Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert Magliula, n/OHC
BCP - Proper 22 C - Sunday 07 October 2007
2 Timothy 1:(1-5)6-14
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