Increase our faith
Pentecost 20 — Proper 22
Text: Luke 17:5-10
To understand our Gospel lesson for today, it is necessary to read the first part of chapter 17, particularly verse four. There Jesus talks about rebuking, repenting, forgiving and what to do when that doesn’t work out as well as the forgiver had hoped.
After advising the disciples to rebuke people who fall into sin, he then tells them that this is so important that they must be willing to do it over and over, even if the sinner commits the same offence seven times in one day and asks for forgiveness seven times.
No wonder the disciples say “Increase our faith!” Who wouldn’t? That kind of forgiveness feels superhuman, even divine. What is the saying? “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Whenever I got caught doing something bad when I was little, I would hang down my head and say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” One time my mother had had enough with one of my regular misdemeanors. She said, “I know you’re sorry. You’re always sorry. What I want to know is when you’re going to stop doing it.”
I’m with Mama on this one. Jesus seems to be asking more of us than is humanly possible. And he is. And that is the point of this text.
When the disciples say “Increase our faith!” they are thinking of faith as something human, something that we do, some intense believing or really positive thinking that results in good things happening. The disciples are thinking of faith from a very human point of view.
But Jesus is talking about faith from God’s side of the equation. This is why Jesus says that faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a large tree and plant it in the ocean. It is not the faith that does it. It is God who does it.
The disciples are worried about their ability to forgive as much as Jesus demands. So they ask for an increase in faith, so that they will be able to perform this feat of humility and generosity and compassion.
They are fretting about their performance as disciples and followers of Jesus. They desire to look really spiritual and faithful to the Lord. This is why Jesus takes great pains to remind them that in the life of faith, it is not the faithful who act and receive praise, it is God.
This is the point of the story of the master and the slave. Though it seems a little harsh to us; Jesus’ point is to remind the disciples of the proper relationship between God and humanity, between creator and creation.
As long as we perform our acts of love and service with an eye to praise from others or a reward from God, we are missing the point. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. God’s love washes over us all, unbidden, unearned and unstoppable.
Charles B. Cousar of Columbia Presbyterian Seminary in Georgia says, “The story (granted, in a sneaky fashion) reminds us of our place and shows how easy it is to exchange roles. God is God; we are God’s creatures — no more, no less. But subtly the order can get reversed, as Adam and Eve discovered. Dominion over the earth is a heady challenge! Why stop there? The serpent says, “You will be like gods!” Or we think of Jesus as the one who washes feet, forgives sins, hears prayers, supplies needs. Pretty soon we come to expect it. And the old Reformed catechism question slowly but surely gets a skewed answer: “Jesus’ chief end is to glorify and serve us forever.”
With this story, Jesus reminds us that the true kingdom, power and glory belong to God and any wishful thinking on our part that “if God would just give us more faith we would be able to do more things for God” misses the point entirely.
The reality is we have all the faith we need to do great things for God, or more correctly, to allow God to do great things in, with and through us. Faith the size of a mustard seed is enough, more than enough, to do all that is needed.
Our calling this day is to humbly ask God to increase not our faith but our willingness to be used by God, in whatever way God chooses.
Our challenge today is to open up our lives to the leading of God’s Spirit, to allow that holy wind to blow us about in God’s world, touching down to serve wherever God wills.
Amen and amen.
- What does faith look like to you?
- Are you willing to be used by God in whatever way God chooses?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
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How come there’s no party for me?
‘Connections: Faith and Life’