Posts Tagged ‘Increase our faith’

Add Faith To Us 10-2-16

In this sermon, based on Luke 17:5-10, I explore an interesting request from the Apostles to “increase our faith.” Yet a translation hiccup reminds us that faith is not something that we can quantify.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

When I was in high school, I was very active in a lot of the fine arts. One of the things that I enjoyed was large group speech, and in particular, group improv. It is so much fun to work together with a group of people to come up with a story right there on the fly…unscripted…unplanned.

And because of my love for improv, it will probably come as no great shock to hear that back in the late 90’s, that one of my favorite things was the improve tv show Who’s Line is it Anyway…a half hour long batch of games that were completely improvised…and the catch phrase of the show was always great…the show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. (pause)

I think that last phrase…the points don’t matter…that was what always caught my attention…because that tends to be how I approach pretty much everything. In all likelihood that’s probably why I’m not the biggest fan of sports…because I don’t really pay much attention to the scoreboard.  One of my favorite things to say when someone asks me about the score of some random game or another, I usually end up saying “It ended up too much to not enough.”

But honestly…that’s not how things really work is it? We love to keep score…we love to quantify things…and not just the outcome of sporting events…but pretty much everything…we, as human beings, have the tendency to attempt to quantify…absolutely everything. (pause)

And we see evidence of this in our story today…as the apostles look for a boost in on the faith score board.  (pause) Here’s the deal…in the midst of traveling around…following Jesus from place to place…the apostles have seen a lot…they’ve heard a lot…they’ve even experienced a lot of amazing things first hand.  They’ve seen Jesus perform miracles.  They’ve seen him cast out demons. They’ve seen him raise people from the dead…they’ve watched the guy walk on water. (pause) And we can’t forget that the apostles have even been empowered by Jesus, and sent out two by two to do some of these very same things themselves.

But now, as they are finally nearing Jerusalem…getting pretty close to the place where Jesus has told them repeatedly that he’s going to be betrayed and tortured and killed…maybe its finally starting to sink in that at some point…they’re going to be on their own…without their master…seemingly left to their own devises. (pause)
But they also know that they’ve got a mission hanging out there too…to proclaim a gospel of repentance…and then to announce the forgiveness of sins…and not only to proclaim this, but to actually do it…to actually put it into practice.

Right before our passage for today, Jesus has told his followers that when someone sins against them and repents of it…they must forgive…even if they have to forgive that person seven times a day, every day…over and over again.  (pause) Now I don’t know about you…but if I was faced with ALL of this stuff…everything that they’ve seen and heard and experienced…along with everything that Jesus has tasked them with…well I think my response would be the very same. (pause) LORD…INCREASE OUR FAITH.

That phrase…that request…the more I think about it…the more monumentous that request actually seems…and there seems to be a lot of fear and a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainty all wrapped up in that simple request. Lord…I don’t think I can do this…I know you’ve said to simply believe in you…but come on man…I don’t know about this…You’ve got to help me out here. (pause)
There’s a lot wrapped up in our first verse today isn’t there?  There’s a lot behind that request…and I think if we’re honest with ourselves…we probably make that same exact plea more often than we want to admit.

Lord…I’m facing some big stuff…and I don’t think I can handle it…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, work is overwhelming and I don’t feel equipped…increase my faith. (pause) Lord, what you’re asking me to do it impossible, I can’t do that…increase my faith….and so on and so on.

But when we are saying this…just like when the apostles make the same request within the gospel…just what are we really saying? What are we really asking for?  Are we looking at the heavenly faith scoreboard and finding our tally lacking? Or is there something else going on here?

I think this is an important question to ask…or maybe, just maybe we need to flip it around just a bit to ask…can our faith be increased? And to answer that…we need to look to the words of Jesus today. (pause)
Now his words are a little strange…offering up a couple different topics that seems, at first glance anyway…unrelated…but the first statement does seem to apply to this notion of increasing faith.

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to yank itself up by the roots and plant itself in the ocean…and it…would…happen. (pause)  My first response to that is…what? Why on earth would I want to send a tree to into the ocean…wouldn’t make a lot of sense…and maybe, just maybe, Jesus isn’t trying to make sense here…because if all it takes to make this ludicrous thing true is the tiniest amount of faith…well then it seems like faith can truly accomplish amazing things…things that seem foolish…things that seem stupid even…things that humanity would laugh at…like even the notion that God would become human…and that God would die. (Pause)

Scripture reminds us that the cross…the very place where we put our hope…is folly…a stumbling block…foolish even…but hey, if faith can do something as foolish as sending a tree into the ocean, well then maybe faith can do this too. (pause)
But all that being said…just what is this whole faith thing anyway? It’s a word that we love to throw around in the church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran Church…but just what is it anyway? (pause) The answer to that question…put very simply…faith is believing that something will happen…and it can look like a lot of things.  Like believing that the sun is going to come up in the morning…or that if I plug in my wife’s number into my phone that she’s gonna answer…or if I put my key in the ignition of my car and turn it…its gonna start. Believing that what is expected to happen, will happen…but none of that is really earth shattering or life altering…but what about being saved from our sins…what about God loving us so much that He claims us as heirs of the promise…and that not only did he talk about dying for each of us…that he actually did it…and believing him when he says that he has gone on beyond death to prepare a place for us and that he will come back for us…simply because he said he would…can we believe that?

Because that’s what faith is…believing what God says about you…believing that God sees you with great worth…worth dying for….that’s the beauty of the gospel…that’s its not about what we do or what we say or what we think…but its about believing what God says about you. (pause)

Now here’s where things get a little hazy…because we’re not good at simply things are we?  Especially not something as big as this…because its in our nature to think that we have to do something for it…that somehow we have to earn it….or that we have to say it, or we have to believe it…big enough….because we like to keep score don’t we.

Call it whatever you want…self justification…or giving ourselves assurance…but when it comes to the here after…I think we all want to look at the checklist to make sure we’ve actually gotten our get out of jail free card.

But that’s not how the gospel works…and we see this within Jesus’ rather cryptic second statement today…what master, having slaves that have been out working all day invites them in to sit down?  No…they’ll do what’s expected of them…which is to feed the master first. (pause)
I went round and round with this part…trying to figure out what it was that Jesus was saying…but I think we find it in the final statement. So you, when you have done all that you were order to do will say “we are worthless, having done only what we ought to have done.” (pause)

Now this is odd…but I think what Jesus is reminded us here is that as followers of Christ…as people who put our belief in him…our faith in him…there isn’t any sort of “minimum activity” that we have to pull off in order to check our cosmic scoreboard to see if we’re winning or not…now matter how much we might want to keep score…no matter how much we might hope for an increased level of faith…that’s not how any of this goes.

The righteous shall live by faith…period.  We don’t need MORE of it…we simply need it…and we don’t earn it…any more than we work to pay it off…and the one thing that the apostles actually do correctly here, is looking to the source of faith…Lord increase our faith….its not from us…its not self generated…it comes from the Lord…the ability to believe this utter nonsense about a God who loves us enough to die for us…can only come through the power of the spirit working within us.

And as per usual…we’ve got a lost in translation moment…and the request from the apostles is skewed because of it…our modern translations pretty much all say the same thing. Increase our faith…as if it could be quantified…but it can’t…and the better way to look at this request is “Add…faith…to us.”  Its not a question of asking for more…it’s simply a question of asking God for it. (pause)

Our Lord is the source of faith…the source of that which justifies us…and God grants it to us because he choses to, not because we have earned it…our salvation is not God’s way of thanking us for anything…but our response…what we do with it…that is our way of saying thank you back to God…and make no mistake, we are called to do something with this faith…with this amazing news that sets us free…and that calling is to share it…to share the message of repentance and forgiveness…made possible because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us. (pause)
Now hearing that charge…perhaps it’s a little intimidating…because it falls under that really scary word of Evangelism that none of us really like very much…but the amazing thing about God’s invitation to us to join in the work of reconciling the world is simply realizing that through Christ’s work, our story becomes part of God’s story…and all we are called to do is extend the invitation to come and see.

Some will accept and some won’t…but you know what…that’s not up to you…that’s up to the spirit…so take the pressure off yourself…and look to the source of faith…our father in heaven, who has already made you this promise…and because of what Christ has already done…it is already given to you freely.  Amen


What is Faith

Today’s sermon came from Luke 17:5-10, though I cut the lesson short, focusing on the first couple of verses. Honestly, I think it took longer for the congregation to stand for the reading of the gospel than it did to actually read it. The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith and I take a long look at what faith is and where it comes from.

You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the sermon text here, but note, I went off script several times…adding stuff here and there, occasionally switching stuff around. So the text may be difficult to follow at times.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
The apostles said the Lord “Increase our faith.” (pause). Sometimes I wonder about the disciples. This batch of ragtag backwater ragamuffins that Jesus picked, seemingly at random…to be his closest followers.  Uncouth, uneducated fishermen…a tax collector…a political extremist…a bunch of guys that we really don’t know a whole lot about.
Why did Jesus pick these guys? Did they show him some sort of great devotion from the get-go? Were they just all really good looking and he thought it might increase his status with the cool kids to hang out with them?  Who knows?
All we know is that Jesus chose these guys, and for three years they followed him around. They watched him do amazing things…unbelievable things. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God in new ways…sometimes in understandable ways…and sometimes in confusing ways.  They saw him heal people, raise the dead…they heard him talk about his own death and resurrection…and to top it all off…Jesus planned on building his church on the shoulders of this random crew…Do you suppose they felt up to the task? Or did they maybe…just maybe…feel a little lacking? (pause)
Lord…increase our faith…They might as well be saying “You need to lay some magical Jesus powers on us Lord…then we can do all this stuff that you’re asking us to do.” Or perhaps they’d just heard the old George Michael song “Cuz I gotta have faith” and they thought it was catchy…hard to say.
Either way…they are looking for a boost on the faith scoreboard. Maybe they don’t feel as if they have any and they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we need some faith.” We see that you have faith in God and we’ve all seen what you can do…throw some our way and we’ll be good to go…we’ll head out and do miracles and then everyone will believe us.”
Or maybe they think they’ve got some, but not enough…Maybe they’re saying “Hey Jesus, we’re ranked in at level 5…but we need to be level 10…then we’re golden.”
We don’t really know the motivation of the disciples here…but we do know this…they go to Jesus and ask for faith…and faith…that’s a word that we throw around a lot in church don’t we…especially here in the Lutheran church. We heard it in all three scripture lessons today…we’ve heard it in our prayers…we discussed it downstairs in confirmation class a little while ago…it’s a tenant in the Lutheran tradition. We are saved by faith in Christ…AWESOME!!!! But what the heck does it really mean?
I think this is a serious question, and one worth really thinking about. Faith runs the risk of becoming one of those Christian buzzwords. Something that gets thrown around a lot without ever being defined. So what is faith?  Think about it for a moment…if you were in a conversation with someone…someone that isn’t a church goer…and they asked you “What’s faith?”  What would you say? How would you respond?
Is faith simply following the rules?  Is it just going to church once every week or two?  Is it expressed by trying to do the right thing?  Is that faith?  (pause)  Well, no…I don’t think so.
I think faith…is actually a very simple thing…Faith…is believing in something.  It can be as simple as believing that if I put some money in a pop machine…I’m gonna get a pop out of it…or believing that if I set my alarm before I go to bed, it’s going to go off at the right time so I can get up in time to get everybody ready for the day…or believing that if I climb in my truck and turn the key, the engine is going to start.
It’s a question of believing in something…that’s faith…now granted, those examples that I listed off aren’t anything worth staking my life on…but I have faith that if I do any of those things, then its going to turn out like it is supposed to. (pause)
But if faith is as simple as believing in something…then what does that mean here in the Biblical sense?  What are the disciples really asking for here? Do they even know? (pause)  Often times in the Gospels, we see Jesus correct them…and today’s story seems to be one of those times.
If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this tree to plant itself in the ocean and it will happen.  My guess is that Jesus is getting a little snarky with the boys once again.  Of course you aren’t going to actually attempt to plant a tree in the ocean…that’s just silly…we all know it won’t grow there…so why would Jesus even say that?
Well maybe, just maybe…the example that he’s giving is irrelevant…and maybe the size of the mustard seed…or in this case the amount of faith that he’s talking about doesn’t really matter either….Maybe what Jesus is saying here is that if you have any faith at all…if you actually believe in the promise…then its done.
Maybe that’s all faith really is…Actually believing it…actually trusting in the promise made by God…the promise that if you believe in Christ as your savior…then its done.
Funny…as I sit and think about that, it almost seems like it’s way to easy. All we have to do is believe? Really? (pause) I mean…come on…REALLY? That’s it?  It can’t be it. (pause) Can it?
Well, what if that is it?  What if that’s really all there is too it? To this…faith…thing. (pause)  Well that doesn’t seem so hard now does it?  Kind of makes you wonder just why the disciples are having so much trouble with it…but you know…it seems like the disciples are always having issues with it…in really believing the promise of God. You’d think they’d be the ones to have it down, but it seems like in the Gospel stories its always the unexpected person that Jesus praises for their faith…the woman that washes Jesus’ feet. The woman who touches his cloak in the crowd and is healed…the centurian seeking healing for his servant…these are the people that Jesus praises for their faith…and its because they express belief. They each believe that what they are seeking, will be granted…they simply believe it and it happens.
Kind of reminds me of Yoda in Empire Strikes Back when he tells Luke Skywalker “Do…or do not…there is no try.”  When it comes to the promises of God, you either believe them, or you don’t…It seems that you either have faith, or you don’t. (pause)
But if that’s the case…if that’s really the case…then just where does faith come from?  (pause) I think that this is one point where we can look to the disciples and see that they were doing something correctly…they were looking for faith outside themselves…because faith…is not self generated. (pause)
You can’t make yourself have faith…I wish you could…I really do…but you can’t.  Faith takes two things…first you have to hear the promise…if you haven’t heard anything to believe in then there’s nothing to believe right?   (pause)  Secondly…you need God to act…and that’s where the disciples are getting it right. They are going right to the source…Jesus Christ…God the Son…God right here on earth…They had heard the promise straight from the source and now God needs to act…and we find ourselves in the same boat.  We hear the promise…that we are saved from our sin by Jesus Christ…and it is up to the Holy Spirit to act in our lives to create faith…to create belief in the promise. (pause)
And now here’s the kicker…all of this begs the question…how do we hear the promise in the first place? We have to hear it first right?  Without a promise there’s nothing to believe in…and we don’t have Jesus here to tell us about it do we? (pause) But we’re here aren’t we?
Think about it for a moment…each and every one of you are here because at some point in your life…someone saw fit to tell you the promise of God…at some point in your life someone saw fit to invite you to come…and if you’re still here…then it seems that you believed the promise…it seems that you caught the faith.
And that’s an important point right there…catching faith.  I firmly believe that faith is not taught…(pause) its caught…and if you don’t believe me, take another look at the reading from 2 Timothy for today. Paul tells Timothy “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.”
Timothy’s faith is a generational faith…and I believe very strongly in the importance of that fact.  In a recent survey of faithful youth within the Lutheran church…the vast majority stated that their faith formed because of the work of caring adults…adults that were willing to invest in the faith of those young people…but the identity of those caring adults might just surprise you.  For the vast majority of those faithful youth…it wasn’t the youth director…it wasn’t the pastor…it wasn’t the Sunday School teacher…it was their Mom and Dad…and it was their Grandparents.
I’ll go on record…here and now…I’ll go on record saying that I believe that parents, you are the MOST important person in modeling a life of faith for your children…but while you might be the most important…you are not the only ones. Extended family…you’re responsible too…but you aren’t the only ones either…everyone…top to bottom…everyone is responsible for creating an environment where the promise of God….the promise that we are saved from our sin through Jesus Christ…is proclaimed…where the promise is lived out…
And when that sincere faith is present…when it is talked about openly…and honestly…that’s when the Holy Spirit gets busy to bring the new individual into a saving faith in Jesus Christ…because the faith that we have…the belief that God will do what God says he will do…its contagious…and that’s a fever worth catching. Amen.