October 2, 2016 “ 20 Pentecost C, Proper 22
Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The apostles said to the Lord, ˜Increase our faith!’ It seems like a good thing to ask for “ more faith. They’re not asking for money or for their football team to win. They want more faith. Right before this request, Jesus has told them all that following him will be costly and difficult. So they ask for more faith in order to be better followers.
As is often the case, Jesus responds in a rather cryptic way. If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ˜Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. And then he starts talking about slaves and how it is expected that slaves will do their jobs without receiving any special treatment. Is Jesus scolding them for not having enough faith? Is he telling them to quit asking for more and be content with what they’ve got?
A friend told me recently that she has been praying for a long time for more patience but was going to quit asking for more patience because it seemed like the response to her prayers was just more difficult situations that required patience. God isn’t making it easy on me and magically making me patient. God is just giving me hard stuff that requires more patience. Very often in life we ask God to bring some great and immediate resolution. And usually God responds by letting things stay the way they are for a while. We look for the quick fix. God seems to be about the thorough and painstaking work of growth. We want the big mulberry bush and we want it now. God says, Look to the mustard seed and watch it grow. We think faith is something big that will defeat all the enemies. Jesus shows us that faith is just that next tiny step into the fray.
Faith is tiny and kind of hard, Jesus seems to be saying. It grows as you go. If you just stand where you are and hope for more faith nothing much happens. But when we step just one foot into the unknown faith develops. Jesus seems to be saying, Of course you need more faith. But he also seems to be saying, You’ve got enough already because all you need is enough to start the journey. Faith isn’t knowing what’s going to happen. It’s stepping out there and finding that something holds us up. Kind of like daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer, God doesn’t give it all to us in one lump sum. He gives it to us in little bits as we go. Faith develops, faith grows. Faith becomes huge and remarkable but faith starts slow and small. Faith starts with a little step which leads to the next and the next. Give us the big reward, we pray. Take the next step, God responds. Our hearts are set on the destination. God is all about the journey. You’ve got all you need for that next little step. So take it.
Life is designed to increase our faith. As we accept and embrace our present circumstances and challenges, our faith develops and deepens. Kingdom of God living involves taking on some things which require faith and which develop faith.
Couples stand before God and commit themselves to each other. That takes a little faith but as we extend ourselves in promises like that, we are given more as we go along. Extending ourselves in sacrificial promises and living into those step by step increases our faith.
That’s why the church asks us to tithe and to pledge our commitment. Not many people get their first paycheck and automatically give 10% of it to the church. Usually we start off selfishly spending all of our money on ourselves, often even more than all of it. Our worlds get tighter and smaller as our hearts follow our money. Somewhere along the line we hear the invitation to give some of our money away. We try it out and it feels good. We learn that we don’t have to spend all of our money on ourselves. Something awakens within us and we try to give more. We take bolder and bolder steps in our giving and find that when our giving is truly sacrificial and not just gratuitous our hearts change. Instead of our money being lords over us we become lords over our money. We use it for good and our priorities change. Our faith deepens because we have extended ourselves. Step by step our faith grows as we give more. Jesus talks about money almost as much as he talks about loving each other. He seems to know the bind it can put us in and how it can be a tool for faith development.
In your giving, take the next step. Identify what percentage of your resources you are giving to God’s work through the church. If you make $100,000 and you’re giving $5,000, that’s 5%. Try giving 6%. That’s $20 more a week. You probably waste that much. And while it’s not very much, it makes a big difference. It’s like the mustard seed. It’s small but it’s growing. That’s what God asks of us, to grow in faith.
Financial giving isn’t the only way faith develops. Making sacrifices is how faith develops. Small little acts where we say that the life of someone else is more important than we are, that’s sacrifice, and that’s how faith grows.
In all that you do, take the next small step. As you step forward, God’s grace holds you up and pulls you forward. Don’t wait for faith to be there before you step forward. Just step out there and faith comes. You’ve got all the faith you need to take that next little step. Following Christ is just taking that next little step.