If only we had more faith

Preached by Mrs Kate Bowers on 2nd October 2016 at Ss Peter & Paul

O Lord, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with love for Yourself, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

 Watching television coverage of the appalling suffering in Syria leaves me crying out to God as Habakkuk does in our first reading today!

We feel impotent, wondering how the world can stand back and seemingly do nothing, yet with no idea what can be done.

And then there are those people and situations closer to home which make us terribly aware of our own limitations.  A colleague leaving school on Friday evening had been talking about a family in distress and the limitations on our ability to help, said, “We are not Superheroes!”

If only we had more faith!

That is just what the disciples ask for in today’s Gospel reading.

This reading comes from the central section of Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus has ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’.  Much of this section makes for uncomfortable reading set in the midst of conflict with the authorities and expectation of worse to follow.

No wonder the disciples wanted more faith.

And the first readers of Luke’s Gospel were followers who were facing hardship and persecution – they must also have longed for more faith.

Jesus’ reply seems to contain both rebuke and encouragement.

Rebuke – “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

But that is also an encouragement – vast quantities of faith are not what is needed! What is needed is for us to use the faith we have – even if it is less than the size of a mustard seed.

The story Jesus tells about the slaves not expecting to be rewarded for doing what they are there for seems rather harsh! It seems as though Jesus senses that the disciples are looking for faith as something to insulate them from the difficulties of their present situation and the worsening conflict they are expecting and he wants them to know that faith does not work like that – but they do already have enough faith to get on with what they are being asked to do.

I headed the email newsletter this week with the words ‘use it or lose it’.  We have enough faith but faith is there to be used.

G.K. Chesterton once said,

 “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried.”

St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is celebrated on Tuesday of the coming week said,

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible!”

 This was how Francis himself lived. He remains famous today not because of his own words and actions so much as because his words and actions conformed so closely to those of Jesus.

As a boy Francis dreamed of earning glory in battle.

He got his chance at an early age when he enlisted, along with the other young men of Assisi to fight in a feud against a neighbouring city-state. Assisi lost the battle and Francis was imprisoned for a time. Defeat in battle and serious illness in prison caused Francis to turn away from his visions of glory on the battlefield.

Francis’ path toward God took a series of turns closer and closer to God, rather than an all at once conversion. However, the course of Francis’ life was profoundly changed by at least two formative experiences. On a pilgrimage to Rome, Francis saw a beggar outside of St. Peter’s Church.

Francis exchanged clothes with a beggar and then spent the day begging for alms. That experience of being poor shook Francis to the core. Later he confronted his own fears of leprosy by hugging a leper.

Shaped by his experiences with the beggar and the leper, he had a strong identification with the poor. Francis cut himself off from the opulent lifestyle of his father and sought out a radically simple life. By the time of his death, the love of God had compelled Francis to accomplish much toward rebuilding the church. He could look on thousands of lives transformed by his call for repentance and simplicity of life. Yet, Francis of Assisi was simply a man transformed by the love of God and the joy that flowed from a deep understanding of all that God has done for us.

Francis approach to his life of Christian service fits with Jesus words to us in today’s Gospel reading when he tells those who follow him that they are to serve with no thought of reward.

But what exactly is the work of God? In what way are we to serve him? We have the example of Francis, to add to that of Jesus’ own life and ministry. Yet, how can we in our own time and place attempt to live more fully into the Gospel?

First, there is no getting around the fact that the Bible knows nothing of professional clergy serving a congregation. The Bible teaches that all Christians are ministers of the Bible by virtue of their baptism. Then as ministers, each of us has a wide variety of jobs to do in the kingdom of God based on the gifts God has given us. While congregations benefit from the ministry of priests and deacons, the real work of the church happens when the people in the pews live out their faith in their day to day lives. This includes many thankless tasks, showing love and mercy in even small ways and even if no one notices. You know how thankless these tasks are because you have the same issue at home. Do you get thanked every time you do the dishes/empty the dishwasher? Or cut the grass? Or wash the laundry? Or make your bed? Or do your homework? Probably not. But let time pass without doing the dishes, cutting the grass, washing the clothes, making your bed or doing your homework and you are sure to hear about it. These are thankless tasks and you take them on with no thought to getting praise for doing them.

We are not to serve others for the thanks we get. We are to serve others as serving Jesus, because that is the life God calls us to.

It is in doing God’s work that our faith and our love will increase, that we will be transformed and will in turn transform the lives of those around us.

Francis took his mustard seed of faith and used it to trust that he could hug a leper, though he was terribly afraid. In the process, he found the faith to work among lepers. And so, again and again, his steps of faith emboldened Francis to trust God more. It is the same for us. Each step of faith strengthens our trust in God to follow even more boldly.

To come back around to G.K. Chesterton, he advised, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”

That was Francis, living out a love affair with God.

When it is me and you living out the love of God, then Christianity will have been tried and not found wanting, nor will it be a series of thankless tasks.

Walking the life of faith then is not done in search of thanks or praise, but is simply an act of love. Then you and I can join Francis in saying that we are merely servants doing what we were called to do. We call ourselves servants knowing that what we do, we do for love, for the one who knows us fully and loves us more than we could ever ask for or imagine.