You can listen to it here, or read on.
“Increase our faith!” The disciples implore Jesus to “Increase our faith!” It is a common request in God’s prayer inbox, I’m sure, but it seems like such a strange way to begin a lesson. I mean, we’ve all been there before. We’ve all look up to the heavens and cried out, sometimes actually shouted, “God help me!” Whenever I find myself asking God for a little extra help, it is usually the result of some situation that is about to come unglued. We don’t get any context clues in our lesson this morning, so what is it that brings the disciples to this place where they seemingly shout to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”?
If you’ve been with us over the past three months, you know that Jesus and his disciples are well on their way to Jerusalem, we’re only a few chapters away from Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, and as they continue their journey, Jesus’ interactions with the Scribes and the Pharisees, the religious powers-that-be, are getting more and more adversarial. Here in the last several weeks’ worth of gospel lessons, Keith and I have both made mention of how much more difficult the teachings from Jesus are becoming. He’s turned away would be disciples who wanted to bury their parents or say goodbye to their families for fear that they had not adequately considered the cost of discipleship. He has critiqued the social conventions of his time by suggesting that dinner parties should be filled with the poor, crippled, and lame rather than just friends, family, and those whose presence would bring honor. He has suggested that his disciples should hate their families and take up their crosses, the Roman instrument of torture and death, to follow him. He’s attempted to reorder our priorities by suggesting that 99 sheep aren’t worth as much as one that is lost, argued that shrewdness is a quality of the Kingdom, and made it sound really difficult for the rich to get into heaven. If our journey with Jesus this summer has taught us anything, it is that discipleship is not for the faint of heart.
Between last week’s lesson and what I just read for you this morning, the Lectionary skips over the four verses that seem to bring it all to a head for the disciples. The situation is getting heavy, and the disciples are starting to feel the full weight of the building tension when Jesus turns them and says, “There are a ton of people out there who want to tempt you to sin, but woe to those who do the tempting. It would be better to be put in cement shoes and dropped into the Hudson River Sopranos-style, than to face what God has in store for those who cause would-be disciples to stumble. And when you see another disciple fall into sin, correct him. If he amends his way, forgive him. Even if it happens seven times in one day, forgive him again and again.”
Here’s where our lesson begins this morning, with the disciples hearing these instructions from Jesus, scratching their heads and saying, “OK, Jesus, we’ll be careful not to cause anyone to sin, but if we’re going to do this forgiveness thing with regularity, all day, every day, we are going to need some extra faith.” As one commentator suggested this week, the disciples realize that Jesus, as God incarnate, does forgiveness as his full-time job, while the rest of us need a little bit of help. While we’re at it, I think we’ll need some help with all the rest of the stuff Jesus has been talking about over that last three months. Discipleship isn’t easy, and if we’re going to have any chance at succeeding in this Kingdom living, then we’re going to need all the help we can get. So, I’d say, we join with the disciples in imploring Jesus to “Increase our faith!”
There are two ways to read Jesus’ response to the disciples’ request, our request, for more faith. Some have argued that Jesus is rebuking them with a sarcastic smack down, “Pffffft, Increase your faith?!? Why do you need that? If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could tell a mulberry tree to uproot itself and jump into the sea, and it would do it. O, ye of little faith, if you don’t think you can muster the faith to forgive someone seven times in a row; I’m just not sure what I can do for you.” Now, I’m about as sarcastic as they come, but I honestly can’t see Jesus taking this tone, at this point, with his disciples. Jesus has to know that he has set the discipleship bar impossibly high. He has to understand that it would be natural for these guys to look at Jesus and think, “He’s got what we need, let’s ask him to share his faith with us.” Surely, Jesus is savvy enough to know that his disciples are really hoping for enough faith to pull off what is coming down the pike.
Instead, I prefer to read the response of Jesus to his disciples as a careful teaching moment. Just as things are about to boil over for Jesus and his disciples, he takes a moment to remind them that faith is not something that can be earned, measured, grown, or bought. Instead, faith is about a relationship; literally the Greek word means confidence, trust, and reliance upon; when the disciples ask for more faith, Jesus responds by telling them, “When you have a trusting relationship with God, anything is possible, even telling a mulberry tree to uproot and jump in the sea.” The confidence that comes by putting our trust in God, by establishing a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, gives us everything we could ever need in order to live the life of faith.
As David Lose wrote this week, “being faithful is about recognizing all the God-given opportunities just to show up and do what needs to be done: doing our work [in the field, at the shop, in the kitchen, wherever], caring for those need, protecting the vulnerable, reaching out to the lonely, befriending the friendless, keeping the world going, contributing to the common good. It’s all the ordinary stuff we do all the time, [but when] taken together and blessed by God, it’s pretty darn extraordinary.”
At Follow the Word this morning, our children are learning to remember what faith is all about by way of an acronym. Faith is a Fantastic Adventure in Trusting Him. Faith is getting up in the morning and deciding to live that day building the Kingdom of God. Faith is choosing love over hate. Faith is keeping your eyes and ears and hearts open for the hundreds of chances to serve God that pop up in our lives every day. Faith is the amazing adventure of being a co-worker with the creator of the universe. I honestly can’t think of anything cooler than that.
And the truth of the matter is, if you got out of bed and came to church after five days of the weather folks spouting “Karen-hype”, you’ve got more than enough faith to pull off the unimaginable. “Increase our faith!” The disciples cry out to Jesus as it all seems so impossible, and Jesus responds quite simply, “trust in me.” Faith, a Fantastic Adventure in Trusting Him, I’ll take some of that. Amen.