October 2, 2022
"Increase Our Faith”
Rev. Scott Landis
By this time in Jesus’ ministry the disciples had been through quite a lot. They had given up their homes, their professions, and even left behind families in order to do the work that Jesus had called them to do. They were worried about the future – not really understanding what Jesus meant when he said things like, “my kingdom is not of this world” and “in a little while I will no longer be with you.” They were exasperated and knew they were heading into more uncertainty when they cried out, “Lord, give us more faith.”
While none of us have had the same experience of these apostles we read about today, it is quite likely that we have all experienced this level of fear and uncertainty in our lives – a moment – or even years – when we did not know what was coming next. Perhaps we, too, were nearly exhausted – felt like we could not go on as we made similar pleas to God. Maybe we didn’t use the same words, “Lord, increase our faith,” but our intentions were quite similar. “I need help. I believe YOU are the source of help. So, HELP ME … God!” [Pause]
I’d like for a moment, for you to think about “faith.” What does that word mean to you? How do you define faith – for yourself? Is it best described as a set of beliefs — something you have adopted for your life? Or is it a way of life and how you live it? Perhaps said more simply, is faith for you a noun or a verb? [Pause]
Jesus doesn’t give us much help in this passage. He first reminds the apostles upon asking for more faith that there is “no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith,” suggesting that faith is not quantifiable. But in the next breath he offers an example based on quantity, “If you only have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed (in some translations a ‘mustard seed’) which, using either example is a very small amount. “You could say to the sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.
And then he goes into a very strange story about masters and servants which would take more time than I’ve got to unpack so we’ll not go into that in any detail. But it does seem to suggest that faith is far less mysterious than we sometimes think. It really isn’t about amount, and it really isn’t something we can get more of through good behavior. It seems that faith, for we who call ourselves modern-day disciples is no more or less than the way we live our lives – it is integral to who we are because God has made God’s home in our lives just as we have made our home in God’s life. Now, that may be worth unpacking a bit. [Pause]
I have a good friend who used to attend a church in Pasadena, CA periodically. As the worship service began each Sunday, the pastor would announce in his broad, baritone, British accent, “God dwells in you!” And he would say it again. And then a third time. It was an affirmation my friend said he has never forgotten – an affirmation that he took to heart and remembered throughout the week.
Sometimes we forget that, or we may not believe that it’s true.
I used to visit with a spiritual director monthly who would remind me repeatedly, “Remember Scotty, (yes, some folks get away with calling me Scotty) your spiritual path is predicated on the notion that your life is in God – and God’s life is in you. [Pause]
I offer those two testimonies because they are essential to our understanding of faith.
IF, in fact, God dwells in me – and IF my life is in God – then my faith is also grounded and nurtured in that reality. My faith exists and is integral to who I am because I am completely immersed in the grace of God and the grace of God completely surrounds me.
I think this is what Jesus was saying to his disciples when they asked for their faith to be increased by telling them “It doesn’t work that way.” Like God, our faith dwells in us as a graced gift. It doesn’t need to increase to rise the occasion, we simply need to rely on it – not only when the going gets tough – but EVERY day. [Pause]
The other day I was meeting with several of our members on a Zoom gathering as we discussed the topic of faith. We quickly realized and admitted that we don’t think very much about our faith in our everyday lives – and especially when things seem to be moving along just fine. In fact, we only really pay much attention to our faith when it seems like it’s being tested. I suppose, that’s when it feels like it’s in short supply, and we think we may need more to get us through whatever it is we are facing.
But Jesus reminds us, all we need to do is remember that our faith is integral to who we are – there is no separating our faith from our life – and THAT is enough – even if we think it is only [pinch fingers together] this big.
Today we will testify to our faith in a most remarkable way. Christians throughout the WORLD will pause today in their respective communion services and realize anew that we are more than just Keawala’i, and we are more than just the Hawaii Conference, and we are more than just the United Church of Christ, and we are more than just the Protestant Church. We are all followers of Jesus – people of faith. We are people who embody faith and live lives of faith. And we believe that God not only dwells in those of us who worship in churches today – but in each and every human being – regardless of race, class, gender, physical ability, sexuality, educational level – or political party. God dwells in all beings – everywhere. And it is our kuleana to acknowledge and treat others with love and respect as we live out that truth in what we say and do.
That takes faith. That is not easy. But that is what Jesus called his disciples to do in the first century – a call that continues to this day.
I invite you to Celebrate your faith – here on this World Communion Sunday – and then embody your faith as you engage in the opportunities God gives to you in your life each day. It is, indeed, all a gift.