Monday, October 3, 2016
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed...”
I did a lot of bike riding in my twenties and thirties when I lived in Northeast Ohio. Unlike Suffolk, that part of the country has hills, not mountains, but long, rolling hills. I can still visualize coming to the top of a climb and looking across the valley to see the next major hill. It must have been some kind of optical illusion because that hill in the distance always looked tall and steep. Only as I approached it did I begin to see the climb, while challenging, was not nearly as difficult or as ominous as it appeared from a distance. My initial reaction of “I’ll never be able to pedal up that” always gave way to “I can do this.”
Jesus’ followers ask him to increase their faith. It is a reasonable and even laudable request – much better than, say, “grant that I can sit at your right hand in glory”. But Jesus does not give them more faith, rather he tells them they can do great things with even the tiny, little bit of faith they already have. One reason this is so: as with biking in the hills, challenges are never as difficult as they seem at first and at a distance.
I don’t know how I would react if I heard the word “cancer” come out of my doctor’s mouth. Several of you do know because you have experienced it firsthand. You have seen the insurmountable hill in the distance, dreaded the climb, and doubted your ability to overcome. But once you engaged the process you learned two things. First, it is more manageable than you thought, and second, you are stronger than you know. Your faith, which you suspected to be deficient, proved to be more than adequate.
And you learned a third thing through your experience. Not only are challenges not as big as they seem and not only are you stronger than you realize, but you discovered you have more help and support than you realized. People close to you and people far away rallied to your side. There are some loads in life we have to shoulder ourselves, but most can be shared. Letting others in and letting others know is a sign of faith. Letting others help is an acknowledgement God often (and perhaps most effectively) ministers to us through the people around us.
I engaged this truth once again this past week. As many of you know, on Monday I inadvertently opened an email attachment sent to my office computer and it launched a virus. It encrypted all my files – every document, every picture, all my contact information. A ransom note popped up on the screen demanding I go through an elaborate process to pay the hacker in order to get back all of my work. Of course paying does not guarantee the perpetrator will keep his word, not does it ensure the hacker won’t leave a backdoor through which to attack again. The only other alternative is to wipe clean the computer, lose your files, reinstall all of the programs, and start fresh.
Bev Judkins’ nephew Karl Peterson is an I.T. specialist. He came to my office on Monday evening and worked until eleven. He determined nothing could be saved. Though not asked, Cindy stayed with him and the two got my computer to the point where I can move forward. I am sure in the days and months ahead I will continue to discover the magnitude of what I have lost, but I am grateful for the help around me, without which I would be lost. If you want to increase your faith, take notice of the loving care that surrounds you on every side.
Jesus tells his followers even a small amount of faith can overcome some really difficult challenges. He also tells them they already possess enough faith to do some pretty remarkable things. They don’t need more faith in their hearts, they need more faith themselves, in their own hands and in their own arms and in their own feet and in their own legs. They are fully equipped. What they need to do is act.
The Christian Century website offers ideas to put faith into action. It is aimed at teenagers so not all the ideas will be for you, but each conveys the message you can have an impact on the world by doing something simple and manageable:
· Offer to do some yard work for an elderly person or couple in your neighborhood.
· Start your own club. It can be anything from weaving baskets to playing croquet to founding a Christian club.
· Organize an auction where you and your friends can be bought for one day of service! Give the money to your favorite charity.
· Volunteer to help coach your brother’s peewee football team.
· Start your own Christian blog.
· Offer to clean the bleachers and pick up the trash on a Friday night after your school’s football game.
· Volunteer at your local soup kitchen or Food Pantry.
· Sponsor a canned food drive.
· Visit a retirement community and perform a skit or mini-play.
· Coordinate a basketball game between your teachers and varsity team. Charge a few dollars and donate the money to your school improvement fund.
· One Friday night, turn your basement into a coffee house. Serve desserts, hot chocolate, and of course, coffee! Play some good music, and offer this as a fun and safe alternative to weekend partying.
· Host a talent show or concert to support a worthy cause in your community.
· Host an ice cream party for all the neighborhood kids.
· Help out your parents by spending a Saturday giving your house and garage a good cleaning.
· Teach a Sunday school class or volunteer in the church nursery.
· Commit to becoming a “Big Brother” or “Big Sister”.
· Volunteer at the Special Olympics games nearest you.
I have found putting my faith into action gives my life meaning and joy and purpose and energy. With all that drags us down and drains us, it is the little things we initiate to express our faith that gives life. What will do?
Let me end with an old folk saying:
Pride says, “It’s impossible!”
Experience says, “It’s risky!”
Reason says, “It’s pointless!”
Faith says, “Give it a try! You can do it!”