Sunday, October 6, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Luke 17:5-10, Hab. 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Tim. 1: 1-14
“Increase our faith!” This request or plea from the apostles centuries ago is still the same request today. When faced with great challenges and struggles, it seems like an appropriate request. Increase our faith! We need more of it in order to overcome what seems to be impossible. This question is really a stewardship question. We’ve spent the last month reflecting on how we are good stewards of the time, talents, and resources including financial ones that God has entrusted to us. This year we as a congregation are reflecting on how we are good stewards of creation during our Faith Formation hour. How is asking for an increase in faith a stewardship question? It all comes down to the mentally of scarcity vs. abundance. This is what Jesus is once again talking about in our gospel lesson today, and what the writers in our other readings are addressing.
The prophet Habakkuk struggled with the same questions we do. Why does God allow bad things to happen? When is God going to do something about these things? Yet instead of complaining to anyone who would listen, he took his concerns to God, and like the apostles in our gospel reading, compelled God to give him an answer. Habakkuk knew that God is a God of abundance, so then where was that abundance for those who suffer? The inequity between God’s vision of a beloved community and reality were great and continue even today. Habakkuk was afflicted with the same thing that the apostles and us today are afflicted with – a mindset of scarcity vs. abundance. Habakkuk believed in the generosity and faithfulness of God or else he would not have poured out his heart to God. Habakkuk prayed and committed to keeping watch to see what God would say. Yet Habakkuk expected God to solve the problems with additional resources. More was needed.
God’s answer however, was that God’s vision was still very much alive, and that it was being implemented even though Habakkuk couldn’t see it. It’s hard to see the vision when we are focused on darkness of the problems. God’s faithfulness and ongoing creative energy continues despite our human trapping to see lack where there is enough. The temptation is to think that faith is something we can understand, but faith is not an intellectual pursuit, but a spiritual practice. We profess our faith as an expression of our faith, but faith is demonstrated with our actions. Faith is action. Faith is active. Faith is moving forward even when we don’t see the evidence. At the end of the last chapter in Habakkuk, we see that the prophet understands this when he says, “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”
Through practicing faith through prayer, Habakkuk experienced a stirring of his faith to trust in the abundant mercy and generosity of God to work in the world. And as a result, Habakkuk put his faith in action by keeping God’s vision focused in his mind, and doing his part in whatever role God had for him. The answer was not more faith, but more trust not in our faith, but the faithfulness of God. And God gives that in generous supply to all who seek.
God spoke again through Jesus, when the apostles asked for more faith, and Jesus responded “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.” Jesus was telling them, and us today, that we don’t need more faith. Even the smallest amount of faith – the size of a tiny mustard seed – is more than enough to do things that seem impossible. Jesus’ message for us is to break free from the mentality of scarcity, and trust in the abundance of our generous and loving God. When we do that, the impossible is not impossible.
The second half of our gospel lesson touches on slavery, which is a hard topic to discuss today. At the time this gospel was written between 30 – 50% of the people under the Roman government occupation were slaves. And it had been become an accepted form of reality. Human sinfulness has caused this acceptance of many kinds of evil to continue. The pain and suffering in our country from the slavery of African Americans continues. And many people today in our country and around the world continue to suffer from slavery of many kinds. Human trafficking is rampant in every city in our country, and most people have accepted that this is the way life is.
But Jesus offers us another reality. He says that faith – even a small amount – can do impossible things. Practicing our faith – not merely professing it – produces change. Practicing faith allows us to do the things we are called to do trusting in the abundant grace of God to work through us. That is why the writer of the letter to Timothy said, to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you.” He said “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”
When we practice our faith through actions of Christ’s love and service, we “Guard the good treasure entrusted to us, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
There are a lot of problems and challenges in this world we live in, but we don’t need a lot of faith to accomplish a lot. We are called to do our part trusting in the abundance of God. Later this afternoon, we’ll be doing a Blessing of the Animals on the front lawn as we commemorate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the environment and creation. I close today with a prayer from St. Francis. May it stir up in our hearts a knowing of the abundance of God’s love and grace so that we will practice our faith, a faith that can do the impossible.
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we will live deeply in our hearts. May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people and the earth, so that we will work for justice, equity, and peace. May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer, so that we will reach out our hands to comfort them and change their pain to joy. And may God bless us with the foolishness to think that we can make a difference in our world, so that we can do the things which others say cannot be done.” Amen.