Sermon for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

Increase our faith!  That sounds like quite the order.  One, might I add, that Jesus doesn’t seem to take very well.  “Increase it yourself!” he kind of responds in not so many words.  But imagine the nerve on the disciples wanting Jesus to yet again do something for them for reasons unbeknownst to anyone.  Imagine how Jesus must feel being told yet again to do something for his followers for reasons unbeknownst to him.  Imagine the frustration all around in seeing that, yet again, the disciples just don’t get it.

They don’t?  Well, actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone here has once thought about somehow having their faith increased.  That is why we come to church, isn’t it?  That’s why we read the bible, listen to these riveting sermons, and maybe even stick around for an after-church reflection or two.  We want to increase our faith because whatever amount of faith we have right now, it always seems like it just isn’t enough.

Because we still feel doubt.  We still have questions.  We have fear in what others may think or say about us.  We are unsure of our calling, we are unsure of our position in God’s love, we are unsure of ourselves and what we can and can’t do for our church, our community, and for the neighbourhood around us.

And if we weren’t thinking all that, we probably are now.

So this request to “increase our faith” might not be one that we haven’t all made ourselves in the past.  Maybe we didn’t do it with the rude and crude entitled attitude of the disciples, but we at least know where they are coming from.  Or at least, I think we might.

The problem here is that our word for “faith” in English is yet another one of those words that try too hard and have multiple meanings, which is fine, until you’re actually trying to figure out what it means.  Then it gets complicated.

Often we use “faith” to refer solely to how we trust the spiritual, specifically how much we trust God.  That could be because one of the definitions of faith that I’ve come across is specifically that, trust.  It is the radical kind of trust and reliance that helps you feel safe, confident, and believing that whatever you trust in has the ability to do what you trust it to do.  The opposite of this kind of faith would probably be anxiety or worry. 

But faith could also mean loyalty, as in when you are faithful in a relationship or marriage.  We equate this to our relationship with God, in that our faith will prevent us from “cheating” and going to another god or image to worship and rely on.  I suppose the opposite of this would be disloyalty or to the extreme level, idolatry.

Another way of seeing faith is thinking of it as a worldview, a paradigm, a way of holistically seeing all of reality and characterising it in one of three ways: hostile, so you’re afraid of everything because reality is basically out to get you; indifferent, where everything happens by chance so nothing really matters; and my favourite: life-giving, in that life and everything around it is about relationship, community, and love.  Because this kind of faith is more of a way of seeing and interpreting everything, there really isn’t an opposite of it, but you can imagine how this kind of faith would affect basically everything about us and our beliefs.

The last definition (that I know of) of faith would be when your mind just tells you that something is true or you decide for yourself that you’ll believe something in your mind. Basically it’s when there is no reason to believe it to be so, maybe even there are compelling reasons to say that it isn’t, but this kind of faith would stand in its way and be all like, “nah, I’m sure that it’s true.”  This would tie into that last definition of faith, as our paradigms through which we see the world play a large role in how we interpret and what we believe.  The opposite of this kind of faith would be doubt or at its strongest, disbelief.

There you have four different definitions of faith, four different ways of looking at it all, four different possible “asks” from the disciples on what to increase.  Increase our trust, increase our loyalty, increase our positive outlook on the world, increase our ability to just believe.  Whichever one it really is, they are still pretty big asks, and yet we still can on some level, relate to them all.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to trust God more?  Who wouldn’t want to be more loyal to God?  Or who wouldn’t want to be able to just believe more strongly?  Or who wouldn’t want to be able to see the world with more gracious and loving eyes?

I know I would.  I would want to have all those things because I believe that would make me a better person, and as a better person I’d be able to make a bigger contribution to the world.  I would want to leave a better world for my kids and my kids’ kids.  I would want to have my faith increased.

Until, that is, I realise that it isn’t the faith itself that makes me a better person.  It isn’t the amount of faith that I have that can change the world.  It isn’t by how strong my faith is that I’m judged or saved or identified.

Rather, it’s who that faith is in.  And this is where I think the disciples missed the point yet again.

See, we can have the strongest faith by any definition in the world, so strong that we could do crazy things that go against the laws of science and reality, but if that faith isn’t in something that could change you for the better, that could inspire you to make a difference, that could see you for you as you, as a beloved child of God, as worthy to be saved, as given meaning and purpose, well then that faith might not be as helpful as you’d want it to be.

Rather, when this faith, this trust, this loyalty and belief is put in someone who can 100% deliver, then we wouldn’t need bucket loads of faith because it isn’t the faith that delivers.  It isn’t the faith that saves.  It isn’t the faith that gives us identity and value and worth.

See, while it is through faith that we are saved, it isn’t exactly only our faith that is involved.  While it is through faith that we can even do good works, it isn’t faith alone that motivates us.  While it is through faith that we might feel included, welcome, and belonging, all of that was present way before faith even came into the picture.

For our God has loved us and has given us value and worth from before we were even born, fills us with the Spirit, brings us into community with all the saints, and calls us beloved children into service.  This promise of unity, of belonging, of relationship inspires us to be better, to make a difference, and, some might say ironically, to have faith.  For it isn’t our faith that makes us believe, but it is who our faith is in that helps us to.

So Jesus’ response to the disciple’s request to “increase it yourself” isn’t so farfetched, in that Jesus doesn’t handle the amount of faith, but rather is but the object of our faith, that we might look up to him, learn from his example, and believe in the truth of his words.  Jesus continues to be the reason for our gathering, for our worship, and for our community and service.  Faith just allows us to see that and makes it all possible.

In this season after Pentecost, let’s allow our faith of trust, of loyalty, of belief, and of paradigm be put in the right place, that is in the promises and truth of God, that we might go out into the world to make a difference in every way that we can.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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