Sermon for October 6, 2019: More Faith (The Rev. Walter Ramsey)
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
If I only had more faith, please Lord Jesus, give me more faith.
I think most of us may have struggled with this at some time in our lives.
If I only had more faith, I could be rid of my addictions.
If I only had more faith, I would be a better person, a better parent, or a better spouse.
If I only had more faith, I would be a more active member of my church.
If I only had more faith, I would do what Jesus asks of me, to love and serve others, especially the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized.
If I only had more faith, I wouldn’t have so many questions, so many doubts.
If I only had more faith, I know God would answer my prayers.
This approach to faith is the same as expressed by the Apostles in today’s Gospel. “Increase our faith,” they asked Jesus, who in the verses preceding today’s Gospel, has just warned them not to be a stumbling block to others and charged them to forgive as often as an offender repents, even if it is seven times in one day.
This certainly would be difficult for the apostles and us and a great challenge to live that way.
So, “Increase our faith” is probably a reasonable request, in keeping with our human nature. If some is good more is better. Certainly, if a fast-food restaurant can super-size our already high caloric meal for a slight increase in price, surely Jesus will super-size our faith, so we may easily pick up our crosses and follow him.
The request to increase our faith, the belief that if I had more faith things would be different, reveals, at best, a misunderstanding of faith itself and, at worst, demonstrates our unfaithfulness.
Jesus is very clear that faithfulness is not about size or quantity. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed” , he says, “you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you”.
Faith is not given to us as an object to be spent as currency in our dealings with God. Faith is not metered out according to how difficult the task or work before us. Faith is not a thing we have to get. Faith is not about giving intellectual agreement to a doctrine or idea. Faith is not about how much or how strongly we believe Jesus’ words or actions.
Faith is a relationship of trust and love. It means opening ourselves to receive another’s life and giving our life to another. That other one is Jesus. —
It is no coincidence that the church uses marriage as an analogy for Christ’s faith relationship with the Church. For when we speak about a married couple’s faithfulness, we don’t mean they believe or agree with each other’s ideas or even an understanding of marriage.
They are faithful because they have committed themselves to one another in love and trust.
They are faithful because they continually give their life to the other and receive the other’s life as their own. So, it is in our faith relationship with Jesus.
Our faith relationship with Jesus does not change life circumstances it changes us. Living in faith does not shield us from the pain and difficulties of life, it does not undo the past, and it will not guarantee a desired future, nor does it remove our doubts. Rather, faith is how we face and deal with all the circumstances of life.
Paul Tillich said of doubt and faith: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.”
This Gospel passage continues with a parable that does have problematic language for us about slavery. When Jesus speaks of a slave it isn’t about chattel slavery, the slavery along with Native American genocide that is our nation’s original sin but indentured servitude. It appears that the saying of the mustard seed faith and it are grafted together. I believe that the Evangelist put it together with the parable of the master and servant to complete the teaching on faith.
Jesus uses first the perspective of the slave owner then switches to the perspective of the slave to illustrate that the apostles and we should not expect a pat on the back, a reward, or a promotion in God’s eyes for our faith but, it is simply the way in which we live and move and have our being so that, at the end of the day, the faithful ones can say, without pride or shame, “We have only done what we ought to have done!” We have lived in openness to, trust in, and love for Christ. We have allowed Christ to guide our decisions, our words, and our actions. We have responded in faith to our calling in our baptismal covenant.
So, Jesus does not super-size our faith, that isn’t necessary, but can our faith grow?
The answer to that is most assuredly, but faith is not a private affair and to grow it needs a faith community of love, the Church. Our Faith grows as we study and learn from Holy Scripture, and our traditions that go back to the Apostles and early church mothers and fathers, It is when we are a member of the body of Christ, when we share with one another Jesus’ spirit of love that is in our hearts from the beginning, when we share with one another Jesus’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and when we more and more live in Jesus even as he lives in us, then by God’s grace our faith grows.
Faith, however, is not lived out in the abstract. It is practiced daily in the ordinary routine circumstances of life — Some days when the pain and heaviness of life seem more than we can carry, it is by faith relationship with Jesus, that we get up each morning and face the reality of life — Other days offer other circumstances — When we feel the pain of the world and respond with compassion by feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, speaking for justice; when we experience the brokenness of a relationship and offer forgiveness and mercy; when we see the afflicted and offer our presence and prayers, when we say yes to the Holy Spirit’s specific call to us — in all those we have lived, seen, and acted by faith. Then there are days when we feel powerless, lost, and don’t know the way forward, then as my spiritual director advises me, by faith we sit in silence and wait.
Thomas Merton, in Zen and the Birds of Appetite writes “Faith is the door to the full inner life of the Church, a life which includes not only access to an authoritative teaching but above all to a deeply personal experience which is at once unique and yet shared by the whole Body of Christ, in the Spirit of Christ.”
So, the question is not how much faith we have but, rather, how are we living the faith we do have. How is our faith, our relationship with Jesus, changing our lives, our relationships, and the lives of others? Amen.