Sunday, October 7, 2007

BCP - Proper 22 C - 07 Oct 2007

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Magliula, n/OHC
BCP - Proper 22 C - Sunday 07 October 2007

Habakkuk 1:1-6(7-11)12-13;2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:(1-5)6-14
Luke 17:5-10

No wonder they longed for and asked for increased faith. On their own, the disciples knew they had no chance of doing what Jesus had summoned them to do: leave home for his sake, love enemies, bless persecutors, judge not, lay up no riches, carry no possessions, give to whoever asks, be servants, wash feet, catch people like fish, heal the sick, never worry, don’t cause others to stumble, forgive endlessly. That last one is what they were told just before they gasped: “Increase our faith.”

The disciples, like the rest of us, knew their limits, at least some of the time. Then there were those other times---those mountain top times---when they felt capable of so much more, when they were certain that they could go so much further. We know these moments---the ones when we feel so loved and accepted that we feel capable of almost anything. In those moments things come together just right, things make sense, they work.

Why do we find ourselves slipping from what feels like increased to little faith? How can we be so trusting one moment and so not the next. The human condition looks like a sieve when it comes to faith. We leak. We hemorrhage. Faith drains from us in any number of ways: sin, routine, distraction, fatigue, depression, anxiety, boredom, laziness. I’ve come to realize that for me, faith fades most through the rigors of daily existence. The dramatic and the traumatic certainly take their toll, but at such times, I feel faith oddly strengthened. It’s the daily living that wears me down.

The point that Luke is trying to make is that disciples’ need outside help if they want to live the life Jesus calls them to live. Faith for Jesus was radical trust in God---in all things and for all things. It was personal and intimate, childlike in its simplicity. It was marked by a wholehearted willingness to trust God in every dimension of life---anywhere and everywhere, in things great and small. For those who place themselves in this sort of position, who yield their deepest selves to God, for them, all things are possible. This is the place from which flows abundant life. The power of faith has less to do with moving mountains than it does with empowering us to live the life God desires us to live.

We need not wait, as the disciples thought, for large faith before we tackle the practical problems of living. We need only act on the small faith we already have, faith small as the tiny mustard seed. If we pray, trusting God’s will for salvation, for healing, for grace to love someone unlovable, or to forgive an enemy, even small faith can result in unbelievable things.

A contemporary image of faith compares it to a muscle. You use it or you lose it. Living morally, having conscious contact with God on a daily basis, loving our neighbor, are ways of exercising and developing our faith. Look at the prophet Habakkuk. The people of Judea are about to be crushed by the fierce and cruel Chaldeans. He laments to God, “How long shall I cry out for help and you will not listen?” Yet despite the confusion, the frustration, and the ruin that is all around him, he remembers that his God is faithful, that God will have an answer. However long it takes, he will wait. Keeping faith with God in difficult times, keeping faith with what sometimes feels like a difficult God, lies at the heart of our Gospel for today. God’s faithfulness is more important than our faith. Jesus knew this, but it is something that we easily forget. That’s why when we come together as a community on Sunday, we recite the creed---we remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness by recalling our salvation history in the Eucharistic prayer.

Action elicits faith. Trust grows when it is nourished even in the face of what seems unlikely and impossible. The power of faith is as unlimited as the power of God because it is of God. It is not based on our strength, our intelligence, our achievements, our influence. Like the disciples, we need not wait for an infusion of faith in order to live our lives. We need not be more than human with our fears, anxieties, and doubts. We have all been or are in the place that Habakkuk was---not hearing, seeing, feeling God’s presence in the midst of our lives. It is not a place that inspires trust. But God does respond. “Look and see”, God says, “be astonished, be astounded”. God gives an insight, a vision, that gives us the courage to trust, to wait, to look more deeply into ourselves, into our God. It is already within us, whether we can recognize it or name it. By uncovering our longing to trust, to be faithful in the place we find ourselves at this moment, we unearth the astonishing reality of what is already there. In effect, Jesus turns the disciples request around on them. "Increase our faith", they ask, and he points out to them that they have enough already. In spite of their fears, anxieties, inadequaties, they have what is needed. We have what is needed, and we are encouraged to live as though we do. David Whyte has a poem called Faith which speaks to this place where we so often find ourselves. It begins.

I want to write about faith,
About the way the moon rises over cold snow
night after night,
faithful even in its fading from fullness.
Slowly becoming that last, curving, and impossible
sliver of light before the final darkness.
But I have no faith myself.
I do not give it the smallest entry.
Let this then my small poem
like a new moon
slender and barely open,
be the first prayer that opens me to faith.


The poem "Faith" is from "Where Many Rivers Meet", by David Whyte

1 comment:

Fred said...

(Note: This is posting as Father Fred Myers, because I cover the office on Fridays at St. Paul's In The Desert Episcopal here in Palm Springs. The author is actually Patrick Jarvis)

A response to: "Increase our faith".

This is rich in wisdom and spiritual truth, and currently I find these themes highly relevant in my own life. Br. Robert hits the bull's eye when he deciphers that it is not the dramas and traumas that drain our faith, but the day-to-day ordinary life.....and paradox comes into play time and time again.

I move closer to God, only to find that it seems I have nothing to offer God but that which God gives me, that which I have been filled with to offer back. Has it been this way my entire life, and I just have not seen it, as it has, in many instances, been applied toward endeavors where force of personality, intelligence and other gifts of the creative mind have been so useful?

"Needing outside help" is an understatement; yet some of the most difficult moments come when a collision of these two scriptural lines of thought occur.....when that childlike faith has been proffered, yet one "hears the silence" that Habakkuk's lament brings to mind, one that only those who have walked with God and have prayed long and hard in lonely troubling circumstances know.

Beyond this, though, Br. Robert touches the heart of the matter for the "true believers" of the world (by this, I mean those who go 'all in' with their love for God, and put lives and hearts on the line for a life of conversion to Christ) is at these same times that we must focus on God's faithfulness rather than our own faith. What a wonderful, salient point! Our own faith may fluctuate, may ebb and flow, come and go, but God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The focus on his faithfulness will lead us to exercise that faith which puts us in a "use it" rather than "lose it" stance, and sets us up for spiritual action.

I am minded of the constant beauty of Psalm 136, in which many of creation's and Israel's great days, both specific and providential, are juxtaposed against the same reply over and over again.... "for his steadfast love endures forever".
(v. 6) who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures forever...

(v.13) who divided the Red Sea in two, for his steadfast love endures forever.....

Just imagine what different dynamics were playing out on these two incredible days in God's history....on one day, God was the master of Creation, watching earth as we know it roll out magnificently upon the waters. In verse 13, we see him coming to the rescue of his beloved people, and delivering them out of slavery. Yet both actions are summed up with the same faithful sentence: "for his steadfast love endures forever".

The implication is clear....the same goes for today, even if that day is ringing hollow and quiet within, if it looks barbaric and chaotic on the outside, this much we can know: "for his steadfast love endures forever".

Thank you for such a thoughtful, deep sermon.

Patrick Jarvis
Palm Springs, California