Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 10/06/2019

“Increase our faith!” That was the request of the apostles, a request which would make it appear that they weren’t a whole lot different than us. We live in a more is better world but apparently something like that must have been the case for them as well, so…if a little faith was good, more would be better so that’s what they wanted and we can relate. I’m sure we all have people we think of as having great faith or as being especially faithful and we wish we had more of what they have even if we’re not exactly sure what it is that they have that we wish we had more of. Still, along with those early apostles we would like to have greater faith even if we’re not sure what we’re asking for.

First though, what were they asking for? When we think of faith or of having greater faith what probably first comes to mind is greater confidence and acceptance of the doctrines and creeds and confessions of the church; fewer questions and less doubt in other words. For the apostles though, intellectual assent to historical facts and doctrines about God and Jesus couldn’t have been the case. That couldn’t have been what they were asking for because…none of those things had been formulated yet.

In my Bible, the heading above the section from which today’s verses come is “Some sayings of Jesus.” What you get then are some statements that are similar to what you get in the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament where one verse doesn’t necessarily logically lead into the next; each verse or pair of verses pretty much stands on its own as an individual point of wisdom. So…it’s as if Luke, in organizing his gospel had these sayings that didn’t fit real well into his narrative, but which he thought were important so he had to put them somewhere, so here they are, and this is where the disciple’s request to increase their faith appears.

Placed here though, this question follows all the stuff we’ve had over the past couple of months about the demands of discipleship; all those “wish Jesus hadn’t said it” statements about hating your family, selling your possessions and taking up your cross in order to follow Jesus thus making discipleship appear to be impossible. With that as the context, maybe there was intent on Luke’s part in placing these verses here; the request for greater faith could be about asking for the ability to do what seemed to be impossible.

With his response about faith the size of a mustard seed being able to uproot trees and plant them in the sea, Jesus indicates that whatever it is that the disciples think they need, they already have it and they have enough of it. He’s not into the more is better thing. Instead, after all of the demands of the previous chapters, Jesus response is more of a pep talk saying to them, “You can do this.”

Even with such reassuring words from Jesus basically saying that a little faith goes a long way, it’s hard to let go of the desire for more, whatever more might mean. A text like this though, makes me think about the nature and meaning of faith. I sometimes talk about church words that we use all the time as if we all know what they mean and that we all agree on what they mean. Faith is such a word. It’s a word that Jesus used a lot. How many times after healing does he say, “Go, your faith has made you well.” He’ll say it in next week’s gospel after healing the ten lepers. Frequently he sets up fear as the opposite of faith: “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Faith is also a word that Martin Luther focused on. It’s one of his sola’s: sola fide, faith alone. It’s part of his foundational theological statement, justification by grace through faith. But it’s not just Jesus and Luther, the word faith is all over our hymns and prayers and all manner of religious writing ranging from children’s stories all they up to hard core theology. Faith is all over the place and its meaning is assumed but rarely explained, but maybe that’s a good thing.

As frequently as the word faith is used, including by great figures of the faith (there it is again), ultimately if we join the apostles in saying, “Increase our faith!” because the word is open to interpretation, each of us is called to think about what “increase our faith” means for us personally. What is it that we want increased?

For me, what that question does is it makes me think about what it is that I really believe. I know all the right things to say and I say them and a lot of the time that works and it probably works for you too. But…I do think that on occasion it’s good to think about what you believe without just resorting to what you know are the right answers and that’s what this text made me do. Mind you, those right answers formulated by the early church and in some cases reinterpreted by Luther and other reformers, they’re good answers, we would say Spirit inspired answers, and part of increased faith probably is having greater confidence in their insights. Still, at some point in your journey I would suggest that it’s useful to ask what those right answers really mean to you.

So…here’s what I came up with concerning the nature of my faith. It may not be the same for you and that’s OK, but maybe what I say will help you in your thinking. For me, my faith starts with trusting that what God has done in and through Jesus is sufficient for me, that somehow, particularly through Jesus’ death on the cross, I am forgiven, I’m OK in God’s eyes. I don’t understand exactly how that works, but I don’t have to because…it’s a matter of faith. When I say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord,” what it means to me is that what happened in and through Jesus wasn’t just about him, it was for me.

What that also means is that I trust in a God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love as God is so frequently described in the Old Testament. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other dimensions to God, including the possibilities of anger and judgment, but my faith is that grace, mercy and steadfast love are God’s defining characteristics. I do believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth but God’s grace, mercy and steadfast love are more important to me than his almighty-ness.

Related to that, my faith is also about trust in God’s faithfulness, trust in God’s promises. It’s trust that somehow, God is still involved and active in the mixed up world we live in. It’s trust that despite evidence to the contrary, despite the fact that other forces often seem to be in control, God’s kingdom will prevail because God will make it happen and with God all things are possible. I believe that in Jesus the future was revealed and it’s a future about life, not death, a future about hope, not despair. We’re not there yet, but that’s where we’re headed. When I say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” that’s what I mean, that the Spirit of God is at work and will bring new life out of brokenness, because God is faithful and that’s what God does.

When I talk about my faith, I have to come around to grace. I absolutely depend on God’s grace. If I worried all the time about being “good enough,” I don’t think I could make it through the day, much less sleep at night. I know that it’s only by God’s grace that I can in any way be considered good enough. It’s the focus on grace that makes me Lutheran and keeps me Lutheran.

Belief in the truth of the Bible is also an important part of my faith, not the literal truth, but belief that these are the stories that reveal to us who God is and who we are in relationship to God, who we are as children of God. If I ask for greater faith, I guess it winds up being similar to what those apostles might have been asking for, not so much for the strength and ability to do the impossible, but more to have the strength and ability to be the person God would have me be, to more faithfully (for lack of a better way to put it) to more faithfully live as a child of God who helps to make known the kingdom Jesus revealed and talked about.

I could say more but that’s enough for now. As I got into this though, what I realized I was doing in part was to write my own “What does this mean?” explanations of the faith we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. Your explanations of your own faith might be different and as I said, that’s OK. Maybe though, I’ve given you some hooks to hang your thoughts on if you should choose to take on this assignment.

I would encourage you to do so. It will help you to increase your faith.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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