20 Pentecost, Proper 22 – October 2, 2016
Last week’s gospel lesson showed us the bondage of being separated from one another, of not seeing, not reaching out or caring for one another. It creates a chasm between us. Each time we walk past the needs of our neighbor or ignore the cries of our own diminished humanity, we move away from communion and go deeper into that chasm.
The apostles, in our gospel lesson today, it seems, are beginning to wake up to the darkness of their own dungeon depths because now they plead with Jesus, “Increase our faith!” If lack of faith—in God, in ourselves, in each other—is what creates our isolation, then surely more faith will be the key to our release.
Despite more than 2000 years separating their experience from ours, their appeal would be right at home in our up-sizing, bigger-better-more culture of today. It is all too easy to notice what one lacks rather than to recognize gifts already received.
Jesus is telling us that we might not need what we think we need. A bigger bucket of faith is not the answer. Even the tiniest speck of faith has more power than we have dared yet to call upon. What we need most is simply this: to get busy doing what we ought to do. Asking for more faith can be one of our delay tactics—oh, what amazing feats we would accomplish if only God would give us more faith! In the meantime, we sit back and wait for “it” to happen. Doing what we ought to do, on the other hand, is for right now, it’s for this moment, whatever the condition of our hearts, whatever the quality or capacity of our faith and trust.
Stop and think about this moment in Luke’s gospel. This bid of the disciples. This plea from those who are wondering — can I really do this? Because this request, if we are honest, taps into our own doubts, our own fears, our own longings when it comes to wondering, what is our faith good for? Does our faith get us anywhere? Is our faith worth anything?
And after a week like the one we just had – with shootings, stabbings, injustice, hacking, and more – I suspect a lot of us feel the same way. Like we need more faith…just to get through, let alone to make a difference.
But then something interesting happens. Because when the disciples recognize their need and ask him for help, for more faith, you’d think Jesus would both welcome and grant their request. But he doesn’t. Instead, he almost seems to rebuke them. “If you had even a speck of faith…,” he begins, implying that they actually don’t have faith even the size of a mustard seed. What kind of way is that to respond to the disciples’, and even our, heartfelt question?
Maybe Jesus’ retort was just what they needed – maybe just what we need – to orient us to the miraculous presence of God all around us and the totally-sufficient faith they, and we, already have.
Here’s the thing: servants aren’t invited to the table with the landowner; they eat when their work is done. Nor do they deserve great thanks simply for doing their job; they just do it. That’s more what faith is like, Jesus seems to say – simply the willingness to do what needs to be done. Faith is not, in other words, some kind of scarce resource that needs to be saved, spent, added to, and all the rest. And, faith isn’t always heroic. Actually, it usually isn’t. It is, instead, simply and humbly doing what needs to be done, big or small, great or mundane, just because it needs doing.
Faith is found not in the mighty acts of heaven but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.
What are some of the unnoticed, faithful, things you do each week? Showing up for work and doing a good job. Listening when someone needs to talk. Getting the kids off to school. Sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend. Volunteering at a local homeless shelter. Balancing the books for your business or community group. Writing a thank you note to someone who has done a kindness. Cooking supper. Praying for a neighbor who is having a hard time. The list could go on. And that’s the point. Somehow, an “act of faith” seems like it needs to be significant or costly or even extravagant to merit God’s attention. But all of those small, but meaningful and caring acts, add up.
Faith means believing even when the outcome is in doubt. You all have heard Martin Luther’s quote…”Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
In his book The Kingdom of God is a Party!, author and pastor Tony Campolo tells the story of the time he flew to Honolulu for a speaking engagement. Because of the 8 hour time difference, Tony found himself wide awake at 3:00 AM and hungry for a donut. He walked about a block from the hotel and found an all night diner, and he sat down and ordered a cup of coffee from a waiter named “Gus.” He hadn’t been there very long when a small group of brightly dressed women entered the diner and sat in the booth directly behind him. He realized instantly that these were “ladies of the night.”
Tony couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation when he heard one of the women say that tomorrow was her 30th birthday, and her friend caustically said “So, what do you want, a party?” When the women left, Campolo asked Gus about them and he was told that they come in every morning about this time. “What about the one in pink?” Tony asked. “Oh, her name’s Rachael.” Tony said to Gus “Well, tomorrow Rachael’s going to turn 30. What do you say we throw her a party?” Gus thought it was a great idea, and the next evening at midnight, Tony showed up with crepe paper and streamers, and Gus had made a cake, and he had also invited everyone in the neighborhood. And at 3 o’clock, when Rachael arrived, they all jumped up and began singing “Happy Birthday.” And Rachael just stood there and wept. Campolo heard her say to one of her friends “I am 30 years old, and this is the first birthday party I have ever had.”
As Tony Campolo was leaving that diner, Gus took him aside and asked him “Tony, what do you do for a living?” Tony wasn’t quite sure what to say, but finally answered “I’m the pastor of a church…a church that throws birthday parties for hookers at 3 o’clock in the morning.” Gus studied Tony’s face for the longest time, and then said “No you aren’t, because I would go to a church like that.”
And so my friends, I love this story. Let us be a church like that. A church that is welcoming, caring, inclusive, accepting. Lord, help us to be a church like that. Amen.