely true 100 years later, “Many Christians feed their bodies three hot meals a day, and their spirits one cold snack a week. And they wonder why they’re so weak in faith.”
One cold snack a week. That’s literally and figuratively chilling. Make sure that’s NOT what you do. Pray, wrestle with God and hold God accountable. Be open and available to the Holy One with all those spiritual practices we mentioned. It’s what you do.
And now get ready for a big segue.
Five weeks from now is November the 6th. On that Sunday we’ll each be making our pledges to support this community of Christ Church Parish for the year 2017. I hope we can all act out of our faith then and remember how important this parish has been for the growth of our faith. I hope that we’ll each make a sacrificial commitment to support each other with a big financial stretch, so that we can continue our good work of reaching inward and reaching outward, way beyond our walls, and changing lives together.
It’s what you do.