Sermon preaching on October 2, 2016
World Communion Sunday
Increase my faith, God. Life is so unfair. The world is so full of suffering. There are so much to be done and I don’t know where to start. I’m tired God, so increase my faith. I want to understand the point of all this, where are you, and when can I expect some clarity so the world makes sense again. I want to be faithful, but it feels like it is not enough.
When the disciples went to Jesus and said, “Increase our faith!” what do you think they were expecting Jesus to do? Would he lay hands on them and suddenly, mystically fill them with faith? Would he give them positive thinking mantras like “You can do it! God has a special plan for your life.” Imagine the times when you feel like your faith is in short supply, and you turn to God and say “Increase my faith”, what do you think God would do next?
So why were the disciples making this request? The proceeding chapters in Luke’s Gospel are filled with challenging parables and wisdom saying. Jesus says to pick up your cross, you must lose your life to save it, give to the poor, the wealthy man who ignored poor Lazarus at his gate will have no mercy in heaven, the Samaritans are good people, and then Jesus talks about having patience with people who have weak faith and forgive them, forgive them 7 times a day if necessary. No wonder they cry out, “Increase our faith.” Living as a disciple of Jesus seems impossibly challenging. How do I know if I have done enough, been kind enough, there is always more and I feel like such a small boat on the ocean?
Let’s see what Jesus has to say, which I’m sure will cheer us up. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Thanks Jesus, that clears it up! Are you kidding me? Holy mixed metaphors Jesus. It makes me wonder if the seminarian who was taking notes that day dozed off, and put parts of three different parables into one story about mustard seeds, mulberry trees and the faith to move mountains into the ocean, into one mistaken hot mess. He got a “D” in Parables 101, but Luke was a lousy copy editor and didn’t go back and change it. Matthew would never let this happen. That is one answer.
Just as a thought experiment, what if Jesus actually said this and meant it? What might this strange saying mean, since mustard sees don’t grow mulberry trees and mulberry trees don’t grow in the ocean? These things are impossible. I wish I could get Luke and Matthew in the same room to talk about this verse. Matthew likes everything to be logical and might quote himself from Mathew, chapter 19. Jesus had just told a parable that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Impossible, right?! And one of his disciples blurts out, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies, “With humans this is impossible, with God all things are possible.” Now you see the pattern of how Jesus teaches. He utters the impossible saying – mulberry trees in the sea, camels going through the eye of the needle, etc. Then he says God can make things possible that you cannot grasp unless you are willing to change how you see things.
Faith is an impossible possibility. That was a favorite phrase of theologian Karl Barth. Faith is the impossible possibility, a reality that transcends the everyday experience. Barth meant this in a grand cosmological way. The God of the Universe is completely beyond us and impossible to truly comprehend. When you look at the Milky Way in the night sky, and realize that you are just seeing the spirals of our own galaxy and beyond it are countless galaxies, some so far away that the light traveling to us at 186,000 miles per second has taken so many years to get to us that the galaxy may not exist anymore, then you start to realize that our understanding of God is impossible – unless- unless- God somehow desires to be known and works at the impossible possibility. In Barth’s theology, God was in Christ, revealing divine nature to us so we might know and have new life. In UCC theology, this is why we keep saying “God is Still Speaking.” Faith becomes an astonishing possibility because God reaches out to us.
So here I am God. I am ready for you. Hit me up. Increase my faith. Speak, for your servant is listening. Hello…anybody home. How long do I have to wait, for that still small voice? In Luke’s Gospel, the impossible becomes possible with people who are ready to make a shift, people who are willing to risk, or change their thinking, cross a social barrier. Several times Jesus says, your faith has made you well. A woman with a hemorrhage touches the hem of his robe in a crowd, breaking all kinds of social taboos from Leviticus. Jesus says to her
“Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Zacchaeus, the hated tax collector, the 1 percenter, climbs the tree to see Jesus, and when he is seen, he gives away his wealth, and Jesus says, salvation has come to this house today. A Roman centurion humbly asks Jesus to heal his servant and Jesus says, not in Israel do I see such faith.
12 Step sayings can help us get this. Do you know the definition of insanity? Right, its doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking and behavior that created the problem. We have to be willing to think and act differently for faith to break in to us. Here is my takeaway, faith increases when we stop telling ourselves false stories. We all tell ourselves limiting narratives that just aren’t true. I am not loveable. I’m not smart enough to find an answer. I am not creative. I am just one person. Injustice is too powerful. The church is dying anyway, and nothing ever really changes.
We are so in need of true, hopeful narratives that break the power of cynicism and despair that is engulfing our world. I thought about this reading about the life of Shimon Peres, the Israeli leader who died this week. Peres was seen as a naïve optimist by many, he worked so hard to construct the Oslo agreement which turned to dust. Columnist Thomas Freidman was a friend of Peres and he said that he had two unique qualities: He could stand in the other [person’s] shoes, and he was determined to let the future bury the past and not let the past bury the future. Most leaders have become so hard-bitten that they have completely lost their ability to empathize with anyone other than their own tribe.” This is the limited thinking that could take down our species. Empathy, compassion and a sense of the common good beyond our tribal instincts is the impossible possibility, the mulberry tree growing in the sea. Increase our faith, O God. How can we get that kind of faith?
Peres never got sidetracked in his hopes for peace. At age 88 he made a rap video urging young people to seek peace. He started a series of YouTube videos, and learned to use social media like Facebook, at age 93 this year he opened a Snap Chat account, so he could communicate with young people about peace, young people who have never known a peace process in their whole lives. Here is what Peres said to a young man when asked how he could stay hopeful and full of vigor even at 93. “Every day I wake up and I count my achievements…. And then I count the dreams I have in my head. As long as I have more dreams in my head than achievements, I am young.”
Like Shimon Peres, we are all going to face death, but let’s die still reaching for those dreams. Plant your mustard seed. Stay open to the impossible possibility.