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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 22/Year C: October 2, 2022
Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
I am blessed to have remained in contact with several of my students from my time as the chaplain at the Episcopal Chapel Center at the University of South Florida. I recently received a text from a student that read, “Thank you so much for your support, guidance and renewal of faith when I was starting to lose mine.” I thought, can one lose and find faith like one misplaces and finds car keys?
As a priest, I often hear some iteration of, “Mother Adrienne, I look forward to being more dedicated to my faith.” When someone says that, woven throughout that statement is guilt resulting from what the person may perceive as negligence in attending worship and other church offerings. I am often left wondering what the person thinks faith is. What do you and I mean when we think about faith? How do we make sense of our perception of faith when trying to explain it using inadequate human language to describe the intangible reality of faith? Human language simply falls short.
Our scripture passage today compells us to explore what each one of us thinks, says and believes about faith. Is faith an action? Is faith an instrument of relationship? Is faith a state of being? Yes, yes and yes with one major adjustment to the phrase, “Faith in God.” Faith in God is actionable, relational and ontological.
Our passage starts with the disciples demanding Jesus to increase their faith. But in order for us to understand why this demand was made, we must refer to the four verses just before our passage today. Jesus revealed to his disciples a few expectations that were apparently hard for them to swallow. First, Jesus warned them of the consequences of causing any one of their fellow disciples to stumble. Second, Jesus commanded them to be on their guard in order to detect and call out sins committed by another disciple.
Third, and this is the expectation that sent them into a tail spin, Jesus said that where there is repentence, a disciple must forgive—every time, no exceptions. That was hard for the disciples to hear then, and it’s hard for us to hear today. To forgive the transgressions of another is hard work, both on an interpersonal level and in one’s own heart. When other people hurt us, particularly those close to us, the spiritual wound of grievance makes forgiveness hard and often painful. Hearing Jesus’ seemingly impossible expectations of them, and feeling ill-equipped to do any of it, we enter our passage today with the first verse being the apostles’ knee-jerk exclamation, “Jesus, ‘Increase our faith!’” (v.5).
I imagine at this point the apostles were wondering what they had signed up for, essentially saying to Jesus, “If we’re expected to do this kind of heavy lifting, you’re going to need to give us a bigger tool with which to do it.” Used in this context, faith, for the disciples, was a necessary tool in order for them to do the work that Jesus was calling them to do.
Jesus’s reply far exceeds the disciples’ understanding of faith; he used the image of a tiny mustard seed, nearly indetectable, yet encased within, is the possibility of new life. It may have seemed absurd to the apostles’ ears that even the tiniest bit of faith in God could defy the laws of nature and their own human expectations.
The movement from Jesus’ grand imagery about faith to his parable about the slave owner and the slave is immediate. There is a relationship between the master and the one who serves the master. The servant is expected to go about his work looking for neither praise nor reward. Going above and beyond in order to obtain more privileges for himself does not exist in the relationship. Those things the servant ought to do translate into obedience. Those things the servant ought not to do translate into disobedience. The master sets expectations for the servant and the servant obeys.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, faith is defined as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (He 11:1, NIV) and that “…Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…” (He 11:6, NIV). So, faith is confident belief in an unseen reality. As Christ’s disciples, what we know of God we know from God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ given to us in the Scriptures.
Jesus, was for the apostles—and is for us—the perfect model of servanthood in obedience to God’s will, and because of Jesus, we believe that the invisible God exists. What are we to learn from the scripture passage today—one part of the scripture about faith and the other part about unwavering obedience?
Only a few days after Hurricane Ian assaulted the west coast and islands of our state, we are only now learning about the devastation left behind. Perhaps the question is not so much what can we learn from the gospel passage, but what is the passage reminding us of, at such a horrific time as this?
At this traumatic time, when there has been loss of precious life, property and irreplaceable possessions, we might expect faithful people, who now gaze upon the remains of their churches, or see their homes destroyed, crying out to Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith!”
Human beings live with the inescapable human condition of suffering; we who believe in God through Christ are not immune from suffering. In these times of trial, faithful people may feel like they are losing, or have lost, their faith. But, if we are attentive to the ways in which our spiritual lives have been formed over a lifetime, we may notice, in reflection, that our faith has been necessarily deepened and strengthened in times of loss, grief, suffering and darkness.
And as that faith is strengthened and deepended, spiritual resilience is formed—a resilience that reminds God’s children that there is no darkness that can overcome His son’s light. Resilience reminds God’s children that as long as we have Christ’s light, we will live by faith and not by the horror in the immediate sight of our human eyes.
Faith in God is a state of being—a state of living in obedience to God’s will—a state of living in Christ Jesus, our only mediator, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (He 12:2). By faith, let us go about our work as obedient evangelists, equipped by Christ with an all-consuming belief in God. And, by faith, may we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to transform the ordinary human condition, for ourselves and for our neighbors, into one that is extraordinary—an experience with the divine, for which our human language simply falls short. Let us do so with ever-increasing faith.