Ocotober 7, 2001
Before reading the Gospel for the day, let's take a pop quiz.
On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being none and 10 being as much as possible, where would you rank your faith.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Now, on that same scale indicate where you think you need to have your faith before you could do something big for God.
Are those rankings the same? Are they pretty close so you could get to enough faith today? Are they pretty far apart and it looks like it will take a couple of more years before you will have enough faith? Do you have more faith than you need?
I suppose that some of you may even have not done this exercise because you are asking yourself, "What is faith, anyway?"
Faith is a slippery thing but in its most ancient meaning it is related to trusting. Flannery O'Connor puts it this way -- "Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty."
Those two things -- measuring faith and trust -- are the context for hearing today's lesson. So, listen......
The apostles are a group pretty highly thought of by most Christians these days. They have a pretty good reputation because they were the first followers of Jesus and we know that our knowledge of Jesus was passed on by them to others who passed it on to others who passed it on to enough others to finally come to you and me.
However, the Bible often describes the apostles as not always getting it. I take some comfort in this because you and I don't always get it, either.
In this business of faith, or trusting, the apostles were thinking like most people do -- that there is a certain amount of faith that is needed in order to do healings and miracles like Jesus did. And deep down we would all like to do healings and miracles for the special people in our lives. We dream about how we might do that and we try to strike bargains with GOD in order for us to be able to do a healing or a miracle in someone's life who is special to us.
Since the apostles and and you and I more often than not find ourselves not being able to control the fate of our loved ones, we wonder how we can get the power to effectively protect them. Our usual patterns of thinking get us to thinking that who we are comes up just a bit short and what we need is something more. We need another degree; we need more experience; we need to know someone, we need more information; we need to be perfect; we need to have more faith because we have been taught that faith and miracles go together and the more our faith the bigger miracle we will be able to pull off.
So, like the apostles of old, we fall prey to the temptation to ask Jesus for more faith.
Did you hear what Jesus said to the apostles when they asked for more faith? Let me remind you, Jesus said, "You don't need more faith. There is no 'more' or 'less' in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this strongly-rooted tree, 'Go jump in the lake,' and it would do it.
I think a kernel of faith that Jesus is talking about is just the smallest fraction above zero that one could get. Whether the apostles knew it or not, whether you know it or not, you have at least a kernel of faith or trust.
The key thing here is that Jesus is telling us what he has learned about life -- you can't put it off.
You will either use what you've got or not. Waiting is not an option. We can't wait until we have more information or credentials or faith or anything else. We ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit, which is usually found in the middle of a congregation of people asking for guidance, we pray, "Lord, have mercy," and we go ahead, even if it is with fear and trembling.
It is in using the faith we have that we find ourselves gaining more. It is in trusting that we find ourselves gaining more trust.
Even as I say this I am reminded of what Flannery O'Connor said about faith, "Don't expect faith to clear things up for you. It is trust, not certainty." I know we can set faith up to fail and we can find our trust misplaced. And yet, can you really imagine what life would be like without faith and trust.
Since September 11th thousands of people who once thought they would never be able to get along without a special person have found they have the resources to not only cope, but flourish. Churches all over the country have struggled for years with falling memberships. The Christian church is losing market share and Islam has been the fasting rising religion in America. And yet, we continue to know in our bones that there is a purpose for us.
The issue before us today is faith and trust -- even if it is small, even if it sometimes seems to be lacking. Here at St. Luke's we have enough faith already present to make a significant difference in the lives of our own members and that of the community around us. We don't need more faith. We simply need to put the faith we have to work.
We know we are a congregation whose members are older than the community around us. I would have you hear a story about a congregation even older than ourselves. I don't tell this story to suggest we will be copy-cats, but in hope it will stimulate our imagination as to what we can do.
A once-large church in Ohio had lost members for one reason and another, perhaps for reasons like St. Luke's. Eventually there were no members left under the age of 50. In their setting one of those neighborhood cycles of children came to them and the kids were making a lot of noise on Sunday morning. Their response was to seal the windows and get air conditioning so they wouldn't be disturbed.
As GOD would have it a new woman pastor was appointed in the midst. This new pastor noted the children and the age of the congregation and helped them to a new vision. With no more faith than they had when they shut themselves off from the community they risked sending notes to the neighbors which said, "Let us help you raise your kids."
They chose to be grandparents to the neighborhood because that is what they had to work with. The story goes on that a Sunday School was started where there had not been a Sunday School for years. Some of the children started coming to church and, if the truth be told, were disruptive because they didn't know how to behave in church. So, the old members were paired up with a child from the neighborhood, a child that didn't know anything about church. There was lots of noise for a little while while the grandparents taught the children how to worship. Then the church made more contact with the parents, saying "We would like to do a better job of helping you raise your children, so, how do you discipline your children? What do they like to eat? Could we come and talk with you?"
Little-by-little more parents started coming and the church grew again to its previous size and value to people. This all happened when the people didn't ask for more faith, but simply to put to work that which they already had.
Let us pray. GOD, we trust you have gifted us with the faith we need for our situation. Help us to simply claim it and use it. Amen.
Copyright 2001. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.