Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, M.Div.
Proper 22/Year C: October 6, 2019
Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
Mother Hymes’ sermon Luke 17:5-10, “Faith: A State of Being, A State of Living”
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 6, 2019
I am the chaplain at the Episcopal Chapel Center at USF. Awhile ago I received a text from a student that read, “Thank you so much for your support, guidance and renewal of faith when I was starting to lose mine.” Can one lose and find faith like one loses and finds misplaced car keys?
Another student texted me, “Mother Adrienne, I look forward to seeing you and being more dedicated to my faith.” I sensed some guilt resulting from what the student may have perceived as negligence in attending worship and other programs by the chapel center. I scratched my head again, wondering what this person thought faith was.
What do you and I mean when we think about faith and then complicate those thoughts by trying to explain it using inadequate human language to describe the intangible reality of faith? Human language simply falls short.
Our scripture passage today compells us to explore what each one of us thinks, says and believes about faith. Is faith an action? Is faith an instrument of relationship? Is faith a state of being? Yes, yes and yes with one major adjustment to the phrase, “Faith in God.” Faith in God is actionable, relational and ontological.
Just before our passage today, Jesus revealed to his disciples a few expectations that were apparently hard for them to swallow. First, Jesus warned them of the consequences for causing any one of their fellow disciples to stumble. “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (v. 2).
Second, Jesus commanded them to be on their guard in order to detect and call out sins committed by another disciple. Another words, don’t turn a blind eye, head directly into the conflict and strongly reprimand the offending disciple.
Third, and this is the expectation that sent them into a tail spin, Jesus said that where there is repentence, a disciple must forgive. And, if the same person keeps on sinning against their fellow disciple—even seven times a day—and keeps on saying, “I repent,” forgiveness must be the answer—every time, no exceptions.
That was hard for the disciples to hear then, and hard for us to hear today. To forgive the transgressions of another is hard work, both on an interpersonal level and in one’s own heart. When other people hurt us, particularly those close to us, the spiritual wound of grievance makes forgiveness hard and often painful.
Hearing Jesus’ seemingly impossible expectations of them, and feeling ill-equipped to do any of it, we enter our passage today with the first verse being the apostles’ knee-jerk exclamation, “Jesus, ‘Increase our faith!’” (v.5).
I imagine at this point the apostles were wondering what they had signed up for, essentially saying to Jesus, “If we’re expected to do this kind of heavy lifting, you’re going to need to give us a bigger tool with which to do it.” Used in this context, faith, for the disciples, was a necessary tool in order for them to do the work that Jesus was calling them to do.
Jesus’s reply far exceeds the disciples’ understanding of faith; he used the image of a tiny mustard seed, nearly indetectable, yet encased within, is the possibility of new life. It may have seemed absurd to the apostles’ ears that even the tiniest bit of faith in God could defy the laws of nature and their own human expectations. The one who has faith like that could command a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey the command, said Jesus (v. 6).
The movement from Jesus’ grand imagery about faith to his parable about the slave owner and the slave is immediate. The language is unfortunate, but we must look past the stumbling block of language to the point of the parable. There is a relationship between the master and the one who serves the master.
The servant is expected to go about his work looking for neither praise nor reward. Going above and beyond in order to obtain more privileges does not exist in this relationship. Those things the servant ought to do translate into obedience. Those things the slave ought not to do translate into disobedience. The master sets expectations for the servant and the servant obeys.
In the Letter to the Hebrews, faith is defined as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (He 11:1, NIV) and that “…Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…” (He 11:6, NIV).
So, faith is confident belief in an unseen reality. As Christ’s disciples, what we know of God we know from God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus Christ given to us in the Scriptures.
Our Lord, Jesus, was for the apostles—and is for us—the perfect model of servanthood in obedience to God’s will.
There is nothing greater than the gift of salvation given to a soul by God when that soul is baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We belong to God and we serve God as his Son’s body in this world.
As those entrusted with carrying the Gospel message—the One to whom we belong expects us to obediently bring the good news of God in Christ to all souls who have not yet come to believe in Him.
What are we to learn from the scripture passage today—one part about faith and the other about unwavering obedience? Through Christ, God expects His servants to serve him in perfect obedience as Jesus did. And, when we stumble, as God knows we will, we are expected to turn to him with repentent hearts so that we may always know His forgiveness.
After the sacraments of Jesus’ body and blood have been consecrated for Communion, we will hear these words, “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in rememberance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving” (BCP, pp. 364-365).
Faith in God is necessary for a relationship with Him. And, faithfulness is a state of being—a state of living in obedience to God’s will—a state of living in Christ Jesus, our only mediator, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (He 12:2).
By faith, let us go about our work as obedient evangelists, equipped by Christ with an all-consuming belief in God. And, by faith, may we be empowered by the Holy Spirit to transform the ordinary human condition, for ourselves and for our neighbors, into one that is extraordinary—an experience with the divine, for which our human language simply falls short.