Nov 05

Increase Our Faith

One of the challenges of teaching is that as a rule you don’t get to see the results of
your work. You prepare lessons and you teach your classes. You do the best job
you know how, but really you invest the time and energy and don’t know how
good or bad a job you did until 20 years later. For me, since I taught in different
schools, and I have moved a couple of times, I am not so likely to run into a
student I taught 20 years ago.

One of the advantages of Facebook is that every now and then you will hear from a
former student. Usually if they look you up, it is not to give you a cussing. Every
now and then you hear from someone who says a lesson “took.” They still think
about something you said.

Students are always raising their hands to ask, “Will this be on the test?” It is not
really so much about the test next week. It is about the series of them you will
continue to have.

So in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is telling his disciples what he needs to see,
and they respond by asking him to increase their faith. The response of Jesus is a
little discouraging I think because we want him to say “OK” and increase it for us.
Mark Twain said:

“Most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture
which they cannot understand; but as for me,
I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most
are those that I do understand.”

The disciples could see that Jesus was asking a great deal of them. They
understood what he was asking. They realized they did not have enough faith, and
they asked Jesus to fix it for them.

Jesus didn’t answer their request in the way that they expected. He didn’t hold out
his hand and fill them with faith. He tells them instead what a little faith can do.
This is a classic teacher move.

Jesus continues to work with the disciples to teach them what they have to do to
grow in the faith. We would like to increase ours as well.
The disciples had it right really in one way. Faith is the gift of God, so we can pray
that God will increase our faith. Time spent in prayer is fundamental to faith
development, but there are also other things that we can do to build up our faith.
God gives us many opportunities.
First – association with people of faith builds faith, so our participation in the
worship and life of the church is important. We need our brothers and sisters. They
need us.

Second – the scriptures inform and correct our faith. Without the guidance of the
scriptures, we tend to have faith in something smaller than God – money, a
charismatic person, or the the government maybe. Have faith in those things and
you will be disappointed. The scriptures keep drawing us to God so that we can
develop the kind of powerful faith of which Jesus speaks here.

Third – we grow in faith as we act in faith. Every gift of God is strengthened by the
exercise of it, and this is true of faith. Here is a warning for you. The foot soldier
sees too little to know how well or badly the battle is going. Most of us are those
foot soldiers. The martyrs of the early Church may have felt God betrayed them.
They are saints of the Church who inspire us and formed the solid foundation we
stand on now. Faith means believing even when the outcome seems in doubt.
As parents we would all like to wave some sort of magic wand over our children
and see them suddenly morph into responsible people, good productive citizens
who are people of faith. We would like to magically spare them the temptations of
drugs and bad friends.

But that isn’t how it works. Every day you work with your children. You try to
teach them what they need to know. You try to help them to make friends with
good kids. You try to get them to do their homework. You try to get them to clean
up their room. You take them to Sunday school and church. You encourage them to
be active in the church youth group.

You can’t do it for them. On some level they have to work it out on their own. You
want to help, but at the end of the day, you do what you can. They do what they do.
This is the way God is with our faith. He gives us opportunities. He protects us
where he can. He gives us opportunities for growth and brothers and sisters to
support us.

That was what happened to Jesus’ disciples. They said, “Increase our faith!” It
seemed as if nothing happened. Jesus preached a little sermon about how a little
faith could move a giant tree.

But Jesus knew what he was doing. He was moving them inch-by-inch in the
direction that they wanted to go. He knew that their journey would be neither quick
nor easy. They would get discouraged along the way. They would wonder if God
had abandoned them. But then one day they would look around and realize that
they had become the faith-filled giants that they had asked to be. Jesus answered
their prayers. He just didn’t do it instantly.

• We pray, “Increase our faith!” and Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.”
• We pray, “Increase our faith!” and Jesus says, “Love your enemy.”
• We pray, “Increase our faith!” and Jesus says, “Love God with all your heart, and
with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.”
And slowly but surely Jesus nudges us toward faith. He helps us become people of
faith. It may not be what we want to hear, but it is the way we can increase in faith.
We pray for other things too. We pray for our children.
• We pray, “Lord, save our children!” and Jesus says, “Read them a Bible story at
bedtime.”
• We pray, “Lord, save our children!” and Jesus says, “Sit down at the dinner table
as a family. Say grace before you begin to eat.”
• We pray, “Lord, save our children!” and Jesus says, “Take them to church.”
And slowly but surely Jesus nudges us in the right direction. We have work to do in
response to God’s call.
We pray for the world as well. We want God to make it right, and he gives us more
work to do.
We can invite a friend to church or go on a mission trip. We can visit the shut-ins
or drive for Meals on Wheels. We can vote.
God gives us opportunities to make this a better world.
We want quick answers. Jesus teaches us patience.

I don’t know what you pray for, but I know these things:
• I know that God doesn’t always answer prayers quickly.
• I know that God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way that we wanted or
expected.
• But I know that God, in his good time, brings great blessings to those who come
in faith.
Lord, increase our faith!

I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Spirit. Amen.

Sermon preached by Fr. Tom Haynes at St. Thomas Episcopal – Plymouth
October 2, 2016; Twentieth Sunday of Pentecost – Proper 22
Lamentations 1:1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

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