Sunday 6 October 2019
Growing in faith
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
By Wilma Roest
Team Rector, Richmond Team Ministry, Richmond upon Thames
Context: medium-sized congregation in a town setting at Sunday morning main Eucharist
Aim: to encourage hearers that growing in faith requires active participation
Moving to a new house is a pretty challenging experience. First packing everything up, then moving it all to a new place, where the joy of unpacking begins: boxes are opened, books find their new places, furniture is being moved about, and pictures get a place on the walls. The computer is connected once again to the internet, and slowly, very slowly, normality resumes, albeit in a new venue. The new venue does mean though that things are different. For a little while the new home will still be very new and even a bit strange but soon it will be home.
To embrace new things or new ideas is at times very good. It makes us think about what is important and precious. I would suggest that embracing something new by just getting on with it, is probably the best way to make that the new becomes familiar. A new house becomes home by living in it, by getting on with life. It never becomes a home it you don’t unpack the boxes! A new job becomes familiar by getting on with the work and enjoying it, by getting to know your colleagues, the work routine. Of course, it can be daunting to embrace something new, but with friends and family around, the scariness of the new will soon fade.
New faces, new people, new tastes, new customs, new traditions, new surroundings, new sights, new sounds, new views, new voices, and the list might go on. We all face newness at some points in our life.
Jesus encouraged his followers to have the courage to attempt new things. In today’s gospel reading, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. And Jesus replies: ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.’ A big challenge they would not have faced before!
Would you have the confidence and courage to embrace the new things you may find on your path and make them your own? However, there is something you need to help you make new things your own. Something you can’t influence.
Let me try and illustrate it. Suppose I give you a violin and tell you that I’m looking forward to hearing you in a concert next week? Would that be possible? Just having a violin doesn’t mean you can get up and play in a concert. For that you need years of practice and a musical gift. We know about this about playing the violin, but we sometimes forget it when it comes to our faith.
Suppose I give you a Bible and a cross? Just because you have these things, does that mean you have all the right answers, can make the right decisions, are perfect in every way? We think the faith we have is what it is, and it won’t change. But we need to grow and develop and embrace the new opportunities our faith may give us. In other words, we need time to develop and grow our faith.
The word faith is not used often in Luke’s gospel. Up until this point, the gospel writer has used the word faith five times. Luke only seems to use it in special circumstances, such as in the story of the men who lowered their crippled friend through the roof, so Jesus could heal him. Or in the story of the woman ill for many years who touched the hem of Jesus’ clothes. It is also used in the story of the storm on the lake where Jesus asks the disciples, where is your faith?
We often distinguish the faith that ‘moves mountains’ from basic trust in God or Christ. Our tendency to distinguish these two types of faith tends to be rooted in the assumption that the former has to do with manipulating some kind of supernatural power and the latter has to do with submitting to an external authority or set of beliefs or standards of conduct.
Yet Jesus’ very statement ‘your faith has saved you’ to those he helps implies that something else is going with faith. To have faith means having our whole way of perceiving and responding to life transformed by the richness of God’s creative justice and power. What seems ‘impossible’ for us is ‘possible’ for God.
When Luke uses the word faith in his gospel, he doesn’t talk about something kept only for special days or for emergencies, but he talks about an active faith, faith that shapes the way we think and behave.
As a church we rightly rejoice every time when we baptise a child or adult. Then we rejoice again when someone takes the step to be confirmed. But growing faith is not just about those two events. Increasing faith is about what happens throughout our lives, every day. It’s about working with the little bit of faith you may have. The prophet Habakkuk sums it up very succinctly: ‘The righteous live by their faith’, better translated as ‘the righteous live by their faithfulness’. To grow in faith means faithful living, daring to embrace new things, daring to trust in God.
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