October 3, 2010
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:5
It’s that time of year again! Time to consider an annual flu shot for protection against whatever particular strain of “ick” is likely to descend. We want to increase our immunities, protect ourselves from physical illness, and keep on keeping on about our daily routines.
Sometimes I think our faith is like that, too. Wouldn’t it just be dandy if someone could culture a “faith inoculation” that would increase our faith, protect us from evil, suffering, and despair, AND transform us into “super Christians,” a bold new strain of effective and efficient disciples who can leap tall steeples with a single bound while avoiding all commitment and controversy in the process? Yeah, right.
Sure, we’re basically good people. We want to increase our faith. We want to support our congregations, see worship attendance and offerings grow, have a passel of programs available to nurture and serve all demographic segments of the congregation. Yes, we want to be good stewards, but we’d really like to have all of this on our terms–with our desired level of commitment, investment, and absence of conflict.
We like to be a part of the winning team, but again we like to have some control over the rules of the game. The first century followers of Jesus were not all that different. They were a mixed bag of sacrifice and expectation, of bumbling and goodness, and of faith and folly. Somehow they kept on following Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson opens with them saying “Increase our faith” (17.5)! This exclamation comes on the heels of them hearing the story of the rich man and Lazarus and being warned about stumbling blocks and forgiveness. They must have felt like a major faith inoculation was in order to prevent them from messing up, especially if they were going to be ready to show off some signs and wonders. They wanted, like most of us, the quick and easy faith fix. An inoculation involves only momentary discomfort and then you’re on your way again, better than before–life as usual.
Jesus does not provide such an inoculation; instead, he talks about faith the size of a tiny seed being enough to do incredible things. Huh? The most miniscule amount of faith is enough? Yes, it is. It is enough when we realize that God provides even our faith; therefore, whatever amount of faith God provides is enough for us to do the work of God on this earth. It’s really not about us at all, is it?
A brief story of slave and master follows. The disciples are asked in Luke 17.5, “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?” In his commentary on Luke, Robert Tannehill addresses this story as having particular application to church leaders. We are called to servant leadership, not expecting glory or adulation in return (maybe not even feedback on sermons?). When the master does reverse the roles, as God has done in Jesus, we are still not to take “such surprising treatment as wages due” (256).
We have enough with the portion of faith with which each one of us is working. We have enough because God is working in us. We do not need some super faith vaccination to keep us safe and make us super Christians. Christ already did that. We are simply to keep doing the work with which we have been charged. No, it’s not going to go our way all of the time. There will likely always be some congregation that does it better or is bigger or has stronger leadership, but that doesn’t mean we pack our little red faith wagons and run on over to the greener grass. We are planted in a place as the body of Christ to be faithful and work together through thick and thin.
Remember, dear Christian friends, it’s not about us, it’s about God, and with God all things are possible. So polish up that mustard seed faith and quit pining for a quick fix. God has you covered, and it’s all good when God is in control.
Note: For those of you who want a more detailed discussion of faith, be sure to read David Lose’s excellent article over at Working Preacher.