A Tiny Faith – Oct. 6, 2019

A Tiny Faith

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Luke 17:5-10

Oct. 6, 2019

World Communion Sunday

Main Idea – We are called to do the work of faith.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is World Communion Sunday, a day when Christians around the world share in the Lord’s Supper.  “World Communion Sunday began in 1936 in the Presbyterian Church and was adopted by the Federal Council of Churches (predecessor of the NCC) in 1940. Since then, the celebration has grown into an international ecumenical celebration of Christian unity.” (Ian Heston Doescher, ministrymatters.com) World Communion Sunday celebrates the fact that Christ’s witness is shared in myriad places, cultures, and languages.  This world-wide diversity is a great gift to Christianity but it is also a challenge. It requires of us humility, curiosity, and a willingness to wade into complexities that we only dimly understand. It requires us to acknowledge that sometimes the stranger we fear is actually our brother or sister in Christ.  World Communion Sunday requires us to step out in faith and see what happens.   God gives us the faith to do this.

Our text for today is very challenging. It follows Jesus giving ominous and difficult instructions to the disciples regarding their leadership. Jesus says “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2) The greek word for stumbling is skandalon.  Occasions for scandal are sure to come but don’t be the one who causes scandal to arise.  Jesus gives the responsibility for new believers to the disciples.  If the disciples’ words or actions cause a vulnerable person to fall away, it will be the disciples’ fault.  And if another leader makes a mistake, the disciples are responsible for holding that person accountable.  If that leader is repentant, the disciples are responsible for forgiving them, not just once but 7 times a day!  Being responsible for everybody and forgiving over and over again every day would be exhausting!  It is no wonder that, given such difficult tasks, the disciples say “Lord, increase our faith! If you expect us to do all that, then give us the tools to do the work, because we can’t do all this on our own.” 

It is rather shocking that Jesus answers their request with a “No”. You would think he would love to give them more faith. More responsibility requires more faith, right?  More is always better, yes?   But Jesus, as we know, busts through assumptions such as these.   He says to the disciples, “All you need is a teeny pinch of faith, so small as to be almost invisible, and you could move this tree and plant it in the sea. The faith you have right now is more than sufficient to accomplish what I have set out for you.  And by the way, nothing you do is “all on your own.” You don’t need more faith, you just need to put your faith in action.

Jesus then tells a parable that jars us with its images of slaves and masters. In a modern context the parable would go something like this. Who among you, at the grocery store, would say to the checkout person, ‘Come home with me and I will cook dinner for you’?  Would you not rather say, ‘Ring up my items so that I can go home and you can eat your dinner on your own time”?  Do you tip the checkout person for doing their job?  No! 

At this point the parable gives a twist to jolt us to deeper understanding.  At the beginning of the parable Jesus leads the disciples, and us, to identify with the master or grocery shopper.  Of course, we expect people to do their jobs and do them well without special reward.  But then Jesus twists the parable around so that now we are the workers! “So you also, when you have done all your work, will say “We are unworthy servants; We have done only what we ought to have done!” Another twist to the story is that later in the Gospel of Luke Jesus says “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).  To follow Jesus is to serve as Jesus serves, without reserve or hope of praise.

The point is not that the disciples and we need more faith.  The point is that faith is expressed in the everyday simple actions of life (like going to work or cooking supper).  Faith is not something that we can accumulate and save for special occasions.  It is part of our life in God.  It is not something we have, it is something we do. “Faith is found not in the mighty acts of heaven but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.”  David Lose, inthemeantime.org)  

This brings us back to World Communion Sunday.  Our world is an immensely complicated place deeply torn by fear and division.  We look out at the world and we despair over the suffering that we inflict upon each other and upon the planet; war, hunger, poverty, oppression, environmental degradation.  We cry out to God, “Increase our faith!  Help us!” Jesus tells us, “You have the faith you need. Now step out!  Do your part!”  Wringing our hands in despair changes nothing, but putting our faith to work in acts of reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace makes a big difference. Let’s remember again the actions of young people like Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai, and Mari Copeny, also known as Little Miss Flint. The small, individual acts of these young women have had profound impacts on their communities and the world. If all of us, Christians and people of good will around the world, would reach out to one another in love and peace, the world would be profoundly changed for the better. This could entail smiling and saying hello to the grocery checkout person who happens to be a New American or someone from the LGBT community.  This could mean speaking up with kindness and truth when someone shares false news or makes derogatory comments about someone else. This could mean spending your money at establishments that share your values.  This definitely means using your faith as the basis for all of your actions, everyday.

The fact that Christians around the world are celebrating the Lord’s Supper today matters as we proclaim God’s radical love for all of creation. Our firm insistence that all people are beloved children of God, deserving of welcome, safety, and full participation in our community matters in a world, in a nation, that is bitterly divided.  Our everyday actions of respect, gratitude, forgiveness, and inclusion add up together to change the world.

As we prepare our hearts and minds to celebrate the Lord’s Supper let us know and understand that faith the size of a mustard seed is more than sufficient for the work to which Christ calls us.  

Let us pray,

Faithful God, we thank you for the gift of faith by which we are equipped  for your service.   Help us to have faith in your unending grace and guidance.  Help us do the work of faith.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen