St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon given Sunday, October 6, 2019

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
October 6, 2019
Luke 17:5-10
Proper 22 C
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     "The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!", The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree, "Be rooted up and planed in the sea, and it would obey you."
     In our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus is talking to the disciples about faith. They are concerned that they don't have "enough" faith to do the work that Jesus has asked them to do. In Matthew's gospel, this story comes after the apostles have tried to heal someone and they were not able to do it.
     They are under the impression that they need "more" faith. Jesus tells them that it is not the amount of faith that is important. If they have faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, they could uproot the mulberry tree, which has deep, heacy roots and toss it into the sea. Now Jesus is not suggesting that the disciples have unlimited powers with which they can rearrange the landscape. They can only do what is the will of God.
     It is not the quantity of faith that matters, but the genuineness and strength of their faith. Faith is a gift from God. It is not "our faith" in the sense that it is something that comes from us, something we can get by ourselves. Faith comes from God. But we have to nurture that faith that God gives us by worshipping with a community of faith, by prayer and study. We cannot expect God to empower us with a strong faith without our having to do anything. It is up to us to strengthen the faith that God gives us.
     This free gift of faith is characterized by openness to God and absolute trust in God that is not dependent on our own intelligence, talents or power. Faith is not so much what humans do, or do not do, but what the limitless power of God working through them can accomplish.
     Elizabeth-Anne Stewart wrote this is the January 29, 2017 edition of Sunday Bible Talk: "Much has been written about God's propensity to choose the "unlikely" to get the job done, whatever the job happens to be. It is the boy David who slays Goliath and is anointed as king, not his stronger, older brothers. It is the beautiful widow Judith, who assassinates the Assyrian general Holofernes, not an armed warrior flanked by accomplices. Biblically speaking, this pattern of choosing the "unlikely" extends from the aged Abraham and Sarah who, in their old age, are destined to have as many descendants as numerous as the stars, to Saul Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians who becomes Paul, the foremost Christian evangelizer. Whether a character runs away from God's instructions, like Jonah, or stutters our excuses, like Moses, in the end, God's word prevails. The message is that no one is too weak or too unqualified or too unsuitable to accomplish God's plan and that the "little ones" succeed where the mighty are likely to fail."
     How often do we ourselves think that God cannot use us for God's purposes? Because of our false humility, we tell God that we are not good enough. Perhaps our lack of faith says God would be making a mistake to use me. Or maybe our limited imagination makes us ask why God could possibly need me. Or maybe we are just lazy. My life is comfortable the way it is - don't you dare disturb me. So we wait for God to select someone else. But what if, from God's perspective, we are the best suited for a particular mission?
     Each of us is "unlikely" in our own way to be chosen by God. But God does choose us and anoints us to do the work God has given us to do, through the power of our faith. We don't need a lot of faith. We need faith like a grain of mustard seed that can be nourished and grown into a deeper and more active faith than we ever could have imagined. If we are willing to work hand in hand with God, amazing things can happen.
     It's not the number of degrees that we have, or our social status, or our achievements or our personal attributes that qualify us in the eyes of God. Rather it is the state of our hearts. It's whether we are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is whether we are open to hear the still small voice of God, leading us forward. It is whether we are open to forgiving those who have hurt us as God forgives us for what we have done wrong. Are our hearts filled with love and concern for others? Do we seek to see Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being? That is what is important to God as God seeks us out for mission and ministry. We may think we are unworthy but God knows us better than we know ourselves and with God, nothing is impossible.
     Faith is not a gift that is given to us once. At times, we may lose our faith, or have doubts about our faith, just as the disciples did, and we wonder where God is. Our faith needs to be strengthened and replenished every day. Even Jesus was continually in need of prayer and solitude with God in order to strengthen the faith that was within him. Faith is a gift from God but we need to open our hands and our hearts to receive it and nurture it and sustain it.
     Paul tells Timothy to "rekindle the gift of God that is within you". Paul eants to encourage Timothy to be faithful to his calling, in spite of the suffering that many Christian were encountering. In the face of suffering, it is easy to lose sight of God's gifts.
     Rekindle the gift means to stir up the grace and faith and love that we have already received from God, and we stir them up by putting them into practice. We stir them up by being grateful for the life that God has given us, to live with an attitude of gratitude for God's many gifts.
     We stir up our faith by listening to God, by prayer, by living out the gospel. We stir up our faith by reaching out to others, by donating food, helping the oppressed, and standing up for justice and equality for all people.
     Rekindle the gift of faith that God has given us. Allow the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts, our minds, our wills, our community of faith. Then see our energy rise, our faith deepen, and possibilities we never saw coming transform us and make us whole. Amen.

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