Habakkuk 1.1-4; 2.1-4; Psalm 37.1-9; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.1-10
What the disciples are being asked to do probably felt big to them as well: don’t be a stumbling block to anyone, be sure to confront sin and poor choices in the midst of your beloved community, and forgive ANYONE who repents, even if you have to do it seven times in one day. Jesus is asking them to do really hard things
Their cry of ‘increase our faith’ seems quite appropriate both for them and for us. When things are overwhelming, it is natural to cry to God for help - for more faith to be able to handle the heavy, the extreme, the difficult. A bigger, braver faith could certainly help us tackle the chaos, couldn’t it? Aren’t acts of faith expected to be big things? Don’t acts of faith assume sacrifice and enormity, shouldn’t the greatest acts of faith cost us something? Surely we don’t have enough, surely we must need more.
Jesus’ response to this cry may be a bit uncomfortable for us since he uses talk of slavery, and his parable is set in a context far from our own. But one of the important points he makes is this: it’s not about getting more faith, the disciples are asking the wrong question. The faith we have more than enough to live out our purpose. That means all of the little things we do are just as much an act of faith as something big and dramatic.
Sure, those big ‘acts of faith’ are important. But so is listening to someone who needs to talk, showing up for work and doing a good job, getting kids to school, sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend, writing a thank you note, voting even when you are discouraged by the system, volunteering, cooking supper, taking out the garbage. While the world may need big ‘acts of faith’ from time to time, imagine if even just those of us in this room stopped doing those everyday acts of faith.
Think of it this way. I grew up Roman Catholic and have put in a few years in Catholic school, which means I have spent a fair amount of time with Catholic sisters, with nuns. While my dad may have gotten his knuckles rapped by a sister or two at school, that experience was long gone by my childhood. All that to say, I have deep respect for these women and the work they do in the world. They taught me about social justice, walking with people no matter what their situation, and what it means to follow God’s calling and purpose. And so while we can deeply admire the acts of faith done by Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa), the impact of the daily acts of faith of all the nuns of the world is incalculable.
Our story today is a blunt reminder that a life of faith is not about having ‘more’ faith - it’s not as if we all have indicators like the battery icon on our phones or computers, showing our ‘amount of faith so we know when we need to go charge up and get some more. Faith is deeply resistant to any measure we would like to give it. When we have made our faith about the amount of it we have, we’ve made faith about us and not God. When we make faith about ‘how much’ instead of ‘who in’ we are underestimating what God is doing though the acts of faith we would erroneously label ‘small.’
Martin Luther had something to say about this as well when he once extolled the virtue of a father changing diapers. 500 years ago, a father changing diapers would have been extremely rare and probably considered unbecoming at the time. Luther wrote this: “When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool…God with all his angels and creatures is smiling.” (LW:45:50)
God smiles on ALL acts of faith and in our story today Jesus reminds us that the faith we have is sufficient to live out our purpose. In using a parable of a slave or servant, we are reminded of what that purpose is. We are meant to serve others. There are many different ways we fulfill that throughout our lives: different jobs, different roles within our families, even different moments.
I recently came across a segment from the CBS evening news about a middle school football team that did something pretty amazing. On their team was Kevin, a kid living life on the margins. He is a unique kid who has some specific needs, and although his football skills were not great, his passion for the game and incredible friendliness meant he was a beloved member of that team. The kids made their plan, the coaches knew nothing about it. They got the ball down to the 1 yard line, moments away from a touchdown, and took a dive. They then gave the ball to Kevin, made sure he was protected and safe and Kevin scored the winning touchdown. At the end of the story, they interviewed Justice Miller, one of the kids on the team. He didn’t come up with the idea – in fact, he admitted in the interview that before participating in this, he never would have thought to do something like that. But he said after that touchdown, he couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. At the end of the interview, through tears, he said “I went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day.”
Friends, know that in the face of everything from dirty diapers to deep injustice, the faith you have is enough. Know that even the smallest things you do are an act of faith. And those acts of faith matter. When we stop trying to measure faith we can see God’s presence all around us and notice the totally-sufficient faith we already have. We can take our cue from Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa) who said: “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the water to make many ripples.” Let us go forth this week, noticing the many acts of faith that surround us each moment.