Sermons That Work

Often Parishioners Come to Their Clergy…, Proper 22 (C) – 2004

October 03, 2004

Often parishioners come to their clergy or spiritual advisors seeking help with issues of deepening or increasing their faith or of overcoming doubts and uncertainty. This is not surprising because most of us experience such needs. It is a mark of strength of faith to want to grow spiritually.

Today’s Gospel reading relates a similar event. Jesus’ disciples made what would seem a logical and obvious request. They said, “Increase our faith.” If we were hearing this for the first time, as Jesus was, how would we expect Jesus to respond? By giving them pointers so they could have more faith? By helping them understand God better so their faith could become deeper? By assuring them of God’s love so they would have fewer doubts?

Indeed, Jesus started with an affirmation that the disciples have chosen a fitting topic. He described the power of faith as being so strong that even the tiniest bit of it would provide a force that, for example, could successfully order a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.

Then, however, Jesus immediately put a twist on the disciples’ request by taking the discussion to an unexpected level. He surprises all Christians by teaching an unusual lesson. Jesus startles his followers by saying that the task of discipleship does not require very much faith at all.

What Jesus insisted is that all we need is to obey God and do our duty. As examples, he depicts each of his disciples as a humble servant, a slave who tends sheep and plows fields. The effect of Jesus’ teaching is that a true disciple needs only enough faith to serve and to care for God’s people with the attentiveness of a slave.

Furthermore, Jesus reminds his disciples not only of their duty to be hardworking servants, but to be servants who don’t expect to be thanked. This, he says, constitutes what faith is. Surely a call for an unrecognized—un-thanked—form of faith is not something many of us want to hear. Yet it is the truth of Jesus’ Gospel.

* Faith, he tells us, is mostly a matter of duty within relationship.
* Faith, he tells us, is not something that we can do alone.
* Faith, he tells us, is lived out in interactions between two or more people.

The servant serves a master. Without a master, there is no servant. Without a servant, there is no master. Without our duty to serve others, we have no faith.

Without this God-given obligation to one another, we revert to our selfish little worlds. Without this God-given obligation our faith becomes self-serving—a security blanket or a ticket to a life of self-gratification.

All of us, following our Baptismal promises, are always learning how to grow in Christ. In doing so, we experience ever anew the power of God in our lives as we gain that power by understanding more about faith as obedience to God. We gain that power and an increase in faith as we follow the great commandment to love God with all we are and to love others as we love ourselves.

This might not make a good evangelism message for some. It might seem too demanding for the faint hearted to hear that being a part of the Body of Christ is so much about giving, and doing so without expecting to be thanked. Is that our message of evangelism? Is that how we grow into the full stature of Christ?

Yes, it is, according to Jesus. As we grow in Christ we will learn not to expect to be thanked but to give ourselves away for others, doing acts of faith and obeying God. In learning what our duty to God and our neighbor truly is, we will increase our faith.

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Christopher Sikkema


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