Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 6, 2013

2013.10.06 “Want Faith? You Got It!” – Luke 17: 5 – 6

Central United Methodist Church

Want Faith? You Got It!

Pastor David L. Haley

October 6, 2013

Luke 17: 5 – 6

 

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)

 

I am so glad you have come here to church on this beautiful fall morning.  I assume you have all read the Gospel for today, and have come here seeking more faith, just as Jesus’ disciples sought it in today’s Gospel.

It is indeed a good day for you to come here for that reason, because, in consideration of the Gospel, we have decided to run a special today on faith.  Ordinarily, it costs you a Biblical tithe – 10% of your net income – but today we are running a special, only 10% of what you made THIS WEEK.  For those without jobs, it is an especially good deal, because 10% of nothing means that faith today for you is free. In accordance with this special we have also posted some great deals on faith on Groupon, $30 of faith for only $15, good for a limited time only. How can you beat that?

But before you can access these specials, we’d like to do a few diagnostics and get some accurate measurements.  In just a few minutes the ushers will be proceeding up the aisle to draw blood from each of you, so we can determine just which ones of you are suffering from low faith. In addition to glucose, iron, sodium, and potassium, it is important to watch those levels of faith. If they are low, perhaps that is why some of you have been suffering in your prayer life and giving.

Once that has been determined, we’re going to set up three “faith” stations here in front, for you to easily obtain the amount of faith you need. In addition to being able to pay by cash, check, and credit card, one station will be “faith-without-works,” one will be “faith-with-works,” and another will be premium faith, without any additives like hope or love thrown in. While you’re up here, some of you might want to check the prayer in your tires as well.

I thought of such an introduction when I remembered a quote from Pastor Charles Swindoll’s 1981 book, Improving Your Serve, in which he 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)

Don’t we wish that faith was such a tangible, measurable, refillable quality? That when we are low in faith, it could be so easily renewed?  After all, isn’t a search for more faith why we come to church?  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? Or do we come to church to learn to use the faith we already have, the faith that brings us here in the first place?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples had such a request of him: “more faith, please,” like you would ask for more mashed potatoes at the dinner table.  It’s not really clear from the text if Luke meant this to be taken chronologically, meaning that what immediately proceeded prompted their request, or whether Luke is just reporting what happened “one day,” when the disciples held a union meeting and decided “more faith” was what they needed, to turn things around, to do the things Jesus was asking of them, not to mention to do the things he was doing.

If it’s the first, that it was prompted by what happened, well, just look back a few chapters. They had observed Jesus healing and teaching, not only about prayer but about the dangers of wealth and possessions, they had heard the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Rich Man and Lazarus, and just before Jesus had warned them about being a stumbling block to anyone, about how it would be better to have a millstone hung around their neck and thrown in the sea (here in Chicago we call it concrete overshoes); and then, of all things, what he said about forgiveness. Don’t YOU dare offend anybody, but if somebody offends you, you must forgive them 7 X 7, 24/7, or in other words, as many times as is necessary. If you are still working on forgiving someone who has wronged you, you will understand how it might have that which finally brought them to their knees, such that they came to Jesus and said, “We need more faith.”

As I said it my email “teaser” for today, it reminds me of one of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 movie, “Jaws.” Remember what Police Chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) says when he first meets Jaws, face to face: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”  Except here, it’s “Jesus, in order to do what you’re asking of us, we are going to need a bigger boat – more faith.”

Actually, we understand. In a pre-scientific day, or even when we first began to read the Bible, we might have wished that we could walk on water or miraculously heal the sick or summon the dead to life like Jesus did, if only we had more faith. Even now, sometimes we still wish we could do that, at least the “healing the sick and raising the dead” part. (I tried that walking on water thing this summer on the Sea of Galilee, and it still doesn’t work.) Give us more faith!

Others of us may feel that somehow our faith must be defective, or that we obviously need more, because even the simple things are not working. We’re suffering from depression, or a relationship important to us is failing; maybe our business has downsized and we have been laid off; maybe we have found a lump in a breast, determined to be malignant.  Through all this we have prayed, oh how we have prayed. But it doesn’t seem to be working.  Now what?  Give us more faith!

Others may feel we don’t need an extraordinary, heroic, “save the world” faith, we need just enough faith to get through every day: to be a good parent, a good spouse, to do our work well and accomplish something of worth, to live well, to care for those in need and contribute to the common good.  Give us more faith!

And still others of us might hope for a heroic faith, that we might dream great dreams and accomplish great things.  Look at what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who worked and walked in the Civil Rights movement did; look at what Desmond Tutu confronting apartheid in South Africa did; look at what the crowds of people in Leipzig and Dresden and East Berlin Germany did, streaming out of churches singing hymns and holding candles in defiance of the Communist government, and soon walls began to fall.  Give us more faith! (John Buchanan, Feasting on the Word: Year C. Volume 4, p. 143)

So what does Jesus say in response to their (and to our request for more faith?

“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.”

As if, if I learned how to use my faith, that’s the first thing I would do, start rearranging the landscape, whether mulberry trees or mountains. What Jesus is saying seems to be this:  “Even a small faith cancels out words such as impossible (a tree being uprooted) and absurd (planting a tree in the sea).  What Jesus seems to be saying is, faith is not a quantity, it is an attitude. Therefore we don’t need more faith; we need to learn to use the faith we have.

Part of the problem is, so often we think of faith as belief, especially in intellectual propositions, something that happens in our head. But, in reality, what faith really is, is trust – something that happens in our heart – trust in a person, the God revealed in Jesus the Christ. Just as trust grows in relationship, so faith is like a muscle, which grows with use.

But faith is not only a muscle, it’s an adventure, the opposite of certainty. Faith is putting one foot in front of the other and walking toward a future we don’t yet see, but trust that God is fashioning. Faith is heading out the door each day, looking for ways to be God’s co-worker in the world. Faith is seeing that the challenges put in front of us – whether solving a problem at work or forgiving someone who wronged us – are actually opportunities that invite us to grow, as people, as Jesus’ disciples, and become the people God desires us to be. (David Lose, Everyday Faith, Dear Working Preacher, 9/30/2013))

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

And Jesus interrupts and says: “Sure you do. You have all the faith you need; just use it the faith you have.”

I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. I could have saved a lot of money going to school, I could have learned a lot more from relationships and less from books, I could have spent a lot less time trying to believe things impossible to believe. Rather, I could have done what I am now learning to do, which is to relax, knowing that it doesn’t all depend upon me, that ultimately life is not in my hands, it’s in God’s hands. We did not create the world, we did not bring ourselves here, and we certainly have little control over how and when we shall leave it. But, because of what we have learned about God in Christ, we trust in God.

One of the great things about this time of year is to look up and see formations of flying geese. Thankful, because, first, they’re not landing in our yard; and secondly, because they are carrying out the plan for which God created them, which they know, not by thinking about it or taking classes or reading books about it.  It’s implanted in them by God, like faith in us.

Now, when I see them, I think of one of my favorite poems, by Kentucky poet and farmer, Wendell Berry, entitled, The Wild Geese:

Horseback on Sunday morning,

harvest over, we taste persimmon

and wild grape, sharp sweet

of summer’s end.  In time’s maze

over the fall fields, we name names

that went west from here, names

that rest on graves.  We open

a persimmon seed to find the tree

that stands in promise,

pale, in the seed’s marrow.

Geese appear high over us,

pass, and the sky closes.  Abandon,

as in love or sleep, holds

them to their way, clear,

in the ancient faith: what we need

is here.  And we pray, not

for new earth or heaven, but to be

quiet in heart, and in eye

clear.  What we need is here.

– Wendell Berry (Collected Poems 1957-1982)

You want faith? You got it; just use it. What we need is here.

 

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