October 2, 2022, I Want More, Luke 17:5-10, Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

To listen to this sermon, click the link above.

The disciples, Peter, and James, and John, and the rest, lived and walked and worked with Jesus for three years. When Jesus touched a leper (which, for the record, nobody does) he was healed. When Jesus called a man out of the grave, the man came walking out of the grave. When knew rebuked a demon, the demon came out, leaving that man well and sane and free. Jesus often seemed to know exactly what was going on in people’s minds. His works and his wisdom were astonishing.

It was only natural – natural as in the way that we all think according to our human nature – it was only natural that Jesus’ disciples would measure themselves and their abilities against the power of their Master’s works. It was only natural that they would conclude that they needed more faith. “Increase our faith,” they asked him, in all humility. “Please, we want more of what you have.” And Jesus replied, “If your faith is only as big as a tiny seed, you have all the faith you need, even to do the impossible.” And then, knowing full well that they still didn’t understand, or maybe that they didn’t quite believe that, he told them a story.

Jesus starts his story “which of you…” which tells you he’s going to say something everybody knows is true. “You all know,” Jesus began, “that when a slave comes in from working all day in the fields, his master doesn’t invite him to sit down and rest. You would never put on an apron and go rustle up some supper for your slave because he was tired. No, you know how it goes. The master says to the slave, “Go get my supper and stand by until I’ve had enough. Then you can go get something for yourself to eat.” A master doesn’t feel the need to thank his slave for doing all this; it’s just what is expected of him. And at the end of the day, no matter how exhausted he might be, a slave never feels that he has done anything deserving of his master’s praise or thanks. When the slave looks at himself, he thinks, “I’m just a worthless slave, nothing more.”

That’s how the world works. We all know it. Which of you is not familiar with the weariness of spending so much time and energy trying to measure up, trying to be good enough, by your own efforts, according to the standards imposed on us by the world – or even by the church? We’re all familiar with the thankless drudgery of work and paychecks and household duties. But it applies equally to the efforts we make to prove that we are good people: by our morality or our generosity or our spirituality. It all comes down to the same thing: that never-ending, exhausting and utterly fruitless cycle of trying to achieve worthiness by the measure of our efforts. But we never really get there. Because there’s no end to trying to prove ourselves by our own works.

The disciples, when they came to Jesus asking that he would increase their faith, wanted above all things to measure up to the goodness and holiness and power they saw in Jesus. If only they had more faith, they thought, they could do the kinds of amazing things that Jesus did; they could measure up, they could be worthy in his eyes, and in their own eyes, and in the eyes of God. But as long as they were thinking like slaves, they could never do that.

What they needed to understand is that faith is never about what we can do. Faith is only and entirely about what God can do. And God, the God who created mulberry trees and mustard seeds and oceans and all mankind, he can do anything and everything. He, and he alone, is worthy of our faith.

The world tends to have a divided opinion on faith. Some people think having faith is just a way of living with your head in the sand. Others see faith as something that is a healthy and admirable thing, regardless of what you have faith in. But the reality is that having faith, even having big, fervent, sincere faith, is completely useless and foolish – and even dangerous – unless you have faith in something, in someone, who is worthy of your faith. And if your faith is in one that is worthy, then no matter how small your faith is, it is enough.

There were several times in the gospels that Jesus called his disciples “little-faiths.” He used it as a kind of gentle rebuke when their faith seemed to fail them. But the thing is, Jesus never called his disciples “little-faiths” because they weren’t able to do what they ought to do. He called them “little-faiths” because they had forgotten what he could do.

When they were out in a boat with Jesus in the middle of the night one time, and a violent storm broke out, they ran to wake up Jesus in a panic. “Save us, Lord! We’re dying here!” And Jesus said to them, “Why are you so afraid, you little-faiths?” And with a word, he rebuked the winds and calmed the waves. A little faith was all they needed to remember that Jesus was Lord of the winds and the sea and the storm – and of their lives.

Another night on the sea, Peter actually took his faith out for a test drive: he climbed out of the boat and began to walk on top of the waves toward Jesus. But when he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked around him at the crashing waves and heard the roaring of the wind he sank like a rock. “Why did you doubt, O you of little-faith?” Jesus said to him, when he had taken Peter’s hand and brought him safely back into the boat. A little faith was all he needed to remember that Jesus was able to keep him safe no matter where he was.

There was another time in a boat – they spent a lot of time in boats – when Jesus was trying to teach his disciples but they were distracted, because they had forgotten to bring bread along with them, and they were really worried that Jesus was going to be upset with them. The ironic thing was that this happened right after they had seen Jesus feed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fishes. “Why on earth are you worrying about bread, you little-faiths?” Jesus asked them. A little faith was all they needed to remember the miraculous bread they had held in their own hands and the twelve baskets of miraculous leftovers they had gathered up. A little faith was all they needed to remember that Jesus was always able to provide everything they needed.

What the disciples needed, and what we need, is not big enough faith. What we really need is to put our faith in a big enough God. What are the problems that you’re facing right now? What did you worry about this week when you woke up in the middle of the night? What is it that’s filling you with fear every time you think about it? The thing about relying on ourselves and our own efforts is that most of the things we fear really are bigger and stronger than we are. What power do you have to face a diagnosis of cancer? What can you do to stop the inevitable aging of your body and mind? How much can you do to prevent a tragedy that might take someone you love away from you forever? What power do you have against catastrophic weather events like Hurricane Ian? What power do you have against the opiate crisis or the next wave of the pandemic?

The gods that so many people try to put their faith in are just not big enough for the job: not ourselves for sure, not money, not science, not political power. We are hopelessly small and useless in a world of big problems and impossible demands, and our faith is just the tiniest little seed of a thing. But a little faith is all we need to remember that our God – the God who hears our every prayer and forgives all our sins – the God who is present with us today in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist – the God who is present in this gathering of his people – that he, and only he, is the God who is big enough. He is the only God who is worthy of our faith.

If our own strength and our own works are the measure of our faith, we will always come up short. But if our little seed of faith is planted in the one true God, we will never need to be afraid or ashamed. We all know that seeds are very small. But the other thing we all know about seeds is this: seeds grow. Our little faith is all we need. But little faiths grow and bear fruit, and with our faith planted in the God who is big enough, we are able to face anything and everything the world throws at us.

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