Sunday 1st of October 2016
If there is one common thing among all Christians in this world it is: faith, particularly our faith in Jesus Christ. But even though faith is something that is very important to our lives, is not the easiest thing to talk about. And I find that in private when nobody else watching or listening, people talk to me, as their pastor, about their faith. The thing about these conversations that I appreciate more than anything else is that people are usually honest. Faith is something that burdens many people. Have I got faith? How much faith does a person need? Do I have faith when all I see is my doubts and struggles in this life? How do I know that my faith real? Faith is not something that we as Lutheran’s talk about in public, perhaps like some other churches, but it something that we think about in private.
In today’s reading from Luke chapter 17 Jesus has spoken to his apostles about the fact that their sin in this world, that there will be temptation, there will be judgement and he warned them. He also spoke to them about how as followers of him we are to forgive one another. He says: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
Make no mistake this is hard teaching from Jesus. Living a life where we forgive those around us is not easy in fact it is extremely difficult. The Apostles response to this was to say to Jesus: “…Lord, “Increase our faith!”
I get feeling here that what Jesus is asking of his apostles, seems impossible in their eyes. Behind this request for Jesus to increase their faith, perhaps has the real question: can I really do this? What they are asking of him, might reveal that they are desperate, that they have doubts, that they have fears, that they are wondering about what faith means for them. Of course then it speaks to us as well doesn’t it. It speaks to our faith. In midst of being asked by Jesus to things that seem to us impossible, we might ask: what is our faith good for? Does our faith get us anywhere? Is our faith worth anything? We come to points in our lives we might make the same plea that these apostles did. “Lord increase our faith” in other words “help us to believe” because sometimes it just feels like it is impossible to. We are like this in those moments where only the belief in the power of God can truly make a difference; those times when our own faith is on the line both because it is being challenged but also because we have never needed it more.
The prayer “Increase our faith” comes from the fact that we do fret and we do not trust in the Lord as we should.(Psalm 37:1-9). It’s the appeal to him that comes from our anxiety. It’s the wish that gives witness to our uncertainties.
This is what we pray in those times in our lives when we just need Jesus to make things easier, when we need some answers. We pray this way when our tendencies toward self-indulgence mean that we want quickest way to get to the end; when we just want to get done and be done; when we are tired of thinking and just want assurance; wanting quick solutions instead of the making the effort that is necessary to discover the root cause.
But behind these prayer to increase our faith, what is at the heart of our prayer? What do we imagine that more faith will get us? An easier life? Less pain? More certainty? Effortless answers?
The thing is if it only about a request for faith, that would be one thing, complicated, but we could manage it. Clearly, having faith is better than not having no faith. But for us the thing is we do not leave it at that. It is not so much a question about faith, but how much faith? How do we measure faith? how do we know if we have enough? We live in a world and culture that depends of being able to define, measure and compare. But when it comes to our faith in Jesus it does not work like this. And this, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why Christians struggle with faith so much. Faith is not quantifiable and this one of the most difficult things for us to accept.
If you were to look at the disciples in the bible, you can see that not one of them has perfect faith or trust in Jesus. Rather they have what could be called mixed faith. On one hand, they have left homes and jobs and families in order to follow Jesus. They encountered hostility from many who oppose Jesus. Still they stuck around, even for this final journey toward Jerusalem, and even when they received a warning of what is to come.
But at the same time, in our own world where we experience turmoil and fear, we can empathize with the disciples when their faith wavers. When the wind roars and the waves batter their boat as they cross the Sea of Galilee, even as Jesus sleeps beside them, they are overwhelmed by terror. “Where is your faith?” Jesus asks, after calming the storm (Luke 8:25). Later, he chides their limited trust in God. “If God clothes the grass … how much more will God clothe you — you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28).
Being close to Jesus does not guarantee unwavering faith. In fact all people at times in their lives waver in their faith.
But faith is present among us and it shows itself in many ways, by a variety of people. Faith is persistence in reaching out to Jesus; trusting in Jesus’ power and authority. Faith is responding with love to forgiveness received; not letting fear get the upper hand; being willing to take risks that challenge the status quo; giving praise to God; having confidence in God’s desire for justice; and being willing to ask Jesus for what we need; and these are just some of the ways that faith expresses itself.
Some moments of faith in our lives are as insignificant as a mustard seed, so small that it is not even noticed, and there are other times when our faith seems as magnificent as if a mulberry tree were to uproot itself and be replanted in the sea. And these can depend on what seasons and places in life we are at in our journey with our Lord Jesus.
The apostles in today’s reading recognized that, in their hearts and minds, they did not have the faith required to do what Jesus was asking them. But the reality is that their faith was not the issue. After Jesus resurrection the Holy Spirit was given to them to help them and enable them to follow Jesus and what he was teaching. The same is true of you and me. If we look at our own faith, all we will see how much we lack. But the reality is that God give us faith, he enables us to trust Jesus. Jesus spoke of the faith as small as a mustard seed, how much faith they had was not the issue, it was the fact that they had been given faith. God himself works his love for us by giving us faith. God’s love and grace are immeasurable, unable to be estimated, and we cannot calculate these. God does not measure our faith any more than we can measure God’s love for us. Faith in Jesus is a gift that he gives us. The focus of our faith is not to be on our own faith, or lack of it, otherwise faith can become and idol, rather faith is always focused on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us.
In this I encourage you to keep your eyes on Jesus, the focus of your faith. Keep looking at him, rather than focusing on how much or how little faith you have. Be thankful to God that he has given you faith and be confident in the faith that he has given you. When you walk through the difficult seasons of this life, lean on and trust that Jesus is with you and upholding you. Because this is what true faith is. Trust simply that God knows what he is doing, and that he has given you the amount of faith you need.