Rooted in Faith

October 6, 2013

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

Proper 22 – Year C RCL

Lamentations 1:1-6, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10

When I began thinking about how to make today’s gospel lesson come to life in a tangible way, I thought I might have each person take a mustard seed as they entered the sanctuary this morning. Perhaps I’d put a bowl full of mustard seeds in the narthex so that each person could pick one up on the way in… or maybe the ushers would hand one little bitty mustard seed to each person, along with the service leaflet. Each little mustard seed taken would represent our Faith.

But the more I thought about it, the more I could hear the voices and thoughts of each of you as we reached this moment in the service. When I asked you to pull out your mustard seed and hold it in your hand… to show me your Faith… I kept hearing:

  • “I think it’s at the bottom of my purse… oh, there’s no way I can find it under all this”… or,
  • “I didn’t realize that was something we needed to hold on to”…
  • A few of you may have it neatly wrapped up in a handkerchief… and would prefer just to keep it tucked away for safe keeping…
  • While others would be turning to the person next to you, asking, “Have you seen mine? I could swear it was here a minute ago.”

Tricky thing that little mustard seed… and even more tricky, that thing we call Faith.

It’s not uncommon to see Faith used as the counter-point to Doubt. When we do this, it can make Faith seem like a synonym for belief, so Faith represents a lack of doubt. Consequently, our level of Faith is seen as an indication of sureness.

When we see Faith in this way, it can cause a struggle when we hit those times in our lives where we are asking questions and struggling to understand God in the midst of complex circumstances. Where is God in the death of a loved one? Where is God in the midst of one’s addiction? Where is God in acts of terrorism… in natural disasters… or in poverty and social injustice?

These are valid questions and we, as human beings, are gifted with the capacity to grapple with them. But by wrestling with these questions, some will suggest that we are demonstrating Doubt or a lack of Faith.

I am not one of those people.

You see, I challenge the premise that the opposite of Faith is Doubt. Instead, I understand the opposite of Faith as being Unfaithful. Faith is about putting trust in something even when we aren’t 100% sure, or when times get tough.

Faith is about persevering in the midst of our unsureness.

In today’s gospel, when the apostles say to the Lord “Increase our Faith!” it’s a request for capacity to adhere to the behavior God is calling them to. The passage just before this cry for an increase in faith is this:

Be on guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.

You MUST forgive. This is not a mere suggestion… this is a command. If this person sins against you and repents seven times a day… seven times seventy in other gospels… you MUST forgive them.

No wonder the apostles have asked for an increase in Faith… they need to gain the capacity to do that work. To forgive over and over again is difficult.

Yet, think of the shepherd that we heard about a few weeks ago. When one of the hundred sheep goes wandering off and is lost, the shepherd doesn’t say “How many times has this sheep continued to get lost, this time will I go and find it, or should I stop caring for it?”

There isn’t a dialogue about the situation… the response of the shepherd is automatic. The shepherd goes and looks until the lost sheep is found. And when the sheep is carried back into the fold, there is rejoicing within the community!

The need for this reassuring image of the shepherd’s pursuit of the lost sheep becomes clearer when it is seen in the context of the other stories in Luke’s gospel. There have been several difficult parables that Jesus has given us… some difficult bites to chew on, such as…

  • Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
  • None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.
  • No slave can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and wealth.
  • And last week, we were faced with the struggle of encountering Lazarus… and we must face the very real presence of our neglect of those marginalized people in our midst.

Jesus’ message in Luke’s gospel is difficult because it is showing a new reality… 
Wealth is no longer to be understood as an indication of God’s blessing, nor poverty as God’s judgment – the reality of the day has been rearranged. It is now the one with the least that is raised up. It is the sinners and outcasts who are invited to dine with Jesus; the last shall be first; the master is the servant.

The reason for this change isn’t just to shake things up… it is, as Bishop Wright might say, Jesus’ way of drawing the circle wider.

The message of Jesus and the faithfulness of God are not reserved for the Jewish people. God is faithful to all people, everywhere. When we fall away from God, when we wander off, or sin… (the Greek word for sin, by the way, means, to miss the mark)… So, when we miss the mark again and again… perhaps even seven times a day, if we repent, God is faithful to us, and forgives us. God keeps looking for us until we are found and back in the fold.

And so, we ask God to give us the capacity to face this new reality… Increase our Faith!
Empower us to do these hard things, even when we are unsure…even when we are still learning… to do what we MUST.

In this past week’s Clergy Conference, Bishop Wright reminded us that the word disciple means LEARNER… and as learners, responding in a faithful way is how we demonstrate our commitment to God. It is how we respond to God’s repeated demonstration of commitment and faithfulness to us!

And with Faith the size of a mustard seed, “you could say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

It doesn’t say that the mulberry tree is cast into the sea… it says it is PLANTED in the sea. Now some of you may already know a thing or two about the mulberry tree, but I didn’t, so I once again give thanks for Google Search!

The mulberry tree has a broad branch-system that extends out as far as thirty feet, but the root system is shallow… only a couple of feet deep. The roots are very near the surface and extend out as far as the branches above, and the roots are always seeking water sources. With this in mind, I could imagine that the arid climate in which Jesus lived would create a constant challenge for survival by the mulberry tree.

The image of this tree that struggles to get enough water to live, being uprooted and PLANTED in the sea, is actually refreshing. The idea of the tree obeying becomes almost automatic… why would it not want to be planted in the sea… no more worries for survival.

It would be great if today’s lesson stopped here, seeing that even the tiniest bit of faith is all God is asking of us… but Jesus keeps talking… Here comes another “difficult bite”.

In the next part of the gospel lesson, Jesus asks if any of them would invite their slave to sit down and eat dinner with them after the slave comes in from a hard day’s work. Not likely. Instead, they would have him put on an apron and continue doing what he is supposed to do, which is to serve dinner. Then he can eat later. Jesus points out that they wouldn’t even THANK the slave… after all, he’s only doing what is commanded.

So, when we forgive our neighbor seven times a day, we are only doing what is required… what we MUST do. When we leave our mother and father, when we have compassion for the poor and marginalized, we are only doing what is expected.

We live in a society that wants this to count as DOING MORE! We want this to be noble and special. Yet, to be Faithful to God is to obey. It is to allow ourselves to be uprooted, if that is what is called for… for me, that is exactly what was called for… and to be replanted in a new place. A life-giving place!

My roots were thirsty for water, so this was not a bad thing. Even so, there is still some navigation of a new reality… a loss of what is familiar… but when I was planted in the sea, my roots took on more water then I knew was possible. I had no idea what my capacity was… and I’m still learning what it might be… because I let myself by uprooted and replanted.

God is faithful to us… we see it throughout scripture; we affirm it in our worship; we ingest it through the Bread and Wine, tangible reminders of Jesus’ ultimate act of faithfulness, in his death and resurrection.

Our response to God’s faithfulness is that we are faithful to God by doing what God commands: Love God and Love your neighbor.

Faith the size of a tiny mustard seed provides the capacity… No doubt about it!

2 Responses to “Rooted in Faith”

  1. Thanks honey–your roots go deep–I love you, Mom

  2. cynthiaerwin said

    Wow! Thank you for speaking directly to me today. Very powerful and helpful! You are amazing, Love you!!

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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