10/2/2016 Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 17:5-10.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It seems that every day things change, and what amazes me the most is how the collective memory of the nation moves on so quickly. For many, the events of September 11th have become nothing more than scenes from old TV movies and to others they are events read about in history books (as they were not born or were very young when planes smashed into buildings in NYC, Washington DC, and in a field in PA, killing thousands and stripping away our façade of security). Even the extra security measures instituted after 9/11 have become nothing more than minor or major inconveniences for those using different forms of mass transportation. For the rest of us, we’ve returned to the daily grind as if nothing happened.
It is amazing how quickly we forget. We forget about the loss of innocence, the loss of life, the loss of what was routine. And, we have long forgotten the effects that the events had on the economy and the daily statements urging us to have faith – faith in the country, faith in the economy, faith in the American way of life, and faith in the ability of our nation to protect us. But then, why should we remember statements like that? The marathon bombing and repeated terrorist attacks have made threats part of life and we don’t necessarily have faith in the government to secure our future. It is faith in a God who does not forget us and whose justice will prevail that bolsters our courage and enables us to thrive in an unsafe and uncertain world.
Our future has been made secure, not by a bullish stock market, a bustling economy or budding patriotism. Our future is secure because of faith and trust in our God who gave up his life for us so that we might have life in him. It is to this God that we pledge allegiance, and in this God’s promises, which will be fulfilled, that we can place our trust. But, as our memory fades fast, routine invades our lives and our attention is drawn elsewhere, we can easily forget this. And, so we pray: O, God, increase our faith!
Long before the events of September 11th, long before any of us were twinkles in our parents’ eyes, the apostles knew to place their faith and trust in the Lord, and yet, they still asked Jesus to increase their faith. They wanted to add to what they already had, apparently thinking that more is better! But, faith is not like the American dollar – the more faith you have doesn’t mean the more you can buy or acquire, and the greater your spiritual life. Faith simply is. It is a gift from God and no one needs more than they are given. Faith the size of a tiny mustard seed is enough to move mountains. The size of faith doesn’t matter. A little spark of faith can grow into a consuming fire within. What matters is the foundation of faith, and that faith is anchored in the Lord and not in all those other places vying for our loyalty that cannot, in the end, save us.
Our faith is to be anchored in the Lord and it is to be lived out in the lives of those who have it. Faith is not a personal possession. It is not like a warm fuzzy teddy bear. It is not something to be held onto and worn like a badge of honor. Faith is an action word. It is applied in service to others. Faith in Jesus, belief in the fulfillment of God’s promises, should comfort us and help us function at home, at school, at the job – even when everything is falling apart around us. But faith is not passive. It motivates us to move beyond our comfort zone to serve others in their need.
Service is never ending. To be a person of faith is to live as Christ lived, as a servant of all. And, a servant’s task is never done, neither is yours. The servant comes in from a full-day’s work in the field not to eat right away, but to serve the master’s meal. If the servant thinks that he has a compliment coming for this work, he is mistaken. He is doing what is expected of him. If disciples want to ask for an increase in anything, it should not be faith, but the energy to apply the faith within in never-ending service to others.
So, maybe the government spokesmen who issued their statements after 9/11 were, at least, partially right. If we have faith then we will not sit back and wallow in fear for we know we are secure, even in the face of death. If we have faith, we will get on with daily living, even in the midst of the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. What the spokesmen had wrong is where that faith and trust needs to be placed. For, if we place it in the things of this world, we will be disappointed.
For this world is unpredictable. One day we feel on top of it, the next day we learn of sadistic killings, deliberate starvation, rape, torture, racism and undisguised genocide. We shrink in fear of hijackers, kidnappers, car bombers, drive-by shooters and the threats of biological, nuclear and chemical weapons. Innocents die. Children and youth go mad with guns and drugs in a culture that has been taken over by death.
And yet, none of this is new. Bestial treatment of humans by humans has existed since ancient times. The treatment of the Hebrew slaves by the Egyptians was cruel. Those same Hebrews took the promised land by killing off the people who possessed it. Habakkuk watched his “culture of death” and its effects on his people, and what he saw caused him to cry out in pain and rail against the injustice. God answered the prophets cries in the way in which God answers us, simply by exhorting the truth that things eventually will get better. Meanwhile, the prophet and all God’s servants are to “live by their faith.” They are to get on with daily living by being steadfast in their loyalty to God and obediently holding onto God’s promises, even when they apparently pay no dividends.
So, hold on, my friends. Do not fret. Believe and trust in the Lord who hears our cries and who does not forget the faces of those who have died. He who sees all and knows all is the only thing that is constant in an ever changing world. And, in the end, God’s justice and peace shall reign forever and ever. Amen. Until that comes – may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.