This summer I attended a workshop on “Living Abundantly” given by Rev. Sandy Selby, chaplain to the Akron, Ohio police Department. She asked a good question about how we see the world. And that is “Do we see the world through a lens of abundance or scarcity? She defined abundance as sufficiency, an inner sense of gratitude that what one has is enough. She detailed four parts of living abundantly, the first one is 1) Faith/Awareness of God, followed by 2) Community, 3) Lifestyle, and 4) Ministry. Today I’d like to focus on the concept of faith as we prepare to celebrate the sacrament of communion on this Worldwide Communion Sunday.
In Luke’s gospel is chapter 17, Jesus has just told his disciples that they are to be on their guard. It will be easy to stumble and lead people astray. It will be hard to forgive those who mistreat them. The apostles come to Jesus and say, “Increase our faith!” They have seen him doing amazing things, but they have no idea how to carry on his work. They are still spiritual infants. They’re thinking, “Lord, you’re asking us to love people we would normally hate. You’re asking us to forgive people who have hurt us time and time again. You’re asking us to feed the hungry and to work for justice in the world. Jesus, we’re not you. How can we move the mountains all around us?”
We too, look at shrinking congregations and increasing cost in time, talent, and treasure of maintaining ministry and say, how will we continue? We get distracted by major and minor issues. We have many responsibilities in a much more complex world. How can we do Jesus’ work?
In this week’s Gospel reading the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.
This seems like a dumb question; these guys have been following Jesus all around the country. And now they are on their way to Jerusalem. It’s a bit late for a pep talk.
Like us, the disciples tend to think that more is better. If only they could have a bit more faith, then everything would be ok. They have seen what Jesus has done, healing the sick, feeding the people, giving people hope. How can they live up to that? There is no way they can do what he did with their puny faith. If they want to do what Jesus did, they need so much more.
Jesus replies, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea and it will obey you.” What did Jesus mean by “faith as small as a mustard seed?” The mustard seed was known for its small size, yet it grew to be one of the largest bushes in Israel. Picture a mustard seed lying in your hand. It is very small, yet imagine the growth potential. “Faith is like that,” said Jesus. What is this faith that has so much power?
Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that faith is a powerful force. The disciples, however felt that their faith was too weak to ever accomplish all the things Jesus was asking them to do. Jesus assured them that did have enough faith, they simply needed to exercise their faith and trust God. What really mattered was not the size of their faith, but the size of their God. A little faith in a great God will change the world. Faith is a matter of aligning our lives with the purposes of God. What kind of world does God want? Deep in our hearts we know . . . A world where everyone lives in peace and harmony with respect and justice for all. God’s kingdom will come, the kingdom of peace and love. If you want to see mountains moved, or mulberry trees thrown into the sea, align yourself with the purposes of God. It has nothing to do with the size of your faith, and everything to do with the size of our God.
It begins with our individual journey. J.P. Stipe once said, “Faith is like a toothbrush. Every person should have one and use it regularly, but they shouldn’t try to use someone else’s”. Well that’s kind of a yucky analogy, but it holds some truth. At some point in our lives we come to a personal awareness of God, and when we begin to seek God in prayer, in scripture, in church, we begin to live more abundantly. We find what we are called to do to serve God.
Our faith may not look the same as everyone else’s. But the wonderful news is that we are all the body of Christ. As we celebrate communion today, we celebrate with a host of all those who believe in and follow Christ. It is world-wide Communion Sunday.
God invites us to be faithful, to seek to God’s work in the world. Faithfulness is about being a witness to the grace and mercy of 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 of God’s love and do acts of compassion even on those days when our faith seems weak. It’s when we pray in community with a family when they learn their loved one is not going to get well. It’s when we knock ourselves out working on the Christmas bazaar. It’s praying with our prayer chain and raising money for missions. It’s singing in the choir and playing instruments, it’s teaching Sunday School. It’s taking care of the buildings and grounds. And so many other unrecognized acts of service. We are faithful when we lift up our hearts as we celebrate the sacrament of communion. It’s helping those we will never meet. The church, our community of faith, to be faithful, must seek to find God in every person and experience of daily life.
The disciples should not feel inadequate and neither should we. Being faithful is doing what God would have us do in the world even when we think our faith is incomplete and doesn’t measure up. Jesus is not a figure-skating judge who rates us on our faith. He accepts us just as we are. We are called to trust God with the faith that we have. It is not complicated, and it may not seem like much, but in Christ, faith can move mountains. It is not about having enough or knowing enough. Jesus says in John 10:10b,” I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
Faith is knowing we are enough, because Christ has called us and given his life for us. May we live into that hope and experience the abundant life that God desires for us. Amen.