Thursday, October 17, 2013

If I Only Had More Faith

October 9, 2013, 4:15 PM

If I Only Had More Faith

Habakkuk 1:1-6, 12-13; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9
2 Timothy 1:5-6, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10
   I’m a faith gardener. I’m sure that if I only had a little more faith, my yard could be as beautiful as my neighbors’. I love beautiful yards and gardens and so I ask God to give me more faith. The past few weeks our fruit trees have been groaning under the weight of a bumper crop. Every day I’ve prayed for faith to pick and care for all that fruit. And finally this week, God answered me. Carol Butler and some friends, along with a family of deer, are taking care of all that fruit. I’m also a faith dieter.
   Those of you who are real gardeners know what a wacky idea being a faith gardener is. Truly, though, I’m waiting for inspiration, perfect weather, extra time. . . . I don’t love gardening, didn’t grow up working in a garden—it just looks like hard work to me. Hard work that I don’t understand. And I’m not crazy about sweating. That’s why I’m a faith gardener. As ridiculous as that sounds, we don’t see anything wrong with being a faith disciple.
   When we pick up the gospel reading for today, Jesus has been telling story after story about God’s desire to find the lost and comfort the poor, while painting the wealthy as dishonest, corrupt, cavalier, self-centered, and doomed to torment. Then come two teachings that didn’t make it into the lectionary, which is really too bad. They’re logical conclusions to the parables of the lost and found, the dishonest manager, and the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus tells his disciples that it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their necks and be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones—one of these poor ones—to stumble. And that if an offender repents, re-offends and repents again, they must forgive again—and again.
   And that’s when the disciples become faith disciples. They throw up their hands and cry, “Lord, increase our faith!” Too much! Who could possibly do all these things? What we need is more faith. And Jesus just laughs, “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.’” Because that’s the first thing you’d want to do with faith—uproot a great big tree and plant it in the sea. That would really be useful. Just imagine a whole church full of people with their little mustard seed bracelets planting a whole forest in Puget Sound. The world doesn’t need faith disciples. The world needs servants—Energizer Bunny servants who keep working, and working, and working even when others wear down.
   My real gardener neighbors have worked hard all spring and summer. I’ve seen the bundles of pruned branches. I’ve watched a neighbor dig a clean border with a shovel, sweat pouring from her brow. I’ve enjoyed a friend’s shady arbor transformed from an old dog house, and admired another’s developing terrace. Creating a beautiful yard involves plenty of hard work, sweat, and dedication—even on less than perfect days. It also involves a financial investment in bark, fertilizer, tools, and new plants and plenty of deer fencing.
   Being a real disciple is no different. It’s a matter of doing, not wishing. Real disciples simply see the next thing that needs to be done and they do it—just like a real gardener. Doing things that are hard in less than perfect conditions, being uncomfortable, sweat or tears stinging their eyes, investing their financial resources, even wishing they could be lying on a hammock drinking lemonade, real disciples keep their eyes on the prize—not a beautiful garden, like the real gardener—but the kingdom of justice and mercy that is God’s will for all creation.
   The world doesn’t need a mulberry tree planted in the sea. God needs servants who will work without expecting to be rewarded simply because it’s what ought to be done. You and I don’t need any more faith to be real disciples. We simply need to keep our eyes open do the next thing that needs to be done.
   The prophet Habakkuk is especially poignant today as we read the papers and watch the news.
          O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
                    and you will not listen?
          Or cry to you “Violence!”
                    and you will not save?
Habakkuk hears God’s answer:
          Write the vision;
                    Make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.
          For here is still a vision for the appointed time;
                    it speaks of the end and does not lie.
          If it seems to tarry wait for it;
                    it will surely come; it will not delay.
That vision depends on the work of the righteous—the ones who do the right thing. Not the ones who believe the right thing, but the ones who do the right thing. Not the ones who wish the right thing, but the ones who are willing to work for justice and mercy.
The folks in Bible study this week wrestled with Jesus’ parable of the servants who come in from working hard in the field all day. We think that Jesus was challenging the way that servants were treated—after working all day in the fields they were expected to come in, prepare the meal for the master and only sit down to eat when everyone else had been fed. We don’t think that “worthless servant” is in Jesus’ vocabulary, but it was something that the wealthy Pharisees and land owners might say. And it is the Pharisees with whom he has been in conversation throughout this long discourse that began with Jesus being criticized for eating with “sinners.” Who had the power to change such unjust treatment of servants? The servants and “sinners”? In Luke’s gospel that would be like telling a mulberry tree to plant itself in the sea. Or in Matthew’s gospel, the same parable imagines moving a mountain. Injustice, whether on a large scale or within a family may seem like a mountain—impossible to move or to overcome. But it only takes faith this small that, with God’s help, we can make a difference to take action. What part of God’s vision could we bring to life if we put one foot in front of the other to do the next thing that ought to be done?
In the second letter to Timothy, a young disciple, Paul counsels Timothy to hang on to his faith and to treasure it. He reminds Timothy that his faith is a gift from God and it is sufficient for what God calls him to do. This much faith is all we need—a belief that, with God’s help, we can work for justice and mercy and that we can make a difference. Think what abundant life there might be on earth—and what joy in heaven.

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