Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 3, 2010

2010.10.03 “Got Faith?” – Luke 17: 5 – 6

Central United Methodist Church

“Got Faith?”

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 17: 5 – 6

October 3rd, 2010

The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.”

But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.'” – Luke 17: 5 – 6, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

     One of my favorite movie lines is from Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 movie, Jaws. It occurs when Police Chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) first meets the great white shark known as Jaws, face to face, if I remember correctly, while chomping on the back end of the boat. Brody staggers backward into the boat’s cabin in shock, muttering, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

      While Brody’s line might metaphorically apply to many things we meet in life, it especially applies to the request of Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel, when they ask Jesus, “Give us more faith.”   It was – for them – “a bigger boat” moment.

      As we have seen this summer in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus often challenged his followers with harsh expectations.

      For example, “Would be” followers were reminded how “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  Are you up for that? 

      A man wants to care for his father, another wants to say goodbye to his family, but Jesus says, “Let the dead bury the dead,” and adds, “No one, putting their hand to the plow, and looking back, is worthy of the kingdom of God.” 

      Before becoming a follower, Jesus suggests that one count the cost (14:25-34), because the investment is great (like building a tower) and risky (like going to war). You had also better consider sacrifice; because, after all, “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (14:33).

      Having weathered those challenges, those still there had just been warned – in the previous paragraph – not to be a stumbling block to little ones, and to forgive sins wherever they are to be found. Even if scoundrels ask seven times a day for pardon, they are to be forgiven. Say what?

      Thus they made their request to Jesus, “Give us more faith.”  Some may wish to note that of all the faith challenges, it was finally the thought of forgiving somebody that brought them to their knees.

        So far, so good. After all, isn’t a search for more faith why we’re here?  Just as we go to the gym to increase our health, or to the store to get more food, don’t we come to church to get more faith?

And don’t we do that because, but somewhere out there, we were brought to our knees? Perhaps as we face health challenges or family matters, anxieties about our job or finances, or maybe even through a brush with suffering or death, we felt like Chief Brody: “I’m going to need a bigger boat.” As the ancient Breton Fisherman’s Prayer expresses it, “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”   With the disciples, we say: “Give us more faith.”

Given what seems like a reasonable request, Jesus’ reply is revealing: 

“But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.”

      Even the syntax of Jesus’ reply suggests criticism. The phrase “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” implies, “and you don’t.” That’s comforting to us, who struggle, so many years later, with faith, knowing that after all Jesus disciples had seen and heard when they were WITH him, they still didn’t have it.

        Commentator Debbie Blue even suggests the disciple’s request for faith is yet another example of the boys thinking only of themselves, like unfortunately, some of us do when we seek faith. Jesus has just tried to focus on somebody else for a moment, telling the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he just got through talking about concern for little ones, and forgiving others, but without missing a beat, the boys bring it back to themselves: The unstated: “We don’t care about them,” followed by the stated: “Give US more faith.” Generally Jesus is patient; but here even he seems frustrated: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move a tree.” (As if that would be a good thing to do with faith, even if you had it.) (Debbie Blue, “Miniscule Faith,” at http://www.thehardestquestion.org)

      In light of this, it makes us face the question, “When we seek faith, what is it we seek?”

      Do we seek faith as a commodity, bought and sold, dished out in measured amounts?  Preacher Charles Swindoll, in his book, Improving Your Serve, once caricatured faith in such terms:

      “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.” (Wilbur Rees, in Charles Swindoll’s Improving Your Serve)

      Do we seek faith as knowledge? One of the greatest mistakes in the history of Christianity has been the equation of faith and knowledge. Because we do not have a verb form of faith in English (we don’t say he or she “faithed”), we used the word “believe” which more often than not comes to mean “believe that” rather than “trust in”, which is what we’re really talking about, when we talk about faith. To know is not to believe, and to know more, is not to believe more.

      Do we seek faith as certainty, which we can then wield as superiority over others, as if faith is an accomplishment we have achieved, rather than a gift we have been given? St. Thomas Aquinas once said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” That’s why faith is called “grace;” give thanks to God if you have it, if it comes naturally to you; but don’t hold it against those who don’t have it, those who want to believe, but for whom faith is always a struggle.  Pray for them, instead.

      Do we seek faith as a mystical experience, which works like a drug to help us get through life’s challenges? Karl Marx would then be right, religion would be the opium of the people.  Remember that after every high, there is always a low.  We must always come down from the mountaintop, when there is a mountaintop, to go back in the valley.

      Do we seek faith as an antidote to struggle? The televangelists tell us that if we only have enough faith, we can conquer doubt, low self-esteem, negative thinking, illness, economic hardship, and possibly even bunions.  (OK, I added that last one.)  In reality, as Jesus said, “There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith,” there is only faith, refined in struggle and suffering.

      What Jesus seems to be saying is this: what’s important is not how little or how much faith you have, as measured in quantitative terms.  What’s important is whether we have faith at all. And more importantly, WHO we have faith in.

      For Christians, faith is always related to God and God’s actions in Jesus. It is not what we do or do not do, but who God is and what God has done, revealing God as worthy of faith and trust. It is therefore possible to have a tiny faith – the size of a mustard seed – and yet do great things, because of faith in our great and powerful God, who in Jesus the Christ conquered sin, evil, and death, by the power of forgiveness, love, and life.

      What we need then, is neither more faith nor spectacular spirituality. What we need is, mustard seed faith and everyday discipleship.

We say, if I only had more faith, “Maybe I could reduce my drinking; maybe I could forgive so-and-so; maybe I could be more compassionate, more generous, more faithful, a better person.  But I don’t have enough faith to be that kind of person.”

Jesus interrupts and says: “Sure you do.”

      It’s like this. I began with one movie, let me end with another. In the third of the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy teams with his father, Henry, to search for the Holy Grail. Finally arriving at the place where the Grail is rumored to be, Henry’s diary states that he who finds the Grail must face three challenges: “First, is the path of God: Only the penitent man shall pass. Second, is the word of God: Only in the footsteps of God, shall he proceed. Last is the breath of God: Only in a leap from the lion’s head, shall he prove his worth.”

Having barely survived the first two, Indy squeezes through a small opening just big enough for his shoulders to fit through, to see a chasm 100 feet across with a 100 foot drop to the rocks below, and nothing on the other side but a stony cliff wall.

He can see nowhere to cross. He looks again to the Grail Diary.  “The path of God. Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.”

He looks around and then notices inscribed into the rock above his head is the head of a lion. “Impossible! Nobody can jump this!”

Once again he looks down into the Diary and agonizes over what it is asking him to do.  “O God,” he realizes, “It’s a leap of faith.” 

He hears the voice of his father, Henry, calling: “You must believe, boy.  You must . . . believe.”

He leaps into space . . . he is in midair . . . he is not going to make it . . . his hands claw for the opposite wall but he is going to fall 100 feet to his death. And then – he doesn’t! He appears to be held up by thin air as he lands on his hands and knees.

Indy looks around and figures it out. Ingeniously, the First Crusaders painted a pathway to align with the rocks below.  It is a forced perspective image of the rocks below with lines from a hundred feet continuing six feet below his sight line, where his feet are stepping. Highly evolved camouflage in perfect alignment with everything below. Indy throws some dirt on the bridge and crosses it like the first Crusader.

      In the end, Indy accomplishes his quest: not because he believed the impossible, but because he trusted the word of his Father.

      Faith – mustard seed faith – is like that.  We don’t need more faith.  We just need to trust the word of our Father.

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