The 19th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22C (October 3, 2010)

Asking for Faith

Lessons: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Psalm 37:1-9 (5) 2 Timothy 1:1-14 St. Luke 17:5-10

Semicontinuous Series: Lamentations 1:1-6 Lamentations 3:19-26 (23) or Psalm 137 (7)

Prayer of the Day: Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us.  When we are weak in faith, strengthen us.  When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text

[ 17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” ]

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”

St. Luke 17:[1-4] 5-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the three-year series of Bible readings used by Saint Peter and many other congregations, representing a variety of denominations) got it wrong this week. The Gospel lesson begins with these words: The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” It sounds, at first, like they know what they are asking. Rather than requesting power or riches or the fulfillment of some selfish desire, they ask for faith. For once, like Solomon of old, they seem to have their priorities in order.

Until we look at the whole passage, that is. Because verses 5 through 10 make no sense without verses 1 through 4. In the first half of this text, Jesus talks about how important it is that the lives of his followers offer a witness to the presence of God’s kingdom in their midst. Their words and actions must not be a source of distraction for those who are seeking the kingdom. If, through them, a little one should stumble and fall from faith, it would be better for them to die a miserable death in the waters of the sea. If someone should happen to sin against them, even if it happens seven times daily, it is imperative that they stay committed to lives of forgiveness and renewal. Life in the kingdom is characterized by helping others to grow in faith, and working forgiveness with those who have caused offense. Life in the kingdom has to do with being agents of God’s transforming power. Life in the kingdom means that just as God inspires, forgives, and renews believers, through them God will inspire, forgive, and renew the world.

The disciples are right to realize that Jesus is setting the bar pretty high here. But they are wrong to conclude that “more faith” is the answer. As Jesus points out to them, it actually doesn’t matter how much faith they have. If they have faith the size of a mustard seed they can command trees to hurl themselves into the sea. No: what matters is the One in whom they place their faith. When a believer’s life is ordered rightly – when trust is placed in God instead of self – then and only then, the miracles of inspiration and forgiveness and renewal are possible.

That is what is expected of those who wish to live as followers of Jesus Christ. We don’t focus our attention on inspiration and forgiveness and renewal in order to impress God or others – we don’t do so out of a desperate need to be praised by those who notice. But like obedient slaves, we become involved in these sacred tasks because that is what it means to be who we are: citizens of God’s kingdom. It means being so powerfully graced by these realities, that we live for the chance to share them with others.

So we pray this week. Not (with the disciples): “Lord, increase our faith.” But (with Jesus): “Lord, help us to place our faith in you.” We know that as we do so, God will empower us to the kind of faithfulness that we could never reach on our own. A faithfulness that can even bring others into the life of Christ.

Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What does Jesus ask of his followers in verses one through four?
  2. Why is their response, in verse five, misguided?
  3. How is the image of a slave at work in the master’s household a helpful one for believers?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced the kind of growth in faith, or forgiveness, that Jesus describes here?
  2. How has that made a difference in my life?
  3. With whom might I share those gifts today?