Sunday, October 6, 2019
Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
On Monday, September 23, 2019, Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old teenager from Sweden, delivered an emotional and scathing speech at the United Nations Climate Summit. She accused world leaders of stealing her dreams and her childhood with their inaction on climate change (“Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg delivers scathing speech at U.N.”. NBC News, Kalhan Rosenblatt, September 23, 2019).
Whatever your thoughts may be about Thunberg or about climate change, she slammed the members of the U.N. for caring more about money and what she referred to as “fairytales of eternal economic growth” and collapsing ecosystems, the growing extinction of flora and fauna and people suffering due to climate change. It happened that the Sunday before her speech at the U.N., one of our readings from the lectionary was the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:1-213).
In the telling of the parable, Jesus makes clear what we know to be true – we cannot serve God and wealth. We will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other (Luke 16:13). It was not a parable, but Thunberg did make a point of referring to “fairytales of eternal economic growth.”
When we think about wealth, our inclination is that we want more and more and more. The plutocrats of the world are not bound by their political or social ideologies. A person whose power is derived from wealth may be a capitalist, a communist, a socialist or whatever “ist” they may identify themselves to be.
Growth is good. More is good. Like the plutocrats, we want more and more and more. Eternal economic growth is good.
But having enough is not good and having enough to share is definitely not good. In our reading from The Gospel According to Luke, the early disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. They want more. Like us, they think more is better (“Living by the Word,” Dennis Sanders, Christian Century, September 25, 2019, page 18).
I guess it is not surprising that they want more. “They have seen what Jesus has done. Jesus made blind people see, removed leprosy from the skin of people, cast out demons, fed 5,000 people with a few fish and a little bread and so much more” (Op.cit.)
I imagine they were convinced that there was no way that they could live up to what Jesus did. If they had any thought of doing even a fraction of what Jesus did, they were convinced that they needed more faith. Is it too much to ask for an eternal ongoing increase of faith?
Jesus does not hesitate in his responding “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ʻBe uprooted and planted in the sea,ʻ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:5-6). To do what needs to be done does require an increase in what one already has – faith.
Our inclination is to talk ourselves out of what Jesus is making clear to us. In our reading from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul expresses his aloha Timothy when he writes: “I am reminded your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Timothy1:5). Paul’s words to Timothy should be a source of encouragement to us. Paul does not say: “I am reminded of how your faith has increased.”
If there is any increase for Timothy, it comes from the faithfulness of his grandmother and mother but more significantly from God. Timothy has faith enough. Paul points out that the key to the faith he shares with Timothy comes from God: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough. Dennis Sanders, a pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota makes the point in the following way: “Have you noticed God’s preference for small things? Gideon, the weakest guy in the land of Israel, is called by God to defeat an occupying army. His 300 men defeat thousands on the other side. When Samuel meets the strong, handsome sons of Jesse, God chooses the youngest, David, over his brothers. And God chooses a young, poor woman – living in Israel under the Roman occupation – as the one who would give birth to Jesus.” Then he adds: “God is into using what little we have and performing great works” (Op. cit.).
“God calls us to be faithful – to seek God’s work in the world. Faithfulness is about being a witness to the grace and mercy [that we have come to know in] Jesus. It is about trusting God’s faithfulness to us even when our faith is wavering. We are faithful when we proclaim the good news and do acts of compassion, even on those days when our faith seems small” (Op. cit.).
Jesus calls on the early disciples to do as he is doing, to be servants to others. He is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows he will face suffering and death. Yet, he remains faithful to God even though he knows his own life will come to an end. We have been called into the church to accept not only the joy but the cost of our discipleship. We are called to be servants in the service of others.
We do not need more faith. What we need is to trust God with the faith we have. Paul reminded Timothy that his faith and love was already rooted in Jesus and that that faith was entrusted to him with the help of the Holy Spirit living in him and in living in us (2 Timothy 1:13-14).