Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Gift of Faith

Sermon for Proper 27, Year C
Sunday, October 7th, 2007
Preached at Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 17:5-10

“Lord, increase our faith.”

A group of disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. Now this does not sound like an unreasonable request. Who would not want to have more faith rather than less? Indeed, many of us, more frequently than we would care to admit, recognize the sad truth that our faith might be somewhat lacking. We gaze around us and see others who seem to have a greater faith than we have in the midst of the adversities of life. And for those of us who follow our Anglican calendar of saints’ days, we read nearly every day about someone who is commemorated for the strength of their faith. Thus, who can blame those disciples, so much like you and me, for approaching Jesus and asking him, “Lord, increase our faith…” is this not our prayer, as well?

Jesus rebukes them, using a parable about slavery, which might, at first, seem a bit removed from our modern sensibilities. But if I read today’s gospel correctly, I think that beneath the trappings of the parable, we can ascertain a certain truth, and learn two things: First, that faith is not something that needs to increase, per se, but to simply exist; and secondly, that by quantifying faith, we can fall into the trap that we are either better off, or worse off, than other brothers and sisters of faith.

To speak to the first point, Jesus uses the imagery of the mustard seed. Even if your faith were like this little tiny seed, you are still equipped to do my work – you are still equipped to be my hands and my feet for the bringing about of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Faith is not something that if you have more of it you are a better Christian, or if you have less of it, you are a worse Christian. In the eyes of God, God’s children are all equal, both as objects of love and as ministers of the gospel. A Christian is a Christian is a Christian. There are no favourites, there are no special Christians, there are no inadequate Christians. As the song tells us we are all precious in his sight. So, in this sense, the prayer “Lord, increase our faith,” while well-meaning, is misguided. I wonder if our prayer should be, rather, “Lord, we give thanks to you for the faith you have given us, now help us to live faithfully into our new life in Christ.”

I think many of us are confused about faith. We often act as if it is something that we can achieve if we work hard enough, strive hard enough, pray hard enough, or struggle hard enough – that it is something to be attained through perseverance, and therefore, only granted to the few. But, thanks be to God, faith is not something for which we strive, work or struggle. It is a gift, a gift that comes from God – a gift for all Christians, in our baptism. Under our own power, we have no faith, but through God’s gracious love, we are granted the gift of faith. And thus, even in our darkest, most human moments when we cannot seem to be faithful, especially under our own power, we can take great solace from the fact that faith come not from own wellspring, but from the dayspring from on high.

As to the second point, in using an illustration about not thanking slaves for the work that they are supposed to do, Jesus is cautioning his disciples about thinking too much of themselves and their own powers. There can be no doubt, the choice of slavery as a tool to illustrate this point is surely distasteful to us today. Furthermore, there will be many amongst us, probably in this Church, who have been beaten down in their lives and told the lie that they are worthless and of little value. The point of this parable is not to add to such abuse, but rather disarm potential abusers – particularly those who practice a sort of spiritual abuse, often unknowingly, based on the fact that they believe they have a greater faith than others. I believe that Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that when they ask for an “increase” in faith, they are asking that they might be better than others, who have “little” faith. And certainly the temptation for those who believe their faith is strong, is also, sooner or later, to take credit for this fact themselves. And we all know in our soberest moments, that the faith is not ours but that of the one who faithfully called us, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This parable reminds us that when we think of faith in terms of “quantity” or “quality” we not only take credit for that faith ourselves, but we inadvertently demean the faith of others. And are we not all equally precious in his sight? Is it not His faith, rather than our own?

So again, what is our response to the gift of faith if not “increase it”? Rather, reflecting on this parable, I suggest this: “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices.” Shall our response be “give me more, give me more” or shall it be, “thank you, thank you, Lord, for the greatest gift, the gift of faith." Shall our prayer be one of ingratitude or gratitude? May God give us the grace to thank Him for the wondrous things He hath done, and the gift of discernment to faithfully take up the call to share this Good News with others.

Copyright 2007 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This post may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, without the express written permission of the author.

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