Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sermon: If You Want More Faith, Be Faithful ~ Luke 17:5-10

Preached at Light of Christ Anglican Fellowship in Kenosha, WI and St. Mary's Chapel at Nashotah House on October 7th, 2007...

If you want more faith, be faithful. “Lord, increase our faith.” This is the request the apostles make of Jesus in our Gospel today. I’m sure we’ve all prayed a prayer similar to this: “Lord increase my faith”. But notice that Jesus responds to this request with strong words. He says, “If you had even a mustard seed of faith you could say to this mulberry tree ‘be uprooted’ and it would obey you.” And he then gives the example of the dutiful servant. So they make a request which elicits strong words from Jesus. But why did they ask this and why does Jesus respond so strongly?

Immediately before they make their request Jesus gives them a challenge for radical discipleship. He tells them if their brother sins against them to forgive him up to seven times. Now, the Rabbis of their day were telling them if you forgive your brother three times you were doing really well. But Jesus doubles it and adds one. He demands radical forgiveness and His disciples respond by asking "Lord, increase our faith”. Essentially, "That’s too hard for us, we can’t do it so you’re doing to have to make it happen." Their request is an acknowledgment of their resignation. It reminds me of a scene in the Star Wars movie the Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker is on the planet Dagobah being trained to become a Jedi by Yoda the Jedi Master. At one point Yoda tells Luke to use the force to lift his X-wing fighter out of the swamp. Luke kind of sighs and says, “I’ll try” and Yoda sternly responds by saying, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The Message, a paraphrase of the Bible, translates it this way "You don't need more faith. There is no 'more' or 'less' in faith.” Of course I’m not comparing Jesus to Yoda but I couldn’t help but noticing the similarity here. Luke Skywalker and the Apostles are issued a challenge, they respond with resignation and then are fittingly rebuked for it and told “Do. Or do not”, “there is no more or less in faith”, "If you had even a kernel of faith you could do incredible things." It’s a harsh reply from Jesus, he’s essentially saying you either have faith or you don’t, so have it! If you want more faith, be faithful.

And I believe the reason Jesus responds so strongly is because understanding this is crucial to being a disciple. Faith is the foundation. He’s sending them the message, “Pay attention! You have got to get this one right because it is the basis for everything else you’re going to do”. He is using a strong example to explain to them that faith is so important, so foundational because it is a source of incredible power for us. This is an example He uses often in the Gospels, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can move a mountain, tell a mountain to go into the sea, tell a tree to go into the sea”. What Jesus is saying is that if you have even a kernel of faith you can do incredible things for God. "Pay attention to this guys because it’s the foundation of your life in God and a source of great Kingdom power."
He then gives, what to us as modern people, might seem to be an unusual example. A servant comes in from working hard in the fields and tending sheep and instead of sitting down to eat he changes clothes, serves his master until he’s done, and then he eats. He doesn’t get any praise for going above and beyond because he’s simply done his job. Jesus is using this example because it's something His disciples would’ve understood. Sort of a, “Of course a servant doesn’t sit down and eat until his master’s done. We get it.” And Jesus ends it by saying, “So you too, when you’ve done all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” We don’t get special accolades for being faithful. Doing all that Jesus commands isn’t going above and beyond. Being faithful is our duty. It’s what’s expected of us as Christians. And if we want more faith, we need to be faithful.
Someone whom I think embodies this example of the faithful servant is St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis was the wealthy and popular son of a merchant when he had a powerful conversion to Jesus. He had an incredible desire to be faithful to the Lord and spent his days in prayer, in serving lepers, preaching and living a life pleasing to God. And...He took Jesus at His word. As people started to follow him he decided they would need a Rule of Life. To compose it he asked a priest to open the Gospel three times and whatever passages it opened to would be their Rule. Upon doing so he received the following: “If you will be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor", "Take nothing for your journey" and "If anyone wishes to come after me, let them deny themselves, take up the cross and follow me." So what did he do? Exactly what these Scriptures said he should! He did “all the things that were commanded of him”. He craved more faith. And he knew exactly how to obtain it. By being faithful. If you want more faith, be faithful. What was the result? Within his lifetime those who wished to follow his way of faithfulness numbered in the thousands and St. Francis sparked a movement that would help the medieval Church, which had “forsaken its first love” (see Rev 2:17), return to its Gospel center.

And I believe this is one example of the power of faith Jesus was talking about when He said “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’ and it would obey you”. If you have even a kernel of faith, you can do the most incredible things for the Kingdom of God. As I think about Light of Christ Anglican Fellowship and Nashotah House’s place in the Kingdom of God right now I’m excited to see evidence of the power of our faith at work. It reinforces for me the importance of these works being utterly founded on our faithfulness. Who knows where these wonderful things begun now can go if they remain grounded upon faith?

But I think it important to take a moment to talk a little about what exactly faith is. It’s a word that is so commonly used in our culture that I think it can easily be taken for granted. As I studied what faith means I found that it has elements of belief, trust and hope. So one aspect of faith is belief, do we believe that God is who He says He is and that His Word is true? And is there evidence that we believe Him by the way we live our lives? Another aspect of faith is trust, the kind of trust that empowers someone on the windowsill of a towering inferno to jump to the fireman with outstretched arms who says “I’ll catch you!” And finally hope, that forward-looking virtue which is expectant of the Kingdom of God to appear in our lives. This is what we should desire more of; belief, trust and hope. The virtues that when weaved together become faith. If you want more faith, be faithful.

As we prepare to receive from the Lord in the Eucharist I encourage each of us to take a moment in quietness and ask the Lord to reveal any areas where we need to yield to Him in faith: in our belief, our trust, our hope. May each of us respond in the way of St. Francis, in the way of the dutiful servant and may we do all the things which Jesus commands us saying, “We have only done that which we ought to have done”. May we obtain the power that lies in faith, by being faithful.
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