Proper 22, Year C ‘16
Luke 17: 5-10
2 October 2016
“Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“The Apostles said to the Lord: “Increase our faith!” Can you relate? By times I sure have felt as though I lacked the faith to meet some particularly difficult situation. In that moment I’ve found myself praying that God would give me the faith to continue. What about you? I guess if we are honest we each need to confess that none of us have anything like “perfect” faith. Besides, we all need to be growing in faith all the time.
That plea that God increase our faith makes perfect sense. Remember now, in terms of that passage we just heard from the gospel According to Luke, Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem. This conversation comes at the end of a section of teaching which has often emphasized discipleship. Jesus is teaching his closest followers at this point and, as is so often the case, he answers their question, but not directly. He uses metaphor to make his point. “The Lord replied: “If you had faith the faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree be uprooted…and it would obey you” Years ago I heard a story that has stuck with me though, I confess, I don’t remember where I heard it. Anyway, it’s the story of a child who, having heard one of Jesus’ sayings, said: “He didn’t really mean that. He just said it that way to make it more interesting.” My point is that literalism, which we so easily fall into, is often enough a serious stumbling block to our understanding of scripture. This is one of those occasions. Step away from that literalism please. It is distracting. Jesus’ statement is not about the effects of faith on our physical world. His statement communicates a much greater truth. Faith alters the very nature of things. Jesus is saying that faith, even a tiny bit of faith, creates a dynamic change within us. Even faith the size of a mustard seed, and mustard seeds are tiny things, can change us so much that the nature of reality in our lives is altered completely. That is much more powerful, all in all, than the rather fanciful notion of moving a tree from where it belongs, rooted in the soil, to the waters of the sea. Maybe you have had some experience of how the power of faith can change things in your life? I have known people who have moved beyond despair to hope filled living by the power of faith. I have a friend whose faith has helped her, one day at a time, move beyond addiction. Now she is clean and sober, now she is holding down a job and raising her son, now she is in a loving and healthy relationship. But remember, nothing God does is without purpose. So the changes wrought by the power of faith, given to us by God, happen for a reason. Which brings me to the last three verses of that reading from Luke. I don’t know for sure about you but those verses about the relationship between a slave and a master and the perplexing end point when the slaves reply “we have only done what we ought to have done” can seem pretty confusing. What are we to make of it? In some ways it is as though two separate sayings that don’t have much relationship to one another have been placed side by side.
But Jesus is making a point. That question about faith and the reply about the mustard seed, from Luke 17: 5-6 may seem unrelated to the story told in verses 7-10 but nothing could be further from the truth. Here's the thing. Jesus wants to help us grow as his disciples. Discipleship is the point of being one of Jesus’ followers after all. As Jesus’ disciples we are given the task of serving others in God’s name and we are given countless opportunities to grow in faith as well. My friend, who is day by day recovering from addiction, did not receive the gift of faith in a vacuum. A friend shared God’s love for her in countless small ways. What we have here in that story about the slaves and the master is Jesus’ follow-up talk about the proper attitude of those whose faith motivates them to discipleship. I found two related and important questions in my Spiritual Disciplines Bible this week. They concern our response to these verses. But first take note of this premise, faith is one of God’s good gifts to us and God calls us to use our faith to further God’s Kingdom on earth. So. The questions. Why, having received that gift of faith, do we respond to the Good News of God in Christ? More importantly, how do we respond? Do we respond grudgingly because service to others is what we ought to do? Or do we respond joyfully because we love the Lord and want, out of gratitude, to share that love with others? It makes a difference, doesn’t it? God, through that gift of faith in Jesus Christ, alters the reality of our lives. We have that great gift of new life in Christ. We are called to respond out of gratitude with a life of unassuming service. Jesus’ parable has the effect of deflating our expectations about a life lived with and for God.
Our services, freely given, is its own reward, and it continues to increase our faith day by day. God puts good work before us each day. When we do that work with gratitude, without expectations of divine praise or thanks, the work it’s self becomes a gift. Faith, and that commission to service, both together, are God’s good gifts to us, they change the nature of our reality. They help us to grow, ever more fully, into new life in Christ. It’s like this. Each time we say yes by choosing to reach out to God through serving the people God has given us to serve, the roots of our faith deepen and our faith grows. Our eyes are opened over time to an awareness of “all the little things”, all the little gifts that nurture and support faith in the face of our imperfect world. Strange as it might seem we grow continually in faith as we, with gratitude, serve others. And that allows even the most ordinary of us to do great miracles in God’s name. St. Francis put it well when he wrote; “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” I wonder: What miracles will you experience as your faith grows this week? Amen