Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 2 October 2016
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Psalm 37 2 Timothy 1:1-14 Luke 17:5-10)
“Increasing Our Faith by Living Our Faith!”
One of my favorite words is propinquity. Loosely defined, it means when events on the surface seem to have absolutely no connection with each other, but later on, there can be found a connection of meaning between the events.
I have two events in mind that I describe as propinquity even though they are separated by nearly 40 years.
Event #1. When I was in the seminary, once a year everyone had to go on a retreat. The one year, the retreat began on Friday evening with a talk on “faith.” [Sounds simple enough] The person came in with a gallon milk jug half-filled with water. He began by saying: “I will use this jug to explain what faith is all about!” I don’t know what that sounds like to you but it did not sound good to me, so I turned to my friend and said, “We’re out of here, because I’m not going to agree with anything this guy says.” [I’ll come back to this]
Event #2. This is what happens every time we go to a restaurant with my grandsons. When they are given those placemats for children with a tiny pack of crayons, the first thing they do is go to the connect-the-dots picture.
Two events separated by nearly 40 years bring me to my sermon today.
Faith is the theme in all three readings.
In our seldom-referenced prophet, Habakkuk, we hear how the prophet has grown frustrated with the lack of faith demonstrated in his people’s behavior and responsiveness to God.
In the Timothy text we hear the wisdom of the elder Paul writing to the younger Timothy about “stirring into flame the gift of God he has received.”
In the Gospel text, we are on the way to Jerusalem with the apostles and Jesus, when the apostles realize they don’t think they have enough faith to meet the challenges of discipleship. To that end, they beg Jesus to increase their faith.
Here’s the propinquity of my retreat experience of 40 years ago and my restaurant experiences with my grandsons—how both examples say something about faith.
The first illustration for faith as a gallon jug that is empty, half-full or even running over makes “faith” into a Energy Drink or a Power Drink or one of those boxes of Ensure. Make sure you drink enough so you will be able to fight off the devil.
In fact, it seems as if that is where the disciples are in today’s Gospel when they say, “Increase our faith!” It’s almost as if they are saying, if you (Jesus) can help me fill my jug to overflowing, or get me a Power Drink, one more box of Boost, then I’ll have sufficient faith to go forward and meet the challenges of discipleship. It is a trap. And Jesus sidesteps it.
This is why Jesus really changes the question from “How much faith is enough?” to “What is faith for?” He tells them, through the mustard seed image and the story of the slave and owner, “You already have the faith you need, so go out and live it!”
Jesus is saying that faith is not about quantity—even one of those little boxes of Ensure will not ensure us about anything when it comes to faith. Even this tiniest of seeds holds the potential to grow into a large bush. Then the parable about the master and slave reminds us that faith is to be lived out as a life of service to God. What Jesus is describing is a relationship that is marked by mutual accountability and expectation. That’s Jesus’ answer to the question about needing more faith!
So, here is where I might get in trouble with all the theologians sitting here this morning. I want to say that the faith Jesus is talking about today is much more like a dot-to-dot. Think about it! The picture is already there. You can see part of it, only the outline. But it becomes clear as you put your crayon to the paper. It becomes clear as you make the connections. You begin to see the bigger picture.
Which takes us into this “Rush Weekend” (discipleship) where we are highlighting many of the ministries of this congregation. We are not doing this to say, “oh look how good we are,” but rather to lift up how we strive to put faith into action, how we connect the dots to recognize the bigger picture, which is, to be stewards of the mission of God in the world. Maybe we don’t think of it that way when we are on our way to a Worship Committee or a Youth Committee meeting, but that is what we’re doing—we’ve been put in charge of God’s mission. If we think of it in that way, we are no different than the apostles in the Gospel: “Jesus, give us more faith to know what we’re doing and to believe in what we’re doing!”
The answer we hear from Jesus is not so much: I’ll give you some Boost; the answer is: go get involved, make the connections, because you already have the faith to do so, and by doing so, your faith will be deepened.
“We increase our faith by living our faith.” Because of God’s abundant love for each of us, we already have enough faith, and when we live in loving relationship with each other in prayer fellowship, and work—when we live discipleship, that is going deeper into the relationship of God’s compassion and love.
We become stewards of ourselves and of creation. We become stewards of our money and possessions, stewards of God’s mission, stewards of the very grace of God.
To understand faith in this way is to understand it as a way of life. In other words, to question whether one has enough faith is really to ask the wrong question. The faith issue at stake is how we live together. . . how we keep from leading each other astray. . . how we manage to keep forgiving one another, over and over again.
We walk in God’s way together and we find that the God who expects much from us also promises much, and that the rightful Master of us all came first and foremost “not to be served, but to serve us” [Mt. 20:28]. That is the Good News of Faith. Amen.