Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus instructs his followers about the power of faith and the duties of discipleship. He calls his disciples to adopt the attitude of servants whose actions are responses to their identity rather than works seeking reward.
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “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.
7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”
With her permission I share a story. Some of you will know these names, and some of you won’t, but that doesn’t really matter. I visited Anna Marie Ruzomberka yesterday and we shared communion, at 90 years old her joy for life and her joy in the Lord has only grown. But at 90 years old, she can now express priceless joy over the same thing over and over again in a conversation.
She told me the same story 4 times in an hour, how Mildred and Harriet Smalstig were the reason she is who she is today. It was those women, who took little Anna Marie under their wing as a small child, from a poor family. It was those women who taught her about Jesus and taught her Sunday school class. Mildred bought her an Easter dress, took her to the Benedum, talked to her about various issues as she grew up. I don’t know what I would have done without them, she said, they brought me to Christ Lutheran and that church became my life, but my faith is what I rely on, and they shared it with me.
If you know Ms. Ann, you also know that she was a Sunday school teacher here for decades. Raise your hand if you worked with her or had her as YOUR teacher. As Mildred and Harriet passed on the faith to her – created a safe and loving church home for her here – she did the same. She knows very well that she will meet the Lord soon and she looks forward to it. And now it’s your turn, the faith of the Church has been passed to you.
If you have faith in Christ, then it’s because somebody loved you and loved Jesus enough to tell you the stories, live the faith before you, and show you the way. None of us created this faith for ourselves, none of us achieved this faith through our constructive thinking about God. All of us are empty-handed receivers. Faith is a gift, a priceless gift, but to open that gift, to use that gift we must be shown how that gift works in real life.
“Increase our faith,” pleaded the disciples. Paul’s letter to Timothy suggests that faith can’t be increased without being willing to have our imaginations stoked, funded, fueled, and judged by those who walked this way before us. Think of Christianity as the willingness to be guided into faith by the dead. The good news is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel so far as faith is concerned. Those who walked before us, saints of the past, can show us the way to Christ. There is humility in this, as we like to figure things out for ourselves and have things be our idea.
But Faith is a verb. You do it or you don’t. You trust or you don’t. And sometimes both in one day. I do feel for the disciples. Jesus has been asking some extraordinary things of them – to give away their possessions, to forgive those who wrong you…countless times, to take up his cross, and more. No wonder then, they ask for more faith. They feel inadequate to the tasks around them, insufficient to the challenges, unable to imagine accomplishing any of what he is asking. I suspect lots of us feel the same way. Like we need more faith…just to get through, let alone to make a difference. We need more something….
But what is truly at the heart of such a request? What do we imagine that more faith will get us? An easier life? Less pain? More certainty? Effortless answers? I think we just want Jesus to make things easier – quicker – less of an effort. It gives voice to our ultimate idolatry when it comes to God — certainty. We want to know for sure. Not just that God exists but that we’re doing it right. And then everything will be easy right?
I saw a picture someone shared on Facebook yesterday. It was a classic piece of art. The inside of a great roman coliseum, with a huge lion on one side, bleachers full of spectators, and a huddled group of Christians praying together on their knees on the other side. The caption of the picture is one of I think Joel Osteen’s famous quotes – “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” The great saints before us – extolled for their faith – didn’t have it real easy. Some of the most faithful servants of God had some of the darkest moments of doubt and despair.
So where do we turn when it seems like our trust, our faith, our “doing it” isn’t working? We turn to each other, we return to the gathering of believers that we call the Church, and we do it together.
Faith is a verb. And you’re doing it when you value what God values, when you care for those whom God cares for. When you use your resources for another’s good. When you sacrifice for another and when you pray with one another. When you share what little faith you have with someone who has none. We miss out on the big picture when we attempt to go it on our own. Christianity is a team sport. We do this with each other.
But when your faith seems weak, missing, or not enough, we do that together too. You have the faith of the Church. Leave go of the notion that you have to do it on your own, or that you could do it on your own. Lean on the wisdom of the saints and lean on the shoulders of someone else who’s been there before. Sing a hymn written by someone else. Pray a prayer written by someone else. Or perhaps, just listen as those around you lift their voices on your behalf.
As we sing, I’d like to invite you to listen to the voices around you. Think of those right here in this congregation whose life of faith has inspired you – think of those singing with the saints around the throne who showed you grace and mercy and love decades ago. Think of who prayed with you first. Think of the first person who taught you a bible story. Think of the person who showed you what a life of service looks like.
This display has the prayers of our community, from Millvale Days, woven into it. During the offering or after communion, I invite you to add a ribbon with the name of someone who taught you or showed you faith. May our remembrance rekindle our faith and hope.
Pastor Erin Evans