Faith Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD
October 2, 2022
You Gotta Have Faith
Our passage this morning needs a bit of context, because it begins in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and his disciples – and also because the text could possibly go into a narrow little file I have labeled “things I wish Jesus had not said.”
He’s teaching, expanding the idea of discipleship. What does someone need to do to be a disciple? First, they must be on guard against sin, and make sure they don’t cause anyone else to stumble. Then, they’ve got to forgive others. Not just once, but countless times. Okay…then our passage begins. Listen:
Right away, a question: How do we respond when we hear the language of enslavement in the mouth of Jesus? As far as insults go, calling someone a ‘worthless slave’ is not one I want to hear coming from my Lord and savior. I don’t know about you. And what is he doing here, putting the disciples in the role of enslavers? What?
We know that the Bible is both a living word and a culturally enmeshed document. That means, we can find new meaning and understanding in it, but we need to remember that it is a book that’s bound in part by the culture and time in which it was written, and slavery was common in the ancient world. Jesus is using a reference and example that people would understand – one he uses several times at other points in the story. Some translations soften the Greek and use the word servant – this translation, I think appropriately, uses the word slave. What do we do with it?
We must read scripture with both curiosity and a critical eye, constantly sifting through the stories to find what is relevant, meaningful, and true for us today. I don’t know about you, but I want Christ to write it on a tablet, to make it plain for all to see that slavery was wrong, and human beings deserve a fair wage for their labor. But he doesn’t. So we hold passages in tension with one another, remembering that more than anything else Christ was motivated by the call to love God and love neighbor. We can reject the example of enslavement here, even while we dig beneath it, asking what we think Christ was trying to say. The whole passage is expounding on the nature of discipleship. What does it take to be a disciple? With the examples Jesus gives here, we see that discipleship can be difficult. God calls us to lives of loving service, service that can be unglamorous and exhausting, that can feel more like a duty than a joy. Remember that the road Jesus is on leads to Jerusalem, into conflict with the authorities, and then right to Calvary, to the cross. Maybe he wants the disciples to realize that he is asking a lot of them when he calls them to pick up their cross and follow him. He’s asking for everything, their whole lives.
I don’t know about you, but the disciples hear his call to service, his commandment to forgive others relentlessly and ask – how can we do that? How do we have enough faith to follow him?
The disciples seem to be of the opinion that more is better. If a little faith is good, more must be better. But is that how faith works? I can think of plenty of examples where more isn’t better, it’s just more. A little ice cream is good, but more quickly becomes too much. Exercise is good in reasonable amounts, but we’ve probably all overdone it before, strained a muscle or ended up with an injury that put us out of commission for a while. How about time with our extended family? A little of it is wonderful. A lot of time…well, let’s just say that probably depends on the family!
Faith is like love – it’s impossible to quantify! If you have it, even a little bit, even faith just the size of a mustard seed, Jesus says – that’s enough. Enough to do something utterly unbelievable – enough to uproot a tree and throw it into the sea.
Is faith power? Is it like the force, the ability to move people and objects where we want them to go?
I heard someone pray, asking for more faith: “I don’t need faith to move mountains, God, I just need enough to move myself.” I just need enough to move myself. I like that.
We’re all familiar with a sense of inertia when starting a new project or embarking on something new. We feel anxiety that the project might fail or the work will be too hard; we fear we won’t be up for the challenge. Faith is what inspires and enables us to take the first step, and then the next and the next. Faith is trusting the future God has promised us, even when we can’t see it yet. Faith is trusting ourselves enough…trusting GOD enough…to risk trying something new. It’s the midwife of creativity and courage. It is the antidote to fear.
The images coming out of Florida this week, from Ft. Meyers and Sanibel Island and Cape Coral, are just heartbreaking. Whole communities wiped off the map, homes and businesses destroyed, neighborhoods flooded, livelihoods demolished, and human lives lost. There’s one county that has seen more deaths than others, in part because officials delayed issuing a mandatory evacuation order until it was, for some, too late. The state and local municipalities are in the process of assessing the damage and rescuing those in distress, and I’m amazed by remarkable local firefighters, police, emergency responders, public works, and the people from FEMA and the electric company who are doing that good, hard work. There’s even a ragtag group of folks that have come from Louisiana, and Mississippi, who call themselves the Cajun Navy. Have you heard of these guys?
They are not professionals. They are volunteers with boats. Their politics are probably a little different than yours and mine. But they go in after a hurricane has caused catastrophic flooding and use their boats to ferry people to safety. The first Cajun Navy was formed after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana coast and flooded New Orleans and a zillion other little towns in the region. The work started with a group of about 30 people with 23 boats. Now there are almost 50 different groups calling themselves a Cajun navy, comprised of hundreds, thousands of volunteers who rush in when disaster strikes. To save lives. To use what little resources they have to help others. They saw a need, and realized that they had a way to help. That’s faith.
There’s a philosopher named Blaise Pascal who famously made a case for the existence of God – pascal’s wager – basically, in a universe of infinite possibility, you are better off believing there is a God, because you lose nothing if you’re wrong. He said, even if you don’t have faith, act as if you do. Do the things a faithful person would. Serve others. Forgive others. Be a part of a community of faithful people. You may find, he says, “your actions leading your heart and mind in faithful directions.” And one day, you might surprise yourself, discovering just a tiny seed where there wasn’t any before. Pascal says, “Don’t worry about what you believe! Focus on your actions and convictions will follow!”
By acting as if we have faith, we just might find we have enough – maybe not enough to move mountains, but enough to move ourselves toward where God is calling us to be. Faith, then, is not a thought exercise, it’s not an ascription of belief, saying or reciting the right words to please God. Faith is an action, it’s what we do! It’s how we respond to the gift of grace, and the experience of love. We extend forgiveness to others! We show compassion to others! We build communities like this one, where we are reminded of the love God has for us, of the grace God offers us, and share those gifts with our neighbors. This, Faith, is faith.
David Lose says, “Faith is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it.” The joy and challenge of everyday life in the Anthropocene gives us plenty of opportunities to practice our faith – I’m so grateful we get to do this work of discipleship together.
 Pascal, Blaise, quoted in the Theologian’s Almanac for the Week of June 19, 2022, The Salt Project, https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2022/6/13/theologians-almanac-for-week-of-june-19-2022.
 Lose, David, “Everyday Faith,” Dear Working Preacher column, September 30, 2013, https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/everyday-faith