Pentecost XVII, Sunday October 6, 2019
The Rev. Dr. Rob C. Lord
May I speak to you in the name of the true and living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I have been in this pulpit before, but today I come with the joyful, deeply joyful recognition that I am here as your retired associate under the kind invitation of Fr. Bumsted. And you need to know that I consider that truly a very high honor. It’s great to be among family now and friends.
The disciples really say it for us. Lord, increase our faith. Lord, increase our faith! I have said that many times along the journey of my life when I am confronted with circumstances or challenges that really press me to the mettle. Whether I recognized that given the resources I have in and of myself, I doubt I’m going make it here Lord. Increase my faith, increase my faith. And I’m sure that’s familiar to you as well. Faith is something which we turn to when most likely we are in desperate situations. But I want us to think a little bit more about how Jesus teaches his disciples about the nature of faith because he answers their question but in a way perhaps they didn’t expect.
Lord increase our faith.
I think one of the reasons why they are asking this question is because Jesus’ teaching can be extremely challenging and difficult. I think we would agree, and they had just been exposed to some teaching along the way where Jesus is telling them some things which require of them perhaps resources they know they don’t have. Just as an example, How many times must we forgive? And Jesus says, well there’s really no limit. You forgive every time. There is no limit to forgiveness. And if you take that seriously you might say, ‘Lord increase my faith…increase my faith here, come on.’
I want to share with you that I think Jesus answered their question but he didn’t answer it in a way they had expected. He knew they needed faith but what he was trying to do was to support them and to build their confidence in the faith that was already within them. In other words, it’s already within you. Jesus said if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, the tiniest seed that you could ever find, that would be sufficient enough to tell this mulberry tree to lift up and jump into the sea. Now that’s hyperbole, obviously. But Jesus is trying to say something here. It’s not a matter of the quantity of faith that you have, it’s about putting into action the faith you already have. Faith is a gift from God and each of you have faith or you would not be here today. And so to cry out in desperation, “Lord increase my faith!” is in some measure to deny the reality that you already have the faith that is sufficient. See how Jesus turns that around. This is what I love about our Lord. He takes us to a deeper level of understanding and reality.
And then he uses another story of hyperbole and it sounds a little grating to our ears when he speaks about which one of you having a slave, and when they come in from working in the field, would you have them sit down and you serve them dinner first? He said, ‘no, but when you have done what you have been commanded to do, just say, ‘we’re just worthless slaves…we are just doing what we were told to do…we’re worthless slaves.” Now do you think that Jesus wants you to consider yourself worthless? Absolutely not. What he is trying again to demonstrate is that having faith no matter how small it may be to you is not a matter of merit or gold star, or whatever it is, or a badge or some new identity and status ‘boy he has great faith”! I have had people come to me and say I wish I had faith like you have Father and I want to say, you may want to think about that. What you want is to take the faith that is already within you and put it into action. Now all of the lessons we have for today really are about faith. There is so much good stuff here but I want to focus in on two ideas that I think the Scripture is telling us about the nature of faith. Maybe the issue is not Lord increase my faith but what kind of faith am I asking for. It’s not a magic wand. It’s not a pass – go past the jail. What is it that we are asking for? Again, lets step back a little bit and think about faith. You have faith. You have faith in the fact that you came here this morning in the car that you drove and you have confidence that car will get you back home. Your not worried about it I don’t think – that depends on what kind of car you’re driving but I don’t think you’re worried about getting home. I think you have confidence in your car to bring you home. That is faith, yes its a secular idea of faith, but it’s true. A better word for faith to help us understand might be the word confidence. Jesus wanted to increase the confidence of his disciples. Confidence in what? In God. Not in their resources, but in God’s resources. That’s what faith is really all about. He knows they need faith. But what he’s trying to help them understand is that its not so much about asking for more faith but it’s really seeing that Gods gift of faith is sufficient already. You have enough. You just have to act on it. You see faith is the willingness to act as if what you are acting on is true. Do you believe God’s love for you is true? Do you believe that God loves you and accepts you as you are an not how you should be? Well faith would say yes and I am going to act on that. I believe I am received by God in his love and mercy for me. That should make a difference in the way you live. Faith is confidence. Or maybe you can say faith is God confidence. You are confident it the availability and the reality of God. You are relying on resources that are beyond your own. What are you counting on? Just your own resources? How’s that going for you?
Let me tell you little story …I think that confidence and faith is something we see, experience and encounter in others. One of the most important people in my journey of faith (God confidence) was the 100th archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsay, God bless his soul In my second year at Nashota house, Archbishop Michael was teaching and this man, if you ever thought you would achieve the greatest faith in the world you would say I want what he has. but I remember one day taking a break and I wend down to one of the lakes at Nashota and I was just out in the beauty of that spot in Wisconsin and I heard something coming around the corner as I looked, I saw that it was Archbishop Michael and he was way in his 80’s at this point and I didn’t want him to see me and I kind of felt embarrassed, I didn’t want to ruin what he was doing. He was obviously in some type of meditation or devotion so I hid behind a tree. As he was walking by I got invited into something. A very private and beautiful intimate moment and he was walking by saying Jesus, son of God have mercy on me, Jesus, son of God have mercy on me…that’s confidence. A lifetime of confidence with God. You see we already have the ability to act with God and to cooperate with God and to recognize we are not living by our own resources. We can count and rely on faith as being more that a leap in the dark. It is based on knowledge and reason and reality. the Nicene creed we are going to profess is a body of spiritual knowledge, not just good ideas and as Michael Ramsay said the central reality of the Christian faith is not a book its a person. And you put your confidence in Jesus, you have enough faith. You have confidence in people. I have confidence in your Rector, I have confidence in my wife. I have confidence in a lot of people and the reason why I have confidence is they have proved trustworthy. God is worthy of your trust! That’s the first idea – Faith is confidence.
The second idea comes out of our epistle for today where Timothy is listening to his mentor, the apostle Paul, and Paul is just boasting and grateful for the fact that Timothy had a sincere faith that he gained from his family of origin and boy if you ever had that opportunity to be raised in a family of faith, you are fortunate. Not everybody does and Timothy did but there was something that somehow held Timothy back. he was timid, he was in a withdrawal stance towards life. He may have been fearful of being a Christian, of being a follower of Jesus and the apostle Paul said I want you to fan into a flame the gift that has been given to you by the laying on of my hands because God has not given you a spirit of timidity. God has given you a spirit of power, love and sound mind and here’s the idea. Faith is not only confidence faith is agency. You have agency. God had created you to be a steward of the resources he has given you. God wants you to act in this world. He wants you to stand and he wants you to take your place in this world because no one else can be just like you. God has not giving you a spirit of timidity he has given you a spirit of agency. You see, sometimes we can be paralyzed by grace. What do you mean by that? Well here’s the idea, I’m saved by grace and yes you are Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me. But if you do nothing about that, nothing will happen. Oh yes, you’ll get to heaven, I guess. You many not so much like it there. The apostle Paul is saying to Timothy, look this is something you must do. You must fan the gift into a flame. You must steward the resources of God’s grace. Work out your own salvation, In other words, God expects you to participate and to act in the development of your character, your Christ like-ness. You get to do that. That’s agency. Nothing happens if we don’t make an effort. Grace is opposed to earning salvation but it is not opposed to effort my friends. And I think that is probably one of the challenges we face in the church these days. People think it’s all ‘saved by grace’ and that’s it. You got your bar code and got your ticket punched and you are on your way. There’s more to it. Thank God there’s more to it. So dear friend, confidence and reliance on the goodness and greatness of God is sufficient faith. You may find yourself in desperate circumstances…hold on, just hold on because God is holding on to you. So the next time you think about asking God to increase your faith, maybe the prayer should be Lord, help me to claim my faith, to use it for your glory.