Monday, October 3, 2022

Small Steps toward Increased Faith


Luke 17:5-10

Proper 22 / Year C

The Apostles have been with Jesus for some time.  They have witnessed his miracles.  They have heard his profound teachings.  They have seen him challenge the corrupt establishment.  Each of his actions has been grounded in a captivating spirituality; enticing them from their homes and families and careers in order to follow Jesus from town to town and encounter to encounter. 

In today’s gospel reading the Apostles come to Jesus with a request: “Lord, increase our faith.”  “Help us to do what you do.”  That Luke says it is the Apostles who approach Jesus, not the broader, more diverse followers he calls ‘disciples’, is significant.  The Apostles are the ones who one day will be the leaders of the Early Church.  They will be the ones who travel much of the known world proclaiming Jesus as the Risen Lord.  They will be the ones who willingly welcome martyrdom rather than shrink back from their witness to the truth.

“Increase our faith.”  Jesus responds with two teachings.  First, he says if your faith is the size of just a tiny seed you will have the ability to uproot a tree and cast it into the sea.  Then he reminds them of the role of a servant who, after working in the field all day, still comes into the house and serves his master a meal; all the while believing he is doing merely what is required of him.

The image of the seed directs our attention not to the Red Sea-parting, spectacular acts of faith, but to the simple, basic, day-to-day encounters which come our way.  Your faith may be tested by the earthshaking events of your life, but it is built over time in small, perhaps imperceptible ways. 

Our prayers are with all of the people whose lives have been devasted by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.  I cannot begin to imagine what they have endured, what they have lost, what they now bear, and what they will have to face.  If Jesus is right about faith being like a small seed than their challenges will have to be met one small step at a time.  They will have to be able to celebrate one small victory at a time.  Strong faith is able to detect God working in seemingly insignificant ways which, over time, redeem and transform the world. 

Today we celebrate St. Francis Day.  Now Francis did many fantastic things in his life.  He renounced his share of the family fortune and embraced a life of poverty.  He worked mightily to repair dilapidated church buildings across Europe.  He formed faith communities which changed and shaped the Western world; communities which thrive to this day.  He confronted corruption and apathy in the Church and initiated reforms bringing new life to a tired, crusty institution.

And given all these incredible things, what is it we remember most about Francis?  We remember he was kind to animals.  And we remember through his reference to brother sun and sister moon how Francis’ sense of spirituality was grounded in a vital connection with the beauty of nature.  Surely these are the smallest aspects of the great works he accomplished in life, but it is exactly their smallness which is most telling.

Every now and then, someone will say something to me like “I don’t know how a person can join the ordained ministry or become a missionary because I don’t have that kind of faith.”  I respond most people don’t seek ordination or a mission field because they have profound faith, but because they have a deep sense of being called by God.  I have heard colleagues describe fighting off the calling for a long time and never having peace until they embraced it.  I have never heard a colleague directly connect their ordination to having great faith.

Perhaps this surprises you, but it shouldn’t.  Faith is more closely related to the small acts than to a huge commitment.  Jesus said as much when he taught the person who is faithful in a little will also be faithful in much.  You increase your faith one small step at a time.

The story about the servant also says something significant about the ‘littleness’ of faith.  It suggests you build you faith not on the mountaintop, not in a great cathedral, not in the spectacular moment, but in the regular course of the daily round… where you live, in the common tasks you do, face-to-face with the people of your community.  It is formed and fashioned through attentiveness to others.  It is formed and fashioned by participation in community worship and perseverance in private prayer.  It is formed and fashioned through personal reflection.  It is formed and fashioned by applying what you know of the teachings of Christ to the mundane routines and unexpected encounters of your daily life.

Who among us wouldn’t want to have more faith?  Who among us doesn’t crave great personal reserves to draw upon when the chips are down?  Who among us wouldn’t like to have an inner strength which translates into profound outward action?  Jesus tells the Apostles their faith can grow, and will grow, if they commit themselves to doing it one small step at a time.