Sermon Sunday 2nd October 2022

Readings Luke 17, 5-10 anf 2 Timothy 1, 1-14

“Increase our faith” so the disciples asked of Jesus.

On the face of it, quite a reasonable request, you might think. And perhaps something that all churches today, ours included, might resonate with.

 How often do I hear, in this church and in others in which I have served,

“If only people would have more faith….” (obviously the “people” being  others , not the speaker.)

And the same is true across the church- if only we had more families, more children, more people, more helpers, more money, more faith….. and the list goes on.

 But Jesus’ response, unexpectedly, is to remind them with the simple metaphor of the mustard seed, that it’s quality, not quantity that counts. With true faith, as small as a mustard seed, you can move mountains, he says.

To a certain extent, Paul says much the same thing to Timothy as he encourages him in his ministry – hold onto the faith you have discovered, that you have, fan it into a flame, and go about God’s work in thankfulness.

So if that’s the case, if faith is all we need, how come the Christian life is so difficult, how come bringing other’s to Christ is so fraught with problems, how come other issues in our life get in the way, cause us to stumble or struggle or suffer. Do we not have enough faith to even move a grain of sand, let alone a mountain?

Both our passages make another point about faith. Jesus uses the analogy of a slave (we might say servant to remove some of the present cultural connotations of slaves not recognised in Jesus’ time). Basically, he’s saying we shouldn’t expect a reward for our faith, or it to be increased, we shouldn’t expect, when we are doing God’s work to gain something we don’t deserve. Like the servant expecting to join his employer at dinner, rather than serving it to him as he is paid to do. And Paul speaks of his own suffering, and suffering and trials Timothy might go through, not as being problems to overcome, but as something to accept as part of life, but not something that should affect faith, if anything, it should make faith stronger, deeper as those problems are either born or overcome.

In the Covenant prayer of the Methodist Church we make our promises to God including these words;

“I am no longer my own, but yours

Your will, not mine, be done in all things”

…and continues

“When I am troubled and when I am at peace, your will be done….”

Or in the alternative words- “put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you or laid aside for you…..”

Faith, true faith, deep faith bears with it an absolute trust in God combined with an acceptance of the reality of living in a broken world and still witnessing of the God whom we believe in and love.

The grace of God gifts us so much more than we could ever deserve in the gift of Jesus Christ and all that comes from that, but for us to expect what we think we deserve, whether that be our idea of “more faith”, whether that be healing or release from suffering, whether that be riches, or comfort or popularity or anything else- that is not within the gift of our faith. If any of those things do come, they are a bonus, perhaps as if the servant, in Jesus’ illustration had been invited to share the evening meal with his master, but we shouldn’t expect it. And, if like Paul and the other apostles, suffering is part of that faith journey, then we bear it in faith, because, in faith we know that it is only temporary and that even beyond this life are much, much greater things, and all suffering will end.

But to have faith that deep, that trusting, that real is not easy for us, mere humans living in a difficult world, if we are honest. The sort of faith that, despite our suffering, despite the difficulties we face, despite loss, or pain, despite despair or a sense of loss of hope, can say “I can bear all this, because of my faith”.

Because we’re human and that suffering is real and has real effects on our lives. So it’s perhaps no wonder the disciples found themselves asking Jesus to increase their faith, just as we, when we so often fail to live up to what we might see as a perfect faith, might ourselves ask for more faith, more profound faith, or  just like when our suffering cause us to doubt God in some way because we don’t see an end to that suffering, that we might pray in our despair for more faith.

Of course, the truth is that we don’t often pray for more faith. Instead we pray for an end to the suffering, whether ours, or others.

And perhaps that is where we get things wrong.

In Jesus’ illustration about the mustard seed, in Paul’s writing to Timothy we can discern something about our own faith. Your faith, my faith- not that of your neighbour, not the faith or lack of faith of other people, but our own personal faith.

Because faith is personal. And it is different for each of us. I find Jesus’ illustration with a mustard seed interesting in many ways. Of course, wild mustard produces a tiny seed, that can grow into a tree like bush- used in other illustrations in the bible, you’ll remember, just like our faith grows from a tiny seed. But did you know that wild mustard, genetically, is what many of our cultivated vegetables today were derived from, kale, cabbages, sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflowers for instance. Long before scientists could manipulate DNA in the laboratory to produce new strains, farmers developed the “new” vegetables by domestic selection over many, many generations of particular characteristics of the mustard plant to produce these common vegetables today.

The fact that the church has grown and developed into so many branches and denominations over the years is not dissimilar- the genetic root ( no pun intended) of faith is the same, but now we have a selection of churches to suit different tastes- and yes, some don’t like Brussel sprouts, others don’t like cabbage, but it’s all the same faith.

As I was saying earlier, faith is personal, and it’s different for each of us, Brussel sprouts or cabbage.

But it’s personal, because it is about relationship. Relationship with God through Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. A complex, multi-layered relationship, but a personal one, between you and the triune God.

And because God is the instigator of that relationship, it is a relationship centred in love and trust- itself a model for our own relationships.

But there is another aspect of that relationship which is key, and too often we forget or take for granted. Grace. That which we receive from God but can neither earn nor deserve. And that grace encompasses so much- mercy, forgiveness, undeserved love, healing, wholeness, peace, joy, and so much more.

Which takes us right back to Paul and Jesus. Faith as tiny as a mustard seed that can move mountains, faith that endures suffering because God’s relationship embraces grace in all it’s mystery, and a faith that endures and empowers us beyond our human capabilities to be and to  do as God intended for us. Faith, that in Paul’s words, has been entrusted to us and we should guard with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, and faith that, in Jesus’ words means that when we stand before God we too can say, we are unworthy servants, we have done our duty.

For to him be the glory.