Friday, October 12, 2007

Bus Tunnel HDR

Bus Tunnel HDR
Originally uploaded by Cap'n Surly
My buddy Don found this at Flickr, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I'd give it a bit more publicity here. I've been in this tunnel, and this HDR makes it look freakishly cool.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Faith Is

Faith Is
Luke 17:5-10
October 7, 2007
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

© 2007 by Christopher D. Drew

Sermon Focus: Luke recounts what appears to be two separate yet related sayings of Jesus. The first saying deals with the nature of faith and, by extension, some of the characteristics of faith. Immediately following this first saying is another relating how a servant isn’t praised for doing what is normally required. The statement lends to an interpretation that we ought not to boast of our discipleship. By connecting this story with the first story about faith, we can say that neither should we boast of our faith, which is a gift from God.

Sermon Function: To proclaim the nature and power of Christian faith, and to highlight how faith itself is a grace from God, and to encourage the congregation to be thankful for faith and to let the power of faith illuminate and drive human life.

[Click to Show/Hide Sermon Text]


Our scripture for today is found about two-thirds of the way through Luke’s gospel. In this section of Luke are many parables and sayings of Jesus that are told as he and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem, en route to the last supper at Passover, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. Two of these sayings are in today’s reading. They are separate, but related.

Listen now to God’s word.

[Read Scripture - Luke 17:5-10]


I was in San Francisco for a few days this past week for a big meeting with San Francisco Presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry (or SFPCPM). As many of you know, I have been ministering to this church as an unordained candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church. My meeting this week was to undergo what someone on the committee refers to as the “final trials of ordination.” At this final assessment meeting, I was required to deliver a sermon, report progress on a set of covenant objectives I had agreed to last year, and present my statement of faith. At the conclusion of all this, the committee takes a vote and decides whether or not to authorize the candidate to actively pursue and accept a call to a particular church. This is a big step in the long process towards ordination. For me, it was the culmination of just over three years of preparation.

The meeting began with my delivery of a sermon. We then gathered back around our table and I was asked to present my statement of faith.

And so I did. It was excellent, I think.

But it did make me wonder: What exactly is faith? Is it something we can measure? Does it have some kind of substance? Can I compare my faith, for example, with the great saints of the church? Better yet, can I compare my faith with that of the faithless, a better option since then I might come out ahead on the comparison?

The statement I delivered didn’t attempt to answer any of these questions. And, interestingly, the committee wasn’t interested in them either. The statement of faith is important to the committee, because when I am ultimately called to a church, I will have to recite the statement in front of an entire assembled Presbytery. My committee was deeply concerned that I be able to address any “questions” my statement of faith might attract.

Faith, though, isn’t something easily committed to paper. And it isn’t something that you can measure. It just is. And that is the key to understanding the first two verses of today’s text.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-6 NRSV)
On their way to Jerusalem, the apostles ask the Lord for an increase in their faith. The text implies that they already have faith, but that somehow the amount of faith they have is somehow insufficient for the task that awaits them, or at least insufficient for extreme extent to which Jesus expects them to forgive those whom have sinned. Right before this text, Jesus has told the disciples in verse four, “And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4 NRSV).

The disciples appear to misunderstand the nature or character of faith, and so Jesus gives them some helpful guidance. Faith isn’t a quantitative thing to which you can add more faith. The request for additional faith implies that whatever faith one has is somehow insufficient. In a way, it’s like someone coming up to you and saying that they are “kind of” pregnant. There is no in between when it comes to faith. Neither is there insufficiency. Faith just is.

Because faith isn’t a measurable thing, Jesus tells us a few things that should give us cause for celebration.

First, faith is a function of being a created being. For all those God claims as his own, faith, like everything else we’ve been given, is a priceless gift. It exists in us before we are even aware of it. I also believe that faith can be present even when we don’t want it or when we reject it. Among other reasons, this is why we have the understanding that there are no atheists in foxholes. Our human need to connect at a spiritual level is in large part due to the fact that faith is inbred into us. It’s part of the fabric of being a human being. To ask for more faith is to say, in a rather awkward way, that God’s gift of faith is somehow inadequate.

And that brings me to a second point about faith. Because it comes from God, faith can be a very valuable weapon against all of the powers and principalities of this world. Listen again to the words of Jesus:
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:6 NRSV)
Faith is power, the power to withstand and to overcome the worst things that life can throw at us. I don’t think we usually think of faith as a form of power. But it is. Think about it with me for a moment. It is through faith that we dare to approach Almighty God in worship. It is by faith that we are able to muster the courage to get out of bed in the morning and come into God’s presence. It is by faith that we are sustained through illness, financial difficulties, and damaged relationships. Faith can sustain us when nothing else can. Faith gives us the power to forgive someone when they have sinned against us time after time and come to us for forgiveness time and again. It is faith that keeps us alive during those intense dark nights of the soul, when we feel as if we might be swallowed up by fear, anxiety, and worry.

Living into the faith given to us by God can liberate us from everything that keeps us from truly knowing what it means to be a human being.

And while faith gives us great comfort and sustaining strength, faith is also the gift that keeps on giving. It is through the tremendous power of faith that the church goes out into the world in mission. It is through our faith that the hungry are fed and the sick comforted. It is through faith that we welcome the stranger into our midst. And it is by faith that we are able to remain obedient to our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is power, the kind of power that can uproot the tree from the ground and plant it into the waters of Nueces Bay where it will flourish. That bizarre image is meant for a purpose: To disclose to Christ’s disciples the full extent of the power of faith.

Warning – Don’t Let It Go To Your Head

With such a power in faith comes, as you can imagine, great responsibilities. Faith is not a mark of special membership in a club. Faith is a gift from God. The proper posture when we reflect on this fact is prostrate in front of our Maker.

Jesus illustrates this through the next story in today’s text.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? (Luke 17:7-8 NRSV)
I remember back when I was a consultant and it was time for the annual review. The process was standard – everyone was evaluated using similar criteria and scoring. I remember working so hard to try to achieve a good evaluation each year. I took on travel assignments, special work projects and the like. I once even flew all the way to Paris, France to fill at a meeting that my supervisor could not attend. I sat in a crummy Paris office in the industrial part of town as a “content expert” while two other consultants, one a Partner in the local Paris office, and the other a potential client, spoke in rapid French, a language of which I was totally ignorant. After about two hours, we left. I remember later that year going into my annual review and thinking: This is great, I did some good work this year, and I even went to far away places at the last minute, leaving behind family and friends, to attend meetings I couldn’t even understand. Clients like me and say good things about me. What a year!

Inevitably, though, the evaluations always used the same lingo. “Great performer, but could do more of X, Y, and Z.” Average or above average ratings were common for me, as they were with everyone else in a culture that demanded overachievement from everyone. I remember wondering what, if anything, I could do to earn a higher rating? After 10 years of this, I concluding there was nothing I could do about the rating, I simply had to do my best, as all employees are expected to do. You see, you don’t get “props” or approval from doing what you were hired to do.

Similarly, if we are people of faith, we are not rewarded for recognizing that fact that we have faith, and we’re not accorded special honors for responding to God’s grace by extending his mission into our community and the world. Our attitude, as people of faith, ought to be one filled with humble gratitude. Here we see one of the great biblical truths of Christian ministry. Faith is, in fact, a gift we don’t deserve to begin with because of our rebellion and our sin. So in faith, when we do everything expected of by our Lord and Savior and Master Jesus Christ, our proper response should be similar to the one we read in verse 10. We remember our unworthiness, Lord, as your servants. We have done what you have asked us to do, and we are grateful for the privilege, particularly given that we are a sinful people.


God’s gift of faith is powerful, but that gift does not make us better or worse than anyone else. It simply makes us faithful servants of our Lord.

The next time you’re anxious about something, remember your faith and that God loves you and has given you that precious gift. Focus on that. Reflect on that. You will find that your anxiety will start to melt away. Remember also, as a person of faith, that we are given a powerful tool that does not give us special privileges over anyone else. Instead, by faith we assume responsibilities of humble servants. There is only one being who is great, and that is Almighty God, who through the gift of faith in His Son Jesus Christ grants to us eternal life at the heavenly banquet table.

Soon, we will recount God’s many blessings and gifts at the Lord’s Table, together with Christians all over the world during this World Communion Sunday. As we come to the table in this Sacrament, remember these things: Remember that by faith we are joining in the Passover feast Jesus shared with the twelve over 2,000 years ago. Remember that by faith we are united by the Holy Spirit with one another here in Portland and with those in congregations around the world. And remember that by faith we are join share the divine meal with those saints who have gone before us and who, with us, await the joyful banquet in the halls of the heavenly kingdom to come at the end of things. By faith.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church, Portland, Texas.