The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
I’d certainly welcome conversation with someone who wants to increase their faith. That implies the person has some amount of faith already. They just want more. A crisis or threat starts us thinking about our faith, our satisfaction level, or at least the possibility we need to give more effort and time to know and understand the ways of God. Worship, reading the Bible, praying, fellowship with other Christians, serving others, will probably help us grow in faith, if someone is interested.
Jesus has just taken the disciples deeper into the technical, specific stuff of God’s reign. Followers in the new kingdom will be good examples for others. They will know God’s ways by watching those under God’s reign. Kingdom citizens will care for others, care that they grow in faith, and won’t cause someone to stumble. Woe if you do. And true followers forgive, as many times as needed – without keeping a balance sheet. The disciples who have been watching Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, forgive sinners, eat with the unclean, and speak truth to the powers. He has something they need more of. “Jesus, increase our faith.”
Jesus’ response is a bit disappointing. You’d think he’d give them a compliment for asking, or give a few faith tips, or breathe some of his faith into them. Jesus won’t increase our faith, but sends us inside ourselves. Jesus says the tiniest speck within is faith enough to uproot a huge tree and replant it in the sea. You already have it. Use it. If we think we are lacking, we probably can’t see the faith we’ve been given.
You may think your faith is large enough. Great – but remember your place in God’s reign. We are servants/slaves. And when we do what’s expected, don’t look for a bonus, a gold watch when you retire, or a pat on the back for doing our job. We are loyal, obedient servants of God to care for others, forgive, serve even when we’re tired, worn out, or annoyed, and we learn to trust God is with us in the darkest hour, even when we can’t see the way and prayers go unanswered. That’ll take faith. But as small as our faith feels, it’s enough.
So to live faithfully we must believe faith is already there and work with that. No one else can enlarge our faith. We turn toward God and away from ourselves. Maybe we hear a still small voice calling us. We have a mysterious yearning for the holy. We realize there are some things that are from God’s Spirit and wisdom, not ours or the world’s. That voice or yearning is the mustard seed from which faith springs. Then from that inward place, God gives us strength to be faithful. We don’t do this alone. Faith has been there all along, waiting for us to invite the divine Spirit.
So, somehow we must risk – dare believe such faith is ours – take a big leap, trusting God is really there. By living as if God is there, we’ll find God is there. We find we can trace God’s presence in all of life – good times and bad. We struggle, stumble sometimes and doubt. We ask questions and get frustrated. That’s part of the journey. Yet when we believe that speck of faith is there, that’s all we need. Tiny faith is enough to uproot our destructive patterns, set us free from doing harm to ourselves and others. We’ll have strength and passion to care for, forgive, love and welcome others. We’ll align our wills with God’s, and work the fields and serve God’s table joyfully. We’ll have enough faith to hold on when life gets rough, the bottom falls out, and when the diagnosis is terminal – faith helps us accept that we really aren’t in charge or in control. It’s one thing to think abstractly that we are not in control, have limits, that we are mortal, and our lives are fragile. Faith will be different, up close and personal when that moment we’ve abstractly imagined becomes very real. Some find larger faith is possible – to do what seemed impossible. Others will give up and walk away.
Just remember the resource of faith. Our faith is in the One who came to walk beside us in this new kingdom. He’s the Son, embodying the life and intentions of the Father, becoming a servant to show us the kingdom begins at the bottom, with the lowest and left out. He is the Father’s child who suffers and dies to show us how much we are loved, and lead us home. He comes to worthless servants like us and makes us worthwhile, cleaned and refreshed for God.
As days passed she became weaker. She slept more, talked less. We knew and she knew her life soon would be over. I stopped by one day, and sat down with her, “So how is it with you today?”
She replied, “I guess as good as it could be for someone who’s dying, but aren’t we all – laugh, laugh?”
“What do you fear most right now?” I asked.
“I don’t want to be in pain, or be a burden. Dying doesn’t bother me so much.”
“Well what about death itself?” I asked.
“If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to stay. Most of the time, I’m okay. Honestly sometimes I am scared. I don’t know what’s really on the other side.”
Then I questioned her, “How do you handle times when you are scared?”
She paused, and said, “I breathe deeply and relax. Then I imagine God is holding me in his arms, like I am a child in need. I imagine God’s face, eyes – smiling at me, bathing me in unconditional love and joy. A peace I can’t describe fills me – and I know it’s going to be okay.”
“You know it’s okay?”
“Yeah, what will happen, I can’t control. But God will – and it’s going to be okay.”
“So what would you want others to remember about you?”
Again she paused, “I want others to see I have maintained faith to the end, even when I wanted to give up. I’m not going willingly or quietly, yet I hope others won’t think it’s because I fear. I want them to know I love life. I trust God to make my way safe and good. I want to live all my days worthy God’s love for me.”
“That must take a lot of faith” I said.
And she replied, “You never know what faith you have until the time arrives and you call it up.”