“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”… “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us…”
Luke 17:5; 2 Timothy 1:14
More faith! Of course, the disciples want it, even need it. Jesus asked them to give away their possessions, to leave their homes and families, to deal with demanding crowds, to face the wrath of religious authorities, to forgive those who wrong them not just once, twice or three times but seven times in a single day, to take up their cross and follow him. No wonder they want additional faith. They feel inadequate to the demands of discipleship, insufficient to the challenges facing them, unable to accomplish any of what he is asking. More faith isn’t just what they want, but also what they need.
I suspect lots of us feel the same way. We can use up much of our faith just getting out of bed in the morning. Then if we check the news, there’s no more left at all. “More faith, please Lord, just a little bit more, to get me through the day, or at least to lunch,” we ask. But then instead of granting this holy request, Jesus says to his disciples and to us, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Go jump in the sea and it would.”
What kind of way is that to respond to the disciples’ request for more faith? They weren’t asking for riches or glory or even a fluffy pillow upon which to lay their weary heads after a hard day of discipleship! Just a bit more faith. It would make them better disciples. He won’t have to work so hard. And us too – a little extra faith and we’d be more patience with our kids, more loving to our spouse, more generous towards the poor, more forgiving to those who annoy us, more everything.
Mostly I wanted a more faith so I could stand up to the Jesus Freaks at my high school who with evangelistic furor – a state that as a newly confirmed Lutheran I did not understand – stood preaching right outside the cafeteria that unless I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I would go to hell. I did not go to Confirmation class every Monday evening for three years in order to go to hell, so I made an appointment with Pastor Anderson, a kind and gentle man. He listened to my confusion and then said, “Cindy, you are baptized. You are a child of God and that can never be taken away.” How did I miss that? I’d dutifully memorized the entire Small Catechism, passed multiple confirmation tests, received my own box envelopes, filled out a pledge card and successfully answered the final Confirmation question correctly. And in all that I missed that I was a baptized child of God who was loved and adored and who God would never let go, even when I doubted, even when I sinned, even when I was oblivious to God’s amazing and astonishing grace. God kept me in relationship. God kept faith with me. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, there is always enough faith. It’s God’s gift – as our reading from 2 Timothy puts it, faith is the good treasure that is entrusted to you and to me with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. Even a tiny mustard seed of faith is more than enough.
After Jesus informs his disciples they don’t need more faith, he tells them an odd story about a landowner and his slaves and how the slaves aren’t invited to the table with the landowner, that they get to eat when their work is done, nor do they deserve great thanks for simply doing their job. They’re just to do it. Faith is simply the willingness to do what needs to be done.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the word faith means trust. The brilliant psychologist Erik Erickson said basic trust versus basic mistrust is the first challenge we face in our lives. When Courtney and Mario respond to Ethan’s cries and feed him, burp him and change his diaper, they are doing what needs to be done if anyone is going to sleep at all. But they are also doing what needs to be done for their son to trust, to have faith in himself, in them, in the world, in God. Today in his baptism as we make promises to do what needs to be done and as a community of faith, we will support Ethan and pray for him in his new life in Christ. We will give him a congregation that he can trust, a place where he will be loved and can love others.
During college I spent two summers working with children and teens were placed at Tabor Home for Children in Doylestown by the courts because of abuse and neglect. Tabor was a ministry of the Lutheran Deaconess Community. Everything that the Deaconesses did at Tabor, was done to help the children learn trust. There were routines, prayers before meals, chores, free time – which I was in charge of – it was great fun. Every night after dinner we sang the hymn, “All Praise to Thee my God this Night,” each verse instilling trust that God would be with us in the darkness. Then finally before bed, a story was read, we talked about the day and prayed another prayer. Some children eventually returned home, others stayed until they graduated from High School and went to college or got a job. Years later a young man called out my name in a New Jersey Toys R Us. When I didn’t respond, he said, “I was at Tabor when you were there. Tabor save my life” and he introduced me to his beautiful son. He had faith enough to do what needed to be done.
What about you and me? What do we need to do? Last week at the Worship and Music Committee meeting, the chairperson, Jean Herbranson asked the group, “What is your most consistent faith practice?” The answers included praying before meals, reading the Bible, talking with God on the church tractor while cutting grass, worshiping each week, praying before sleep, engaging in devotional readings, singing hymns. Each person shared how in practicing their faith, they discover they had enough faith to do what needs to be done without fanfare and with grace. Know that whether you would have confidently answered Jean’s question or excused yourself to use the rest room, you too, have faith – for the very tiniest faith is actually the most powerful because it is the kind of faith that exists only in absolute dependence upon God, who raises the dead. Amen.