Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, October 2, 2022

YEAR C 2019 pentecost 17

Pentecost 17, 2022
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!”

The gospel section we just heard begins at verse 5, with that plea from the apostles.  Increase our faith.  In the 4 verses before this, Jesus warns them not to be a stumbling block to anyone else.  He says, it would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck and be thrown into the sea, rather than to cause a little-faith one to stumble.

Then Jesus tells them that if someone sins against them seven times a day and each time asks for forgiveness, they must forgive them.  Seven times a day.  Every day.  49 times a week.  17,885 times a year, the same person sins against you, asks for forgiveness, and you are required to forgive them.  Plus, if you’re lucky, someone stands nearby with a millstone and a rope looking into the sea, since that would be better than whatever else is in store for you.  And then we come to verse 5 . . . where the disciples say, “Increase our faith!”

Of COURSE the disciples beg him to increase their faith!  With an exclamation point and everything!  Jesus has just laid out an impossible collection of things they must do.  You can just imagine them looking around saying, “Um, we’re going to need a bigger faith!”  More faith.  God gives them faith, and faith allows them to accomplish great things, so therefore, they need more faith.  If a little bit of faith got them this far, then it stands to reason that a lot of faith might keep away the millstone.  So, sure, the disciples are understandably a little greedy for more faith, after hearing all that.

But Jesus’ response to them is really weird, isn’t it?  I mean, they ask for more faith, and he makes it sound like the smallest amount of faith could move mountains, or at least really big trees.  It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “What do you mean MORE faith?  You haven’t got ANY faith, silly!”  I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a mustard seed (they make mustard out of them), but they’re really, really small.  Like a grain of sand maybe.  Jesus is using the smallest thing that his disciples could imagine, and saying, “If you ONLY could have this much faith.”  The message seems loud and clear: the disciples do not have any faith at all.

And this is where we all say, “What?”  They’ve left everything to follow him.  Isn’t that faith?  They’ve risked their reputations, their families, their jobs . . . if that’s not faith . . . well, what is?  

And that’s the real question for us today: What is faith?  Because whatever faith is, it seems like when the disciples ask for more of it, Jesus is saying they don’t even have it yet.  So, let’s start with trying to see what faith is . . .

First of all, faith is a gift.  We don’t acquire faith, or earn faith, or practice faith.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is not something you earn or possess, and it comes to you as God gives it to you.  A lack of faith is a gift not yet given.  Faith is not a supernatural power that you store up and then request more of in dire situations.  When the disciples say, “Lord, increase our faith!” it’s kind of like saying, “Lord, increase our Jedi powers!”  Or, “Lord, make us invincible to kryptonite!”

Secondly, faith, at its most basic, is trust in God.  As Paul says, faith is the hope in things unseen.  Faith is trusting that God will empower you to do what you have to do, to endure what you face in life, to live out your own unique calling in the world during your own brief life-span.  Faith is trusting in God to make you able to do the things you could not otherwise do.  And, in a full circle kind of way, faith is trusting that faith itself is a gift.  Which means you do not have to panic about not having enough faith.  God will provide the faith you need, when you need it, to do the things God wants you to do.

And that leads us to the second part of today’s gospel reading—the really strange part.  But let me say this:  just like last week, it is doubtful that these two sections actually go together.  Jesus says a thing, and Jesus says another thing, and the writer Luke decides to put them one after the other in his gospel.  In fact, in most bibles you will see this whole reading under the title, “Some Teachings of Jesus.”  So, the point is, don’t assume it’s one long speech he’s giving.  It’s more like, “Famous Things Jesus Said at Some Point.”  

Anyway, in this Famous Thing Jesus Said at Some Point, he starts by talking about how we treat our servants.  (I know the word used is “slave,” but servant and slave are the same word in Greek, and I don’t want us to get hung up on a completely different issue.)  

The important question to ask here is, who is Jesus talking to?  His disciples, right?  These are working-class people.  These are fishermen, and tax collectors, and work-a-day Joes.  And Jesus says, “You know how it is when your servants come in from the field, right?”  And you can just imagine all the disciples nodding their heads saying, “Oh yeah, Jesus, when my servants come in from the field, that’s exactly what I do.”  In case it’s not obvious, the disciples have no idea what it is like to have servants!  They do not know what Jesus is talking about.  They can imagine it, sure, but the disciples are not the kind of people who have servants.

And it should come as no surprise to you that Jesus knows his disciples do not have servants.  They’ve never had servants, and they never will have servants.  This is like saying to them, “You know how it is when you’re buying a block of real estate in downtown Canton to put up your skyscraper, right?”  Jesus knows they don’t know what he’s talking about.  So why is he using this example?  I think the answer comes in the second part.  The harsh part.  The part that makes us really uncomfortable.

Jesus says to the disciples, “When you have done all you were ordered to do, say ‘We are worthless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done’.”  Yikes!  But first off, let me help us with that word, “worthless.”  The word in Greek means something more like, “people who are not owed anything.”  Or, maybe, people who have no claim to something.  You know, people who need to rely on the kindness of strangers.  The disciples and we are not worthless in God’s eyes.  Far from it!  But we are people to whom nothing is owed.  And that’s an important balance to keep in mind.

By contrast, our society will tell you that you are what you accomplish.  That your worth is measured in what you achieve in life.  And the obvious implication of that thinking is that people who do more are somehow worth more.  People who succeed in life are somehow more worthy than those who struggle to get by.  And it’s a short drive down that road until we are saying that some people are less important than others, or that some people are not worthy of our time, or effort, or love.

Contrary to what you will hear every day, life is not about what you can accomplish.  Your value lies in being beloved of God.  Whether you are a servant at the table, or the king of Canton, your value is in God’s love for you.  And God loves you because of who you are, not what you do.  You are a redeemed child of God.  That is your identity.  That is your calling.  That is why God loves you.  You are precious in God’s sight.

And I like to think that we can see this in our pets.  I love my cat because she is my cat, not because of what she does . . . believe me!  Cats do not earn our love.  (I mean, come on, what cat ever did?)  But every night and every morning Pippin the Cat gets fed.  Whether she deserves it or not; all she has to do is show up and she will be fed.  No matter what she does.  Kind of like you and me.

We don’t come to this altar because of our accomplishments.  We don’t come to this altar because we deserve to come.  We come to this altar because we are invited.  And we keep coming back, as though we hear the distant sound of a can of food being opened.  We probably can’t even explain why we come back to this place time after time.  But what we know for sure is that each time we return, God faithfully feeds us with the bread of heaven, gives us the peace of God, and supplies just enough faith to endure.  And we leave here in the knowledge that we are all beloved children of God, with a hope and a future, rooted in Jesus, our strength and our redeemer.


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