2 Timothy 1:1-7; Luke 17:1-10
Give us more faith! the disciples beg Jesus, in our gospel lesson today. Give us more faith is the cry of our hearts as well. If only we had more faith, a deeper faith, we think our problems would be solved. We would figure out how to attract youth and young families. The worship would inspire us and we would discover joy. The sermon would speak to us. The void would be filled. We would be renewed. We would finally experience community. Our neighbors would join us, and the pews would fill. If only we had more faith.
Faith means lots of things to different people. To some, faith are the beliefs that form basic beliefs of our religion. The apostle’s creed. The Confessing Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Or faith is what we practice: attending worship on Sunday, reading the bible, devotional practice. Faith is doing things that show our commitment to Christ; like feeding the hungry, tending to the foreigner, visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, those essential acts of mercy that we discussed last week. Faith is belief and confidence and trust in something unseen, something that hasn’t happened yet.
Faith is this and yet more. In the New Testament faith is most often linked to having a dynamic relationship with Jesus and placing our trust in him. Faith is following the footsteps of Jesus, listening to him, asking him questions, seeking guidance from him, being forgiven by him, being filled with his Holy Spirit to act in the world. Real living faith in God expresses itself in how we treat one another. This faith is the soil that roots, that feeds and grows each of us It is faith that heals, revitalizes, grows a church. Faith connects us. Faith is the binding agent. Faith creates relationships filled with love, forgiveness, and joy. When we love someone, we want to spend our time with them. We love face to face, heart to heart, hand to hand. That’s the living faith we seek.
Listen to what Paul says to Timothy, his protégée in the lesson we heard this morning:
I want very much to see you so I can be filled with joy. 5 I remember your true faith. That faith first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I know you now have that same faith.
Paul describes how true faith thrives in connection to others; in this case, with Timothy and his grandmother Lois, his mother Eunice. Faith that is practiced in intimate family settings; passed on person to person. Paul further declares he experiences joy in his relationship with Timothy and how he cannot wait to see him. This is the kind of joy God wants us to have – joy comes from being rooted in a relationship with Jesus and each other. Jesus cultivates joy in us as we practice faith – as we live in relationship with Christ, reinforced by relationship with each other. Love and joy go hand in hand, go heart to heart, face to face.
To practice our faith, we simply need to be together. That’s why its important for us to be together to worship and fellowship in person post COVID. It is easy to get in a slump and not come to worship. It’s easy to let other things take priority in our lives. The way to restore the energy of faith that Jesus wants to give us is this: show up anyway. I learned this lesson by going to the gym. I hate going to the gym. My muscles rebel. My mind finds excuses. But you know what? I show up anyway. Forcing myself to move, pushing myself beyond my comfort zone, encouraging a fellow gym rat, leaves me transformed after an hour. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Change happens. Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up. We don’t want to go Sunday morning? We feel all negative or depressed or stressed? Fine. Let’s show up anyway. Let’s get involved. Let’s get transformed and transform the church in the process.
The issue is as I see it is this: if we wait for things to be just right or perfect before we make a commitment, well we’re going to be waiting a long time. Remember Ghandi’s saying: be the change you want to see in the world. Let’s be the change we want to see in church! Do we want change? Do we want a vital congregation? Do we want vibrant worship? Do we want a satisfying community life? To achieve this, we must each show up for God and each other. We have to be willing to live in the mess, the discomfort, the dissatisfaction in order to move forward to the more rewarding, fulfilling life we envision together. There’s no magic potion, no transporter that can take us from our current predicament and instantly place us where we want to be. It’s just not the way it works. If we want to get to the promised land, we must practice faith: we each got to show up no matter what, roll up our sleeves, take each other’s hand, and take it step by step, through the muck and the mire. We are not alone in this: Jesus is there with us, leading the way. Jesus will see us through. That’s his promise: “Lo, I am with you always until the end of the age.”
Each of us, called by God, has a role to play. Whatever desire for change that God has put in our hearts – well guess what? That’s the exact gift that God is giving us to pass on. Who knows what God has planned to use you to touch someone else that morning? Do you see a need? Is there a group that interests you? Make it happen! We’re here to give as much as we get. In fact, we get what we seek by first giving! Paul describes it to Timothy in this way:
This is why I remind you to keep using the gift God gave you when I laid my hands on[a] you. Now let it grow, as a small flame grows into a fire.
The flame we feel may be small but coming together in our living faith with each other and in Jesus we fan that flame into a fire. That’s what practicing faith is all about. IF you have faith in someone, if you believe in someone, we want to bring out the best in them. That’s the same with our church family. The more connected we are to each other, the more committed we are to each other, through Jesus our Lord, the more we become the living vision that God wants to create through us.
How does Jesus say to practice faith? By being following him. Jesus didn’t go to the easy places. Jesus didn’t go where it was comfortable. Jesus didn’t play it safe. Jesus went to the broken places. Jesus walked into the storms. Jesus hung out on the outside, upside down, dying, oppressed places. Jesus is here, with us, with our fears, with our sadness for all that is past, in here with the not yet of our life together. How do we fan that flame into a fire? We come anyway to church, even if the numbers are sparse. We come anyway, even when we feel uninspired. It cannot change unless we do it together. All hands-on deck. Everyone matters and everyone makes a difference.
On this World Communion Sunday, when we celebrate the diversity of the family of Christ in different denominations, different languages cultures and nations, we are reminded to celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of every believer. Everyone sitting here is a wonder, a miracle, a testimony to the love and mercy of God. Everyone, sitting in the sanctuary today and watching from home. Everyone, those who have misplaced their faith, and those who found it. Together we are the church and come to eat at a common table. We are the church, imperfect, in need of healing, seeking to get better and make a mark in the world.
How will we practice faith? We lift up the powerful name of Jesus. We uplift each other. Bottom line, we commit to being together pure and simple, in thick or thin. We share our faith journeys. We do what it takes to deepen relationship with each other, here and now, day after day, week after week, month after month. As the mustard seeds are planted. As the seedlings are watered and fed. And watch, as God’s grows those mustard seeds, which are us, into the finest and greatest of all living trees, creating a home for all. O Lord, give us more faith!