Faith as a condiment and main course.
First Reading Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm Psalm 37:1-10
Second Reading 2 Timothy 1:1-14
Gospel Luke 17:5-10
"Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, and he will bring it to pass."
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN
By now, many of you know I like to add a little humor to the sermon. The idea is to provide an example, illustrate a point, or sometimes to keep everyone engaged. If the expected laughter never comes, maybe the congregation has drifted off to sleep. Or perhaps the quip just wasn’t funny. I’m not sure which is worse.
Today’s gospel is about condiments. I do not know any humorous stories about condiments with any redeeming value. Condiments don’t seem to teach us many lessons. But they can be funny. I know a person who owned a horse, and he named it Mayo. Mayo neighs. Mama tomato was taking a walk with her family, and baby tomato was lagging behind. Mama tomato stomped on baby tomato and said, “Catch up!”
Perhaps there is a lesson beyond gratuitous puns and sympathy laughter. If a little humor keeps us engaged in a sermon, perhaps it can help us get through the times in life that are anything but funny. Jesus tells us all we need is a little faith. Just a little. Like a condiment or a spice, just a sprinkle is all it takes to change the flavor, to make the dish perfect. A little faith can go a long way.
Jesus tells the Apostles, the chosen 12, that if they had the tiniest bit of faith, say the size of a mustard seed, they would be able to command a Mulberry tree to uproot and replant in the sea. We have also heard of faith that can move mountains, but I would really like to see the Mulberry tree bit. But this is more than a story about rearranging the landscape. The Greek construction of this "if you had ... you could" phrase is that of an "unreal condition," suggesting the Apostles in fact do not have such a faith. Perhaps this reveals that those who have to ask for faith may not have it. Or, perhaps the Apostles assumed more faith would give them more power. Even if their motives are pure, it seems they want more power for themselves. Jesus may sense what the disciples are asking for is a hit of faith, as if it is a drug that will spare them the difficulty and suffering of the journey ahead. Perhaps they want a 'high' that will shield them from the tension and conflict around them, or that they sense will come. They had to be aware that things were coming to a head between Jesus and the religious authorities. Perhaps they are asking at this moment because they are experiencing fear, pain, or doubt. Perhaps an injection of faith will insulate them from the unpleasantness around them and allow them to act like the heroes they would like to be.
Many of us bear scars of what we assumed was a failing of faith. We ask God for what we want, and if we don't get it, we either blame God, or blame ourselves, for lack of faith. Jesus tells the Apostles and all of us, we don't need more faith ... we need to exercise and stretch the faith we have, even if it is very little. We are called to use the faith we have for what it is intended ... to live it! The Apostles ask for something great. Jesus suggests that they only need something small, not worthy of any boasting or self-satisfaction, but all that is necessary for what they really desire. Christian faith can now be understood not as something strange or unobtainable, something required in immeasurable quantities, but as a spark powerful in its presence, hopeful, trusting, strong even in weakness, surprising, and cheerfully active ... not because of the believer, but because of the One we believe in. Jesus suggests we have enough faith to get on with what we are being asked to do. We offer the faith we can offer. God does the heavy lifting.
In the early 1950’s, the community of St. Paul’s led Macon in racial integration at church. Over 50 years ago, St. Paul’s was already welcoming people of all sexual orientation. Made aware of the need for affordable, independent housing, St. Paul’s built the apartments next door. This community was founded on right worship and against the social injustice of pew rentals. None of those who have gone before were perfect. They did not have a greater measure of faith. They were willing to take the next faithful step God placed in front of them. They were willing to give of themselves, in time, talent, and treasure, to achieve what seemed impossible.
It only takes a little faith, like a spice or condiment to flavor the meal of life. That tiny faith is enough to urge us to take the next the step, to offer to help, to speak up for another, to give generously. God will do the rest. God will do extraordinary things.
Paul writes of "the promise of life," even as Paul himself faces the probability of death. Poor Timothy is never given any credit on his own ... ‘that's Eunice's boy, Lois' grand baby, Paul's helper’. Paul is telling Timothy he has all he needs, and offers the recipe of what is required for ministry. We are able to keep going because of God's power (v8), the indwelling Spirit (v14), and the certainty of God's promise (v12) ... all of this through faith. Our faith may be small, but it is enough. Paul urges Timothy, and all of us, to remember the gift of faith, and to get in touch with the Giver! Through faith, and by God, mountains shall be moved. Amen.