Jesus had been speaking to them about the challenges of discipleship (Luke 17:1-4). He warned them against using their power and position to mislead the vulnerable. He cautioned there would be times when the disciples sinned against one another. Jesus was trying to prepare them for the inevitable reality that disciples would violate boundaries and norms that caused harm and fractured relationships. He explained when this happens, they were to communicate this harm to the offending party, and if that person repented, they were to forgive them (Luke 17:3-4). Irrelevant of how many times they came up short, if they sincerely repented, they were to forgive one another. Over, and over again. Maybe we can understand why they begged Jesus to, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5)
So, how do we know if we have enough faith?
Jesus tells them, “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” (Luke 17:6). In other words - the apostles are maybe asking the wrong question.
It is not about having enough faith. It is about having faith, period. The tiniest grain of trust is more than enough. Because faith is not quantifiable.
Faith is simply showing up. Faith is our intention to trust in God. Note I said intention - faith is not all the times we successfully put our trust in God. Our success rate is irrelevant to God. Faith is when we seek to trust, when we are mindful of our intentions. All God really wants from us is to show up; embodying our willingness to be part of something far greater than ourselves - a movement.
Jesus routinely reiterated the why behind this movement: we are called to proclaim in thought, word, and deed the transformative power of God’s Love, knowing we can change this world for the better when humanity works in concert with God and one another. Faith is showing up with an intention to be a part of this movement. To hold our hands open, with a willingness to lend our ideas, our time, and our resources towards this movement, and see where the journey takes us.
To further make his point, Jesus describes another parable that is pretty challenging to our contemporary sensibilities. At first glance, it would appear Jesus is comparing disciples to slaves, and unworthy slaves at that. (Luke 17:7-10) You’ll be delighted to know that the many commentaries out there we normally turn to more or less ignore these verses except for acknowledging they are challenging. Thanks, scholars. So, bear with me as we try to gauge what Jesus may have meant.
When I was imagining how this parable might speak to us today, I imagined the relationship between an employer and an employee. As an employer, do you stop an employee from carrying out their daily tasks midday, with a fraction of their work complete? Do you gush and praise over the employee when they have not yet even produced the bare minimum? Do you hand them their paycheck midday, maybe with a little bonus reward tucked inside the envelope? Generally not. Rather, it is expected when you hire an employee, and you outline the tasks for them to accomplish, that they will do those tasks to the best of their ability, and you will pay them fairly for their work.
So, why would Jesus offer this odd parable? I think one possibility is that Jesus may be responding to the apostles' earlier plea, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5) The apostles were concerned with the question we began this sermon with: How do we know if we have enough faith?
Since faith is not quantifiable, Jesus may be reframing the apostles’ anxiety about having enough; shifting them towards a more helpful question:
How do we embody our faith?
I think in this parable, Jesus is reminding the disciples that faith is about showing up, with hands open, and a willingness to share ourselves with this movement. To show up each day, with some intention to bring our best selves. To not be concerned with any kind of reward - as that is irrelevant to faith. Faith is not something we pay God to receive some magical, heavenly good. Faith is our love, our hope, our curiosity, our aches and longings to connect to the highest power in this universe and one another, as well as a willingness to do our small part.
And the possibly comical aspect of this particular parable, is that it also holds at least one other truth. While we are not invited to have faith in order to be rewarded - God is not unlike the employer Jesus describes. God does interrupt our daily work with the magical, mystical, beauty of creation. We find our work interrupted when we notice a setting sun, or a flower in full bloom. For that matter, God does gush and praise humanity in spite of our frequently ridiculous behaviors. I sometimes imagine that to God we are like toddlers in the throes of our terrible twos - completely beastly when we want to be, and yet at the same time we remain the children that God loves beyond any possible measure. God gushes over us with a parental love that makes no sense, but is simply true. And while we are not supposed to be in this faith thing for the rewards - I find my faith leads me to discover an endless series of rewards. On any given day, I experience the reward of a job well done, of a community coming together to help address a need, the reward of building relationships with folks I may never have crossed paths with if it were not for my faith.
So, while we are not invited to believe for the sake of reward - there are rewards. But maybe these treasures can only be found when we are not seeking them out. Maybe they can only be found when we show up with intention, hands held open, and a willingness to be part of the transformative love of God in this world.
We began today’s sermon by asking how do we know if we have enough faith? The truth of the matter is we have more than enough. Especially when we come together as a community and through the miracle of sharing we each contribute our ideas, our funds, and our time to the ministry we have been called into here at Saints James and Andrew. Like the apostles’, we don’t need Jesus to increase our faith - we have more than enough. As a loved one said in response to this passage - when it comes to faith, the real question is - what are we going to do with it?
As we head back into the world today, I wonder:
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