|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on October 4, 2016 at 12:20 AM|
“Increase our faith!” I don’t know if we usually use these words, but I bet that many of us have prayed for God to make us strong enough for something that seems way more than we’re capable of. Increase our faith, God, we ask, even if we’re not sure we fully believe God will show up, because we know how strong we are on our own and it’s not going to be enough.
And the disciples today have just heard Jesus tell them, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” If we say the wrong thing or act out of step with Jesus’ leading and it causes another Christian to sin, then woe to us. We’re supposed to guard the faith of our brothers and sisters in Christ- especially those new or weak in the faith- and do everything in our power to encourage them in the good ways. And shame on us if we let our own conduct drag another person down. We’re supposed to be good all the time!
And then Jesus says that when our a fellow follower of Jesus acts out of line with God’s calling- you know, by being greedy or unjust or by hating their enemies- then we need to call them on it. We need to do that even when we are not perfect ourselves. We correct them with a whole, whole lot of humility and we don’t’ rejoice in it, but we do need to risk speaking up for the sake of our neighbors connection to Jesus. Which seems so utterly impossible much of the time.
And then, when our brothers and sisters change their ways and ask forgiveness, we need to forgive them, no questions asked. And we need to keep forgiving them if they mess up 7 times a day. Every day!
These are really high expectations for us and we’re probably already looking for the loopholes. So it makes sense that the disciples are begging for more faith! We don’t think we’re up to the task much of the time and they didn’t either.
In the Greek, those words, “increase our faith” are more accurately, “Add faith to us!” You know, “Could you just give us an injection to make us strong enough to trust you, Jesus? Give us the confidence to just do the ridiculous stuff you ask us to without caring what other people say about us. Add faith to us!”
Because I don’t know about you, but I rarely think that I have enough faith or enough trust in God to do ALL the crazy things that Jesus asks. Or even half of them. I would love to be one of those people who is always sure of themselves and confident in where God is calling me and then bold enough to actually do it.
So it would be great if Jesus was a kind and gentle God in answering this request. Yes, of course. It’s totally my fault. I forgot to give you your faith injection. But that’s not how it worked, even for the disciples. And that’s probably a good thing. Because if Jesus worked like that, we’d have a reason to whine and complain that we missed out on our dose of faith and take that as an excuse to do nothing.
But Jesus says, “Nope. You don’t get any more. Even the tiny bit of faith you already have is more powerful than you can imagine. I can use your tiny faith to uproot trees and plant them in the sea. OK- so that’s a pretty weird statement and I don’t think that Jesus really had plans for an underwater forest. But Jesus is trying to say that he can work in and through us in we can’t imagine or predict or explain. If we step out on faith, He can make us more powerful than we thought, more brave than we know ourselves to be and he can even bring healing through us. We don’t need MORE faith, we just need to use what we have.
Jesus is telling us that we don’t get to wait around until we FEEL like doing what Jesus calls us to. We don’t get to wait around until we FEEL like we’re good enough or strong enough. Sometimes we hold onto skepticism and worry so tightly that we can’t even imagine jumping in with 2 feet to this thing called faith. And that holds us back from God working through us to do awesome stuff. Like god did through Mother Teresa.
So- about 10 years ago, the Catholic Church published some new letters of Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta.) that she wrote to some priests who served as her spiritual guides. And they showed that she struggled with her faith ever since she began her work in India. She couldn’t feel God’s presence with her and struggled to have the faith to pray. She couldn’t feel the comfort of faith or the love of God like she hoped. Her letters showed her crying out with the disciples, “increase my faith!”
But even though she felt her faith was weak, she was still convinced that God needed her to continue her work of mercy. So she cared for the dying, bandaged those with leprosy, took the lowest place, and welcomed those who came to her looking for the light of Jesus and the hope to go on. Her faith may not have been as strong as she hoped, but it was strong enough to hold her up and keep her doing God’s work. And God worked through that simple, faithful work to uproot mulberry trees right and left- to change heart and minds and bring them closer to the God she followed. This is what even a weak faith is capable of when we start to use it.
So how do WE make use of the little faith we have, especially on days when it’s hanging on by a thread? I don’t think it’s rocket science. We do what Mother Teresa did- we just do the stuff Jesus teaches us to do. Like putting our safety and our reputation on the line for the sake of bringing the healing and hope Jesus promises. And giving and giving to our neighbors in need. And trusting that the words of Jesus are our guide in life, even if it cramps our style.
Because this evening Jesus is kind of taking us by the collar and reminding us, “You have enough faith. Trust me. We got this. Do the stuff I call you to and trust that I’m walking with you every step of the way. Because in everything scary that I ask you to do, I will walk beside you.”
And when we do all this, Jesus tells us, we don’t get gold stars. We don’t get a thank you for doing all God asks of us. We don’t get loved more. Which seems unfair. But it’s only because God’s love for us will never, never depend on how good we are at doing what Jesus did. And there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not grateful that we’re not getting a grade in this following Jesus thing. God’s love is just one of those things that we get no matter what. God’s love keeps picking us up and calling us back to start again.
But the thing about using this faith of ours is that sometimes God will work through our acts of faith- even the small ones- to uproot mulberry trees and plant them in the sea. And man- what a glorious things to get to watch! To watch the power of God work through our hands that we know aren’t that strong. To watch the work we do bring life, and health and justice. For our care or our welcome of someone help them understand that they are adored by the Creator of the world. That is the reward of living by faith- to watch God’s power work through us.