Sunday, October 2, 2022
By: Kilpy Singer, Associate Rector
Have you ever had that experience of walking into the middle of a conversation and trying to act like you know what’s being talked about, but really having no idea what’s going on? You try to pick up on context clues but you’ve obviously missed something fundamental in order to keep up. Today’s passage from Luke sort of feels like that to me. We begin with “the apostles said to the Lord, let our faith increase” and we can try and push some meaning out of that , but really, we’ve only got the second half of the conversation here. It’s as if I opened the parish hall door in the middle of the adult forum and heard you all say to David “Increase our faith” or “help us believe” and then he gave this funny parable type response. Instead of explaining what I think may have happened to the person next to me, I think I’d initially ask, “wait, what did I miss? What did David just say first to make you all then ask for more faith?”
So, what did we miss here, in Luke, what did Jesus say to then get that response from the apostles, because this doesn’t make a whole of sense otherwise… Well, in the verses just prior, the part of the conversation that we missed, he challenged them to forgive, not just once, but over and over again. He essentially said, “If someone sins against you, even if it’s seven times in a day, but is repentant, if they’re sorry and see the wrong they’ve done, you must forgive them.”
Knowing what Jesus has just charged them with, I actually find their response so hilarious and relatable. “Did he just ask us to repeatedly forgive the very person who keeps pushing our buttons and driving us to the edge of insanity. Whew, Lord help us! Increase our faith! Cause there is nothing left inside me that can forgive them even one more time.” The apostles are probably thinking that Jesus’ expectations are impossibly high and are acutely aware that, on their own, they just can’t. So they beg that Jesus to give them the faith they need to believe that what he’s asking can be done.
Now it may not be the task of forgiveness, but I bet that most of us have been faced with challenges from scripture and the sayings of Jesus, or from our prayers with God, or even from our church life, that seem impossibly high to meet. Maybe the idea of praying for your enemies seems literally impossible because of the amount of pain that they’ve caused you, or maybe it’s the idea of giving of your own time, and energy, and resources in this season of stewardship and thanksgiving, because you’d really rather preserve what you have left after the last 2 and a half years. Or maybe, like me, it’s trying to follow the practice of sabbath, of rest, that I know Jesus so desperately wants me to cultivate. The idea of having to regularly find a day to slow down and release control to God is enough to make me cry out “Lord, increase my faith”. Jesus, help me out. How am I supposed to measure up because what you’re asking of me seems impossible.
When the apostles responded to Jesus, he of course gave them a strange answer in return. Jesus said that if they had faith the size of a tiny seed, that would be enough to make a tree uproot itself and be planted in the ocean. Now at first, it might sound like he’s rebuking them, like “If only you had an ounce of faith, you’d be able to do what I asked of you”. But I’d like to suggest that he’s really saying “friends, you have all the faith you need”. They ask for more because they are worried they can’t do what Jesus has asked them to do, but I think Jesus wants them to understand that he isn’t asking for some mountainous sized faith, they have all the faith they need.
Faith actually is not something quantifiable, anyway. You can’t chart it on a graph or understand it in terms of net gain or net loss. Instead, faith looks like offering up whatever energy or effort or trust that they can muster and believing that God is able and willing to take that and do what once seemed impossible. Are they actually capable of forgiving someone who has hurt them over and over and over? Well, yes, but not because of something that they found deep within themselves, but because God can take the seed of belief within them, the part of them that is willing to even try, and is able to do something powerful and good, what would have been impossible on their own.
It might sound cliché, but it was true for them and it’s true for you and me today, that God takes what hope and trust we can muster, our tiny act of faith, and helps it become something more powerful that we could even imagine. And this should challenge how we think of faith because so often we want to quantify it in some unhelpful and untrue way, and this should relieve us of the shame that we’ve been carrying for too long because we have told ourselves some lie like we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t good enough Christians.
Instead, Jesus reminds us that we have all the faith that we need to get going, because faith looks a lot like just showing up and being open to God and to God’s faithfulness to us. And when I think of how that plays out in the lives of this church community, I think of the mornings that some of our parents find that extra twenty minutes to tune into the Sunday morning livestream, even though the kids have to be at 27 different places that day, and the dog threw up on the carpet, and they honestly haven’t felt God’s nearness in quite some time. But they still show up and find a renewed sense of strength in their lives.
Or I think about those of us reaching out for the help we need, barely making it to that support group or appointment or making that phone call to a friend, even when we’re pretty sure we are the only ones to have ever dealt with this and there’s no way God loves us anymore anyway. And little by little, God breaks through in God’s faithfulness, helping us see the grace to get to tomorrow.
If I’m being honest, faith for me today looked like getting in this pulpit and offering up these words to you, even when I’ve had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week like Alexander in the most relatable children’s book to come out of the 1970s, and I trust that God will use something here to do some kind of good work in somebody’s life.
And faith that looks like all of that that I just described, friends, is faith enough, most days. Because yes, Jesus asks some pretty big things of us, like forgiveness and rest and prayer and trust, but Jesus never meant for us to get there on our own. Instead, he shows us that our single seed of belief, our one step towards God, is always returned by God’s abundant faithfulness to us, and together, that is how the impossible gets done. Amen.