Preached at St Peter’s, Lakehill – part of the Two Saints Ministry
Text:2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in the Lounge at St John’s for Parish Council.
We were at every parish’s favourite part of the meeting: discussing the financial reports. As I was glancing through the balance sheets, I mistakenly read “Ministry of Music” as “Ministry of Magic” …
Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, that spawned a lot of interesting conversations both online and in person. It also has me wondering if the “Ministry of Magic” is more along the lines of that Jesus’ disciples are asking for in this morning’s gospel.
Lets take a look:
We are in Luke chapter 17. In Luke’s narrative, we are nearing the end of Jesus’ travelling ministry. He and the disciples have left the area around Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth for the last time are walking the difficult road into Jerusalem. Jesus knows exactly where they are headed: to Jerusalem and to the cross. The disciples, well, they really only know about the Jerusalem part.
So when I hear this dialogue between the disciples and Jesus in our gospel reading this morning, I have “sarcastic Jesus” in my head:
Jesus, increase our faith!
Increase your faith?! What do you want, a magic wand to wave to instantly give you faith the size of a mustard seed? Would you prefer the size of a peach pit? Or an avocado seed? Those are bigger than a mustard seed…
It seems like another one of those moments where Jesus has to refrain from saying, “I’m right here…! You’re asking to increase your faith and I’m still here…!”
They haven’t even hit the “bad stuff” yet – the disciples are still blissfully ignorant of what is to come. Yes, there have been hints of what will happen in Jerusalem, though fewer in number in Luke’s narrative than in the other gospels, but there is very little indication that the disciples truly understand the road of suffering that they are walking on with Jesus.
But they’ve been told that there will be suffering. They’ve been given indications of the fact that this is a hard road they’re walking on. Asking Jesus to “increase their faith” strikes me as a way of asking to get to the Olympic gold medal without actually having to run the race – getting the result without having to do the work.
But that is usually the way we want it, isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t it be great if we would wave a magic wand and our faith would be topped up to the max? Our churches would be full, our Sunday School teaming with kids, our offering plate overflowing…
If only there was a quick fix where we could bypass all of the hard work and just get to the prize.
If only we could skip the suffering altogether.
That is what we are told we should want by society: Turn on the TV, open a magazine and look at all of the advertising for things that offer the quick fix – whether it is a miracle pill or the new workout regime that YOU SIMPLY WON’T BELIEVE or an amazing new cream you can spread on and defy aging – we live in a society that wants results without having to do the work.
It is easier to just throw money at something than put in hard work and time in to something that may or may not work.
Because the mindset we all-too-frequently buy into says that suffering is something that is not okay, in fact, it is something shameful we must hide – and pain is something we have to pop a pill to avoid.
Or – better yet – we can pass it all off to the leader of our group. Isn’t that what the disciples want? Jesus is Jesus, so he can just increase our faith for us with a snap of his fingers.
The rector is the leader, so they can make our church grow, do all of the hard work and have all of the faith on behalf of all of the rest of us … right?
But that is not the faith that we are called to live into.
We are called to live into a faith where Jesus invites us to take up our cross – to embrace suffering – and follow alongside.
In the letter we read this morning, the writer named as Paul says, DO NOT BE ASHAMED, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but JOIN WITH ME in suffering for the gospel …
Paul is clear: Our faith is NOT disgraced by suffering. Despite the fact that he was in prison for proclaiming the gospel, Paul says, I am not in prison because we have any reason to be ashamed of what we are doing. No, says Paul, I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith…
And then Paul proceeds to remind Timothy of what the disciples needed to hear, of what we need to hear:
You already have faith.
To Timothy, Paul says, I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to REKINDLE the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands…
To all of us, we can imagine him saying: Rekindle that faith that I know is within you and that was confirmed through the laying on of hands. Remember that hand that was laid on your head when you were washed in the waters of baptism. Maybe you don’t remember the exact moment – but that is why we renew our baptismal vows throughout our lives, so that we will remember that we have faith.
We already have what we need. HOLD ON to that, says Paul.
Instead of complaining about the size of faith, what would happen if faith were not thought of as a commodity to gain – a metaphorical carrot on a stick to be chased after – and not as a feeling that we need to have – but as a way of being.
Many have suggested that a more appropriate translation of the word “faith” is actually “faithfulness.”
Jesus, increase our faithfulness.
Now, it ceases to be something we need to find or obtain – but a way to live.
What does it mean to live with faithfulness?
It means we continue despite not feeling like it.
It means we struggle through hard conversations.
It means we make hard choices – and even sacrifices – so that the gospel might be proclaimed not only to the people who sit here in these pews with us on Sunday mornings, but so that it might be proclaimed to those who are not here – to our children and grandchildren, to our neighbours, to the people in the community around this building here at St Peter’s and in the Village around St David’s, to our coworkers and friends …
It means we do not get weary of doing what is right, knowing that we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.
And, for our encouragement, Paul reminds Timothy – and reminds us – that we are part of a legacy of faithfulness.
Like Timothy, who is reminded of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, who from childhood instructed him for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, we have a legacy of over 150 years of Anglicans worshiping in this region.
And the church has been around for 2 thousand years – has faced much more suffering than we could even imagine facing here in our corner of the world – and it has continued to exist and will continue to exist long after all of us are gone.
But that isn’t to say that Paul is telling us to look back to what was and seek to recreate it again now. Rather, Paul is encouraging us to remember the amazing heritage we are a part of, and allow it to rekindle the faithfulness that is planted and rooted within us, and use that as a resting foundation to inspire and propel us in our future.
Because if we just wave a magic wand and skip the suffering, we lose the history and the heritage that have made us who we are and that ground us for moving into the new and exciting – though difficult – future.
Faithfulness, it turns out, is what enables us to vulnerably have the difficult conversations
To make the hard decisions
To work through the conflict
Yes, it is hard. Yes, it is scary. Yes, it is difficult.
But, says Paul, God did not give us a spirit of cowardice – in some translations that reads “fear” – the fear that keeps us from being faithful to our calling – God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
The power and self-discipline needed to remain faithful and engaged in our community – and the love of God and love for each other that keeps us together in community as we go.
Jesus, rekindle our faithfulness.