Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | October 2, 2016

2016.10.02 “What We Need is Here” – Luke 17: 5 – 6

Central United Methodist Church
What We Need is Here
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 17: 5 – 6
October 2nd, 2016
geese-wallpaper

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

 

“Give us more faith!“ Whenever I hear this request Jesus’ disciples make in today’s Gospel, I think of this scene from the 1975 movie Jaws. It’s what happens when Police Chief Martin Brody (as played by the late Roy Scheider) first meets the great white shark known as Jaws. (I apologize there is one mild expletive; you only need to watch the first 35 seconds.) [Video].

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.” That’s the way Jesus’ disciples felt in today’s gospel, except a bigger boat was not what they needed (although there were a few times on the Sea of Galilee when they could have used one). What they knew for sure was that they were going to need more faith. The reason why they felt they were going to need more faith was because Jesus continually challenged his disciples – not only them but all who would be his followers, including us – with high expectations.

For example, preceding this, Jesus has asked them to take up their crosses, to give away their possessions, not to harm in any way the least of these, and – just before this – to forgive all who wrong them, not just once, but as many times as it takes. No wonder then, that they have “a bigger boat moment.” They come to Jesus to say, “We’re going to need more faith.” We might note that out of all the challenges, it was the demand of forgiving someone (repeatedly) that finally brought them to their knees. Do you appreciate that?

In light of this, what’s wrong with seeking more faith? After all, isn’t that why we are here this morning? To keep the faith we have, and – if possible – to increase our faith.

There may have been a time in our lives when we thought we had enough faith; not too little, not too much. I have always liked how Charles Swindoll, in his book, Improving Your Serve, caricatured some people’s search for faith:

“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)

But then, the day arrived when we felt our faith was inadequate not only for the demands of discipleship, but even the challenges we face in life. It was, quite likely, a “bigger boat” moment for us.

Maybe we’re struggling with health issues, and we feel that if we only had more faith – maybe someone told us– that if we only had more faith, we could be healed.

Maybe we’re worried about somebody we love, like our children, and we can’t seem to turn things around. Maybe somebody even said, “You gotta have faith!’ We thought we did have faith, but we worry it might not enough.

Maybe life is not working out like we hoped. Maybe we’re struggling with finances and jobs and working hard and just not getting ahead. Isn’t that the American dream? “Believe in (have faith in) your goals deeply enough, work hard enough and you will accomplish them.” There is even an enormously popular brand of American religion called the Prosperity Gospel. It consists of the idea that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and successful, if you only have enough faith that God will help you accomplish these goals. But so far it hasn’t worked out.

Maybe we even hope for a heroic faith, especially as we look at the world around us, a faith that makes a difference in the world that we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. After all, we look at what those who had great faith did, like Dr. King and all those who worked in the Civil Rights movement; like Desmond Tutu and all those confronting apartheid in South Africa; like what the people in Germany did, streaming out of churches singing hymns and holding candles in defiance of the Communist government, and walls fell. And yet, today there is talk of building more walls, and we often feel inadequate to the challenges before us. There seems to be more – not less – shootings, stabbings, injustice, hacking, and name-calling – and we feel like we need more faith, not only to make a difference, but sometimes just to get through the day.

And then – truth be told – there are those who have lost what faith they had. Just as we talk about the “nones,” (those who affiliate with no faith tradition), there are also the “dones”; those who once were active in a faith tradition, but are no longer. As a pastor, you’d be surprised how often this conversation comes up. When people find out I am a pastor, especially when I work with people outside the congregation for weddings and funerals, nowadays it seems like the first thing people want me to tell me is how they are either not religious, or no longer religious, that while they grew up in the church (especially the Roman Catholic Church), they no longer participate. It is true that the world we live in can be quite corrosive to faith, and many no longer feel the need to check that box.

So we’re all listening, all leaning in, to see what Jesus says, when his disciples ask for more faith.  And what does he say?

“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.”

What? If I understand it, what Jesus is saying is that there is no “more or less” in faith; you either have it or you don’t. Faith is not a dimmer switch, which you turn down to decrease and up to increase; faith is more like an “on/off” switch; you’re either sitting in the dark or sitting in the light. What Jesus seems to be saying is, faith is not a quantity, faith is a quality, an attitude of trust in God. You either have it or you don’t.

Think of it like this: Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), one of the most important thinkers in religion and philosophy, said that faith is buoyancy in God. He said faith is like floating in seventy thousand fathoms of water (he didn’t say anything about sharks). No ocean is that deep, but his point is clear: if we are fearful and struggle as we float, we sink and drown. But if we trust that the water will keep us up, and we relax, then we float.

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 impossible things. I could have done what I am now trying to learn to do, in my old age, which is to relax, knowing that it doesn’t all depend upon me. Ultimately, it 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 have little control over how and when we shall leave here. But, because of what we have learned about God through Christ, we trust in God. And we float: we do what needs to be done, we respond to the needs of those around us, we care for the people who come our way. And when the time comes, we lay back and float on the great deep, like all the generations who have one before us.

One of the great things about this time of year is to look up and see formations of flying geese. As they fly in these formations, they are carrying out the plan for which God created them; which they do, not by thinking about it or taking classes or reading books about it. It’s implanted in them by God, like faith in most of us.

When I see them, I remember 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)

So it turns out, we don’t need a bigger boat after all; the one we have is sufficient. You want faith? You got it; use the faith you have. What we need is here. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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