Monday, November 14, 2022

Work

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
November 13, 2022

28 Proper C 

          Sometime in the summer of 2018, Rabbi Michael Ross from Temple Beth Shalom, Pastor Peter Wiley from First Congregational next door, and I began talking about hosting an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.  Our congregations are a three-minute walk from each other, at most.  We share a rootedness in gratitude, and Thanksgiving is a holiday we all hold in common.  We talked over coffee several times and decided to wait until 2019 rather than rush things in 2018.  We really wanted to get the Interfaith Thanksgiving service right.

          But then, on October 27 of 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 congregants who were at prayer.  This was the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history and shock and fear rippled through the Jewish community in this country.  Peter and I reached out to Rabbi Michael immediately to offer our support, then quickly decided that this was not the year to delay an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.  We put together a service quickly, letting go of any notion of perfection, and members of the three congregations gathered at Temple Beth Sholom on the Sunday before Thanksgiving to worship, sing, and give thanks together.  We have gathered every year since then, even when we had to be totally online, convinced that not only are we are better together than we are apart, we also need each other. 

          I thought about the Tree of Life shooting, other school and faith community shootings, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, hurricanes Ian and Nicole, the conflict in our country, and so many other disasters as I read our gospel lesson this morning.  Jesus is speaking to people who will endure everything he describes, and Luke is writing to an audience currently experiencing those events.  Jesus tells the people that all of these things will come to pass before he returns and that his followers are to endure.  But here we are, two thousands of years later and acts of hatred, natural disaster, and plagues are still among us and Jesus has not returned.  What do we do with Jesus words?

          The answer to the question about Jesus’ return is a mystery I cannot solve.  But our other readings this morning do guide us in how we are to live while we wait.  The prophet Isaiah is writing to people who are trying to rebuild their lives in the Promised Land after their exile in Babylon.  The work is difficult and there is no clear path forward, much less agreement on that path.  The temple has been destroyed, the land burned out, and most of the people who once lived there have died.  Isaiah writes to encourage the people and call them to watch for the new thing God is doing in their midst.  God is not going to repeat what God has already done, but God will create Jerusalem as a joy and her people as a delight, a place where there will be no more weeping or cries of distress, and even the animals will get along.  In the midst of all that plagues and horrifies us, whether as individuals, as an institution, or as a country, God promises that God is about to do something new and God calls us to open our eyes and watch for God’s new action. 

          But this watching is not to be passive waiting.  The reading from I Thessalonians reminds us that the Christian life requires work. The specific work that is being commended to the Thessalonians is the work of earning their keep.  As Christians, the Thessalonians cannot expect others to do their work.  Likewise, as Christians we are called to model the work to which Jesus calls us, the work of tending the sick, caring for those affected by disaster or tragedy, working for justice and peace in cases of conflict.  That work is not easy, but that work is holy.  Our work is to point to and actually be part of the new thing God is doing in our midst despite any and all evidence that wars, plagues, violence, and conflict are winning. 

          In 2018, in the face of devastating violence, the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service was our attempt to bring people together across differences and to see what new thing God might be doing in our midst in the face of tragedy.  The work to which I Thessalonians calls us is the work of actually being that new thing Isaiah writes about, working across differences to usher in a new day in which faithful people across faith traditions can gather, give thanks, and build relationships that will make the world look a little less like what Jesus predicts and a little more like what Isaiah foretells.  When we practice that work in something so easy and simple as an Interfaith Thanksgiving Service, we are better prepared to practice that work in the rest of our lives.

                                                                   Amen.

         

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Present Tense

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
November 6, 2022

All Saints Day

One afternoon many years ago, I received a call from the husband of my close friend and mentor of about 35 years. His wife, my beloved friend, had been sick for a year. I had been to Arkansas to visit her twice during that year and both visits were deep and rich. We had the kind of friendship where we could be apart for several years and then pick up right where we left off, like no time had elapsed at all.

When her husband called that afternoon, the situation was deteriorating rapidly and my friend was only expected to live a few more hours, or a day at best. While the news was not unexpected, I was crushed nonetheless. I knew I could not get to Arkansas in time, and really did not feel called to be there. So I asked her husband "What can I do?" Of course, I thought he would say "Keep us in your prayers." Instead, he said "Just get out there and be the best priest you know how to be."

On All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have gone before us and their impact on our lives. The music, the candles, and the names evoke powerful emotions within us as we remember those who, in the words of the Burial service, "we love but see no longer." We remember those whose lives touched our own, as well as the people the church has named the "official" saints, like St. Peter or St. Mary. All Saints Sunday evokes tears of both joy and sadness as we celebrate these lives that are now lived in the nearer presence of God, and we pause for a moment to simply dwell in those memories.

On All Saints Sunday, while we remember the past and dream of a future in which God will reunite us with our loved ones, Jesus grounds us firmly in the present with the present tense words of the beatitudes. The reassuring words "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God" quickly become "Woe to you who are rich for you have received your consolation." The comforting words "Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh" become "Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep." Jesus begins the beatitudes with words of comfort which quickly turn to words of challenge and judgement.  These are not the words I want to hear on All Saints Sunday.

What are we to make of Jesus’ words this morning?  Jesus fed thousands of hungry people with a few fish and loaves of bread. Jesus had mercy on tears of grief and raised the dead. Jesus befriended the poor and the outcast, healing the lepers and the blind so they could rejoin society and be productive. Jesus certainly did not glorify hungry, sorrow and poverty with his actions. If Jesus worked so hard with his actions to feed the hungry, comfort the sorrowful, and lift people out of poverty, what could his words this morning possibly mean?

On All Saints Sunday, Jesus does not tell us that hunger, poverty, and misery are good things. What Jesus does is invite us into the Kingdom of God where those who have food share with those who are hungry, and those who are joyful comfort those who mourn, and those who are blessed with material resources share with those in need.  Then the hungry will be fed, and those who weep will laugh again.  When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, and give to everyone who begs from us, Jesus is inviting us to make the Kingdom of God a present reality in our midst now.  The Kingdom of God is not a magical place where all of the problems of the world are suddenly solved.  The Kingdom of God is a real place that is brought into existence in our midst when everyone does to others as they would have them to themselves, everyone is loving their enemies, doing good to those who hate them, and on and on.  On All Saints Sunday, Jesus calls us to remember those who worked to make the Kingdom of God a present reality in the world and to commit ourselves to that same work.

          This morning, we baptize Anna Longenecker into the body of Christ.  In baptism, she joins the communion of saints we celebrate this day.  In baptism, her parents and godparents promise to help her grow into the full stature of Christ and to work to bring the Kingdom of God near.  With Anna, we all promise to seek and serve Christ in all people, respect the dignity of every human being, and work for justice and peace.  When we do that work, the hungry are fed, the sorrowful are comforted, the poor are blessed, and the Kingdom of God is in our midst.

On All Saints Sunday, we remember those who have gone before us because their lives showed us how to bring the Kingdom of God near. We sing the great hymns, light the candles, read the names, and say the prayers, not just because they comfort us, but because they remind us that we, like all the saints, are called to live into our baptism and be a gospel witness in the world. When I asked my friend’s husband what I could do in the face of her death, he did not say to me "light a candle, say a prayer, or sing a really great hymn.” He said "Get out there and be the best priest you can be." The saints in our lives are the ones who call us, who challenge us, to trust in Jesus and get out there and live our lives such that the world around us will experience the Kingdom of God in their midst.

Amen

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Notice

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
October 30, 2022

26 Proper C 

          In our family, we have a running joke about my father-in-law, Don’s dad.  If anyone says “Would you like to go…,” Fred has his shoes on and is out the door before we finish the sentence.  Fred has always loved to go and will still go anywhere, anytime.  When we lived in Springfield, Ohio, where Fred still lives, he would go with me to out of town evening meetings, or to our cottage on the Ohio River.  The one time he rethought his willingness to go anyplace anytime with me was the time he found himself at Ikea, the massive home furnishings store.  That was a stretch even for Fred!

          The thing about traveling with Fred is that he notices everything.  One evening we were taking back roads from Springfield to Columbus, which is largely farm country.  I was very focused on not getting lost as this was before I had gps in my car.  Fred was noticing the cows, the make and model of the cows, wondering about the farm and how many acres it was, where the water supply was, and how the farmer was doing.  On another trip, this one down highway 68 to the Ohio River, while I am wondering if there is a speed trap in the next small town, Fred is noticing all the John Deere tractor stores along the way, wondering who is buying all these tractors, what their farms are like, noticing the size of the store we are currently passing compared with the one we passed a few miles back.  The only thing we both noticed was the large sign saying “Homemade Amish Baked Goods.”

          This morning, we hear the story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, so likely very good at extorting money from the people, thus very wealthy and very unpopular with the people.  Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus, so he climbs a tree to get a better view.  Jesus notices Zacchaeus and calls him to come down from the tree so he can stay at Zacchaeus’ house.  Jesus is going to stay, and presumably dine, with a tax collector, a despised and notorious sinner.  This is hardly the first time Jesus has taken up the cause of a tax collector having called one as a disciple and having just last week held up the faith of a tax collector.  Zacchaeus’s life is transformed by the encounter with Jesus, and he amends his life, bringing salvation to his house. 

          Jesus noticed Zacchaeus.  Not only did Jesus notice Zacchaeus, but Jesus also stopped and engaged the tax collector.  Jesus could have simply seen the grown man in the tree and moved on, but he did not.  In the reading from Isaiah, the prophet calls the people to notice those in need of justice, the oppressed, the orphan and the widow, and to do something about their plight.  God is tired of empty sacrifices and rituals that do not lead to the transformation of people’s lives.   Those sacrifices and rituals are worthless to God unless they are accompanied by action that transforms human life and suffering. 

          In the lovely and encouraging reading from 2 Thessalonians, Paul and his companions notice the faith and steadfastness of the church in Thessalonica in the midst of persecution and affliction.  They see the deep love the Thessalonians have for one another.  Paul prays for the Thessalonians.  The persecuted Thessalonians feel seen and encouraged by the words and action of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy and they know that their work for the gospel matters.

          In the Episcopal Church, at every baptism, we promise to seek and serve Christ in all people.  In order to do that, we are called to notice people, to really see them, and not just pass by.  Look around for a moment.  Notice who is here that you have not met yet.  If you have been at Christ Church a while, notice who is not here.  Out in the world around us, notice the person who has gone above and beyond for you and offer a word of thanks, or the person who seems overwhelmed and need of encouragement, or who is alone and in need of friendship.  Notice and then act, because noticing is not enough.  In Isaiah, God calls the people to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”  We are called to notice the oppressed, the orphan, and the widow, metaphorical or literal, then God calls us to act whether with a simple action in the moment like Jesus did with Zacchaeus, or with an encouraging word like Paul offered the Thessalonians, or with work for systemic change as when Isaiah calls the people to seek justice and transform society.   When we notice with the curiosity of Fred and respond with the compassion of Jesus, the transforming love of God, working through us, will change lives and change the world. 

                                                                                      Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Gratitude and Generosity

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
October 23, 2022

25 Proper C 

          On Thursday, I spent part of the morning with our parishioners at Laurel Lake.  We gather once a month for Eucharist and conversation, and I always look forward to that time together.  As we chatted before the service, I found myself especially grateful that we could gather.  I remembered the two whole years we had been unable to gather there, much longer than we were unable to gather here at Christ Church.  In a similar way, I find myself still remembering the long months when we worshipped only on Zoom or Facebook Live and could not gather here, and I continue to feel deep gratitude on Sunday mornings when we gather, or when we gather for fellowship events like our party Friday night or potluck theology coming up, or youth group, or pretty much anything.  As I have said before, I hope I never take our ability to gather for granted again.  God led us through a strange and lonely wilderness, brought us back together again, and I am grateful beyond measure. 

          This morning we hear yet another peculiar parable from Jesus.  On the surface, the point seems obvious.  Be like the tax collector, not like the Pharisee.  Be humble, not haughty.  Be authentic, not a hypocrite.  Rely on God, not our own good works.  If I thought that was the point of the parable, we could just move on to the Nicene Creed.  But rarely is Jesus interested in the revelation of the obvious.  So we will need to dig a bit deeper this morning.

          First, the Pharisee.  The portrayal of the Pharisees in the gospels demonstrates a first century Christian bias rather than historical fact.  Luke is less guilty of this than other gospels, such as John, but he is still guilty.  When we read other first century sources about the Pharisees, we find that the Pharisees were deeply faithful.  Their scrupulous keeping of the law was intended to make all of life holy and pleasing to God, NOT because they were trying to earn anything, but out of gratitude for all that God had done from them as a people.  Kindness, hospitality to strangers, and care for the poor and widows were deeply held values.  Over and over again in the Hebrew scriptures, we hear God referred to as the One who brought the people out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  Over and over again, the people try to live in response to the gracious and saving work of God.  Do they always succeed?  No.  But they never give up.

          So we have our Pharisee this morning who begins his prayer with “God, I thank you…”  We have no reason to think that this is anything other than the honest expression of gratitude that begins many Jewish prayers.  Maybe his gratitude that he is not like other people is a bit arrogant, but he is genuinely grateful.  His prayer is really no different from “there but for the grace of God go I” when we see someone who is down on their luck.  Then the Pharisee tells God what God probably already knows-that he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all of his income.  The Pharisee goes well beyond what the law requires.  Is the Pharisee boasting or is he grateful that he is able to give and do more that the law requires? 

          Then we have our tax collector.  Tax collectors were despised by the people.  The tax collectors collected the taxes using whatever means necessary, and because there was no IRS to pay them a salary, they collected more than was due and kept the difference for themselves.  Jesus rather liked tax collectors, however, calling one, Matthew, to be a disciple, and dining with others.  The tax collector’s prayer begins and ends with “God be merciful to me a sinner.”  He asks for mercy, which he knows comes from God.  However, he does not offer to repent much less find a new career path.  He simply recognizes that he is a sinner and asks for mercy.

          After describing the prayer of the two men, Jesus says “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."  What are we to make of this?  Is Jesus commending a life of extortion so long as we know we need God’s mercy, while putting down the person who was actually living a faithful life and acting out of gratitude, even if with some measure of arrogance?  In the gratitude vs. humility contest, does gratitude lose?  What are we to take from this parable?

          Despite Jesus’ claim that the tax collector went home justified and the Pharisee did not, I wonder whether this is a winner-take-all game, where we have to choose between gratitude and humility, or whether there is something to be commended in both of these people.  The Pharisee is grateful to God that he is able to keep the law and do even more.  He thanks God for that, so he knows that he is dependent on God for his ability to live faithfully.  The tax collector knows he is a sinner and is dependent on God for mercy.  Both men are aware of their dependence on God.

          Perhaps Jesus tells us that the tax collector goes home having been justified by his time in the temple because the tax collector is the one who needs justification.  Perhaps the Pharisee was already justified.  Perhaps prayer is the ultimate leveler and that is what Jesus means by the exalted being humbled and the humble being exalted.  The Pharisee and the tax collector are both beloved of God, on whom they both know they are dependent.  This is humbling to the Pharisee and exalts the tax collector. 

          The reading from Sirach begins “Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford.” The response to God’s generous action in the life of the Pharisee, and hopefully the life of the tax collector, and certainly in our own lives, is gratitude.  The response to gratitude is generosity, whether of our financial resources as with the Pharisee who gave more than the law required, or with our time like the disciples who gave all of their time to Jesus, or the generosity of our hearts, like the tax collector who knew he had sinned.  Whatever else Jesus might have meant by this tricky little parable, I believe Jesus calls us to recognize our dependence on God, which leads us to gratitude which leads us to mirror the divine generosity with the whole of our lives. 

                                                                             Amen.

         

Monday, October 17, 2022

Knock

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
October 16, 2022

24 Proper C

          In the days before everyone had caller ID on their phones, back when every phone call we answered was an adventure, one of our frequent callers in the church office was a woman named Rose.  I recognized her voice before she identified herself, if she identified herself, and to this day I can see her face and hear her voice.  She was a slight woman.  A person who at least claimed to be her husband was always hovering in the background whether Rose called on the phone or showed up at the office door.  Rose always needed something: food, gasoline, a night in a hotel, a bus ticket somewhere.  The list of needs seemed endless, and even when we sprang for the bus ticket out of town, a week later Rose and her husband would be back needing something more.  Sometimes we could help.  Many times we could not.  But Rose was nothing if not persistent and she would call or knock until her needs were met.

I am reminded of Rose when I hear Jesus’ parable this morning.    Jesus seems to tell his disciples to be as persistent in prayer as the widow was in demanding justice against her opponent.  In Jesus’ time, judges were entrusted with protecting the poor, the widows and the orphans. Widows had no way to support themselves.  They were totally dependent on God and the justice of the judge for their survival. In the parable, the judge tries to ignore the widow’s request, but because the widow will knock until her needs are met, the judge finally grants the widow justice so that she will go away. At the end of the parable, Jesus says "And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them." Jesus seems to be telling us that if we pray long enough and hard enough, if we are persistent enough and if we refuse to take "no" for an answer, eventually we will wear God down and get what we want.

There are at least two problems with this parable.  First, how many times have we prayed with all the persistence we could muster and yet our prayers seemed to go unanswered?  Did our loved one die, or our problem not get resolved, or our relationship remain broken because we did not pray hard enough?   Secondly, this parable makes us out to be spoiled children who, if we pester God long enough and hard enough, will get whatever we want so that we will go away.  Somehow I don’t think either of these is what Jesus has in mind.  So how can we understand this parable?

The reading from 2 Timothy reminds us that all Scripture is given to us for our learning.  I find this troublesome.  Does God really want us to stone our children when they talk back to us, as Deuteronomy 21 suggests, or refrain from wearing blended fabric as Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 22 suggest, or hate our mother and father, brothers and sisters, or even life itself as Jesus suggests in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. But the writer of 2 Timothy is not talking about every individual verse of Scripture, nor is 2 Timothy talking about taking one verse of Scripture and using that single verse to interpret all of Scripture. 2 Timothy is telling us that the whole of Scripture is inspired by God and given to us for our learning. God invites us to use the fullness of Scripture to understand a single difficult passage, so that we don’t have to rely on just our own experience and the words of a single passage of Scripture to figure out what God is calling us to do and be.

So, in this morning’s parable, we have a widow and an unjust judge. When we think about all of Scripture, we remember that over and over again in the gospels, especially Luke’s gospel, Jesus identifies with the poor and the outcast, the widows and the orphans. In Matthew’s gospel, we hear Jesus say that whenever we minister to the hungry and the thirsty, to those on the margins of society, we minister to him. In the book of Revelation, we hear Jesus say "Behold, I stand at the door and knock."  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the one who cares passionately about justice is God.  On the other hand, throughout Scripture, typically the ones who act unjustly and exploit other people, are people, not God. In the parables, typically, the bad king, the rude guest, the corrupt manager, or the stingy farmer represent people, not God. So, in the context of all of Scripture, perhaps there is different way to understand the parable of the unjust judge.

Perhaps God is the one knocking so persistently, demanding justice, and perhaps WE are the judge. Perhaps the persistence in this parable is God’s persistence, the knocking that will not stop until justice has been served. And in this parable, suppose that we are the judge, the ones empowered by God to bring about justice, to care for the poor and the oppressed, the outcasts and the victims of injustice. The persistent knocking is Jesus standing at the door of our hearts and knocking so that we may see and hear and feel the injustice of the world and be inspired to do something about it. Perhaps prayer is not about continually pestering God to do something about all that is wrong with our lives and the world until God gives in just so we will go away. Perhaps prayer is, at least in part, our listening and watching for God to show us all that is broken in this world and how we are to work on God’s behalf to bring about justice, healing, and peace.

I imagine that Rose continues to knock on the door or call the church office, always in need of something more.  Rose reminds me, and Rose reminds us, of the persistence of God that will continue to knock until we, like the judge in the parable, get out of our metaphorical beds, and do what God is asking.                                                                                      Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Surprise!

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
October 9, 2022

23 Proper C 

          One Sunday last summer, I worshipped at a small Episcopal church up near Lake Erie.  The service was a typical Episcopal service, and when it was time for the second reading, I noticed that a woman was listed as the lector.  However, a young man stood up instead.  Rather than go directly to the lectern, the young man went up the center aisle, stopped near the front and took an elderly woman by the arm.  He led her up the steps to the lectern and waited.  The women read in as strong and clear a voice as I have ever heard.  When she finished, the young man gently escorted her down the stairs and to her seat.  I am sure there was nothing remarkable about this to the congregation.  This is just the way they roll.  But for me, as a visitor, an outsider, I experienced a profound moment of God’s abundant grace, tender and yet strong, and one that still gives me goosebumps.  For a moment, the woman was healed of her old age and able to use her God given gift just as she had for what I suspect was many decades.  The smile on her face spoke volumes and my heart was filled with gratitude for her and for this congregation.  I expected a routine Sunday morning service. Instead, I had an experience that I am still talking about months later.

          This morning, we see 10 people with leprosy approach Jesus while still keeping their distance.  We hear them call out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”  What are they asking of Jesus? Do they need something to eat?  A place where they can stay despite their leprosy?  Or do they recognize Jesus as someone who can heal them?  Their request is for mercy, which could mean a lot of things.  In response, Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests.  And as they went, they were made clean.

          Only one, when he realizes that he has been made clean, turns back to praise God and thank Jesus.  The person was a Samaritan, an outsider, considered by some at the time to be enemies of the Jewish people.  Jesus says to the Samaritan “Were not ten made clean?  But the other nine? Where are they?”  Well, they are exactly where Jesus told them to be.  They have gone to show themselves to the priests as Jesus commanded.  Jesus seems unfairly critical of the nine.  But to the 10th, he says “Get up and go on your way.  Your faith has made you well.”

          What are we to make of Jesus this morning?  Is this a reminder to write our thank you notes?  If so, one would think there would be some consequence for the 9 who did not return to give God thanks, and to our knowledge there is no such consequence.  Is the lesson that somehow gratitude and faith are intertwined, and the 10th man’s faith has made him well as Jesus seems to say.  I do believe that gratitude and faith are intertwined, but all 10 of the people with leprosy were healed so the linking of faith and gratitude does not seem to be necessary for healing.

          What the 10th person realized, that perhaps the other 9 did not, was the unanticipated magnitude of what God had just done in his life.  As a Samaritan, he might not have expected such generosity on God’s part.  His response to God’s unlikely action is to praise God with a loud voice and fall to the ground in gratitude.  In that gratitude, we see a pure expression of faith, which Jesus commends.  The other 9 turned to go show themselves to the priests before they were even healed.  They were not without faith.  But in the Samaritan, faith finds expression in gratitude for God’s action in his life.

          We hear a similar story in 2 Kings this morning. Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram so not an Israelite, also has leprosy.  Elisha sends a messenger to tell Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan seven times and he shall be healed.  Naaman responds in anger, expecting a much more dramatic healing.  But eventually Naaman is convinced to go to the Jordan and once he had washed 7 times, he was healed.  Naaman’s healing led him to say “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel."  Again, God’s healing power is demonstrated in the least likely person, someone outside the fold of God’s chosen people. Naaman responds in faith and we can hear the gratitude in his voice.

          This morning we will baptize Banks Reed, known in our family as Baby Banks.  In baptism, we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  After Banks has been baptized with water and sealed by the Holy Spirit, we will ask God to “Give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”  Jesus calls us to have an inquiring and discerning heart to see where God is at work, which will sometimes be in the least likely places, to have courage and perseverance to keep watching and believing that God will act even when God seems rather absent, and to allow ourselves to be filled with joy and gratitude in all that God does.  Both the Samaritan and Naaman turn out to be unlikely but powerful models for how we are to follow Jesus. 

                                                                                      Amen.

         

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Increase our Faith!

Charlotte Collins Reed
Christ Church Episcopal
October 2, 2022

22 Proper C 

          A week or so ago, our daughter-in-law Leslie sent us a video of our granddaughter Evelyn doing science “appearaments,” which is three year speak for “experiment.”  In the video, Evelyn has a Pyrex measuring cup with a red liquid which she pours into a mason jar that has some kind of white and blue powder in the bottom.  When she pours the red liquid into the mason jar, a vast amount of purple foam pours forth from the jar and onto the cookie sheet that is protecting the counter.  In the video, Evelyn squeals with delight and says “It does make purple!”  Her utter delight in what she has done comes across in her voice, her face, and her body language.  Don and I watched the video over and over again and laughed and laughed.

          I hear that same kind of innocent delight and curiosity in the apostles’ words this morning when they say to Jesus “Increase our faith!”  The apostles have been following Jesus for 16 chapters now, and they have heard many parables and stories about what it means to follow Jesus, many of which we have heard over the past few weeks.  They have heard the parables of the lost sheep and coins, the story of the prodigal son, the story of the shrewd manager, and the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  They are eager to have enough faith to follow Jesus and, no doubt, to please him.

          So I expect to hear Jesus have the same delight in their question, their desire to learn, and their curiosity that I have in Evelyn’s.  But Jesus says “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.”  Who has that much faith?  What kind of response is that to people who have given up everything to follow Jesus and want to grow in their faith?  I imagine the apostles being very disheartened by Jesus’ reply.

          However, I do not think Jesus is putting the apostles down for their lack of faith and their inability to cast a tree into the sea with the very command of their voice.  I do think Jesus is telling them that they are making the wrong request about faith.  The apostles are treating faith as if faith is something that can be measured like cocoa or chocolate chips, or something that can be created by mixing red liquid with white and blue powder.  Jesus is telling them that the size of their faith is not what matters; that even with a small amount of faith they can do great things.  The apostles are hardly without faith as they have left their families and their livelihoods to follow Jesus. 

          If Jesus is telling the apostles that they are making the wrong request about their faith, then what is the right request?  And what on earth is Jesus talking about when he goes on about the slave preparing dinner?

          Jesus’ comments about the slave are quite offensive to our ears.  The slave has been plowing the ground or tending sheep all day, presumably without pay.  Now the slave is commanded to prepare supper and serve the master.  And while, in my humble opinion, a thank you is always appropriate, Jesus assumes that no gratitude is needed, much less required.  In fact, putting the apostles in the place of the slaves, Jesus says “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.’”  How is this supposed to make the apostles feel, the apostles who are excited about their faith and want to know how to increase that faith.  They are worthless slaves???

          Jesus’ point about the slave, however offensive we might find his words, is that he was simply doing the work he was given to do.  I wonder if the response to “Increase our faith” is “Do the work you have been given to do.”  The reference to slaves, while abhorrent to our ears, is a reminder that, like a slave, we belong to someone else.  We belong to God.  Perhaps faith, rather than something that can be measured a quarter cup at a time or mixed up in a mason jar, is something more like muscles that grow with use.  Exercising the muscles of faith is done by faithfully doing the work God has given us to do.

          Our baptismal covenant, which we renew each time we celebrate a baptism, tells us how we are to live faithfully, gathering for worship week in and week out, repenting when we fall into sin, seeking and serving Christ in all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, striving for justice and peace, and proclaiming the good news by word and deed.  My friend Rick worked tirelessly over many years for basic human rights for the LGBTQ community in a city that, at the time, really did not care about such rights.  He finally moved a mountain and got those rights established.  My friend Judy worked to establish a domestic violence shelter in a West Virginia town where she was told by those in power that there was no domestic violence.  She did the equivalent of tossing a mulberry bush into the sea and made that shelter happen.  Both Judy and Rick exercised their faith one small step at a time, with many steps backwards in the process, until major changes were made.  Their faith grew, through both adversity and success.  When we live faithfully and do the work God has given us to do, whether raise our families, or help build a Habitat House, or work to assist refugees and immigrants, or get up and go to work each morning, or serve in the various ministries at Christ Church, one small step at a time we grow our own faith as we make a gospel difference in the world. 

The apostles want Jesus to increase their faith.  Jesus tells the apostles and Jesus tells us that we increase our faith when we go about the work we have been given to do, exercising our faith as people who belong to God.  Our faith will grow, amazing things will happen, and we will change the world, one small step at a time.

                                                                             Amen.