By The Rev. Sherry Deets
20 Pentecost, Proper 22 – October 6, 2013
Last week I talked about God logic. That God’s logic isn’t our logic. God doesn’t play by our rules. God said through Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts and my ways higher than your ways.”
Our Gospel lesson opens with a plea from Jesus’ disciples. They cry, “Increase our faith!”
“Increase our faith!” That’s a plea that I think we can all understand. We have been there and done that. We have prayed, “Increase our faith!”
That’s an especially good prayer when we are faced with adversity: Illness, the death of a loved one, loss of a job. “Lord, increase my faith!”
Jesus’ response to this “Increase our faith” prayer is disappointing. We would like for him to respond in the same way that a good mechanic would respond when our car says, “I’m a quart low.” A good mechanic can fix that problem in less than five minutes. He or she will raise the hood, get a quart of oil, and put it in the engine. We want Jesus to do something like that when his disciples pray, “Increase our faith.” We want Jesus to give us a quart of faith.
I would say that the disciples had it right when they prayed, “Increase our faith!” They were thinking of faith as something that they could get only from God. They were thinking of it as a gift–a God-given gift. That’s true. We need God to give us faith. We can’t get it on our own.
But we do need to exercise that faith. We need to strengthen that faith. We grow in faith as we act in faith. Every gift of God is strengthened by the exercise of it, and this is true of faith. Just as the ordinary foot soldier sees too little to know how well or badly the battle is going, the ordinary Christian also has limited vision. Faith means believing even when the outcome seems in doubt.
In a sense, then, God partners with us when he gives us a gift–whether a musical gift, an athletic gift, or a faith gift. God gives the gift, but expects us to exercise it. Without the exercise–the practice–nothing good is likely to happen.
The disciples were on the right track when they asked Jesus to increase their faith. But Jesus was also on the right track when he didn’t just hand them a quart of faith. Notice what he did. When his disciples prayed, “Increase our faith,” Jesus said:
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted, and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
That sounds as if Jesus was ignoring their request, but that isn’t what he was doing–not at all. He had done his part. He had already given them the gift. Then he gave them a vision of what their faith could be–what their faith could do–what a powerhouse their faith could become. If they would simply develop their God-given faith, they could do anything. They could even tell a tree to uproot itself and to plant itself in the ocean, and the tree would do it.
That’s hyperbole, of course–exaggeration for effect–a bit of drama to make a point. Jesus was telling his disciples that nothing would be impossible for them if they would just develop the faith-gift that they had already received.
Stepping out in faith helps us to develop our faith gift. We grow in faith as we act in faith.
So pray, “Increase our faith!” But then take the ball and run with it. Use the faith-gift that God has given you. Make the most of your faith. If we will do that, we will receive great power–and great blessings.
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,”
I love that story. A church sees its mission to care and be cared for by the members of its congregation. Another church sees its purpose as to reach out to a world in need; to be the hands and lips of Jesus in every age. So which one is it? Are we called to care for one another in our congregation, or are we called to reach out and care for others? Yes. Yes. The Church is called to do both, and the Church becomes unhealthy whenever its focus drifts toward just one or the other.
Jesus calls us to exercise our faith. To use our faith muscle in the world. To do what we ought to have done. Lord, increase our faith. Amen.
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