Sermons

"Faith and Generosity": Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

"Faith and Generosity": Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year C

Oct 06, 2019

Passage:Luke 17:5-10

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Robert Pace

Series: Pentecost

Category: Faith, Stewardship, Generosity

Keywords: stewardship, faith, generosity, doubt

Summary:

When Jesus replies to the apostles request to "increase their faith" with the statement that "if they had faith the size of a mustard seed" they could tell a tree to move into the sea... does that make us all feel like we DON'T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH??? This sermon looks at issues of faith, generosity, and even how we give our money in the context of faith.

Detail:

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

In the section of scripture we heard from Luke today, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. 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.”

Now, full disclosure... I don’t always love this verse!

I’ve heard TV preachers and others in the past use this text to shame people... to shame me... into thinking I simply didn’t have enough faith because I couldn’t move trees around with my mind.

And what’s worse, they’ll link a scripture like this to the so-called “Prosperity Gospel...” It goes something like this: “If you have enough faith in God, and you SHOW that faith by GIVING to God’s church (“operators are standing by to take your contribution...)... THEN God will bless you with untold PROSPERITY... And, oh, by the way, you could move a mulberry tree if you wanted to, too!”

Is it possible that any of this really works this way?

Today, look at these issues—specifically questions of faith and questions of giving to the church.

Let’s start where the disciples in this story started... Faith.

Do you ever wonder if you have enough faith? Do you ever worry that you have a few too many doubts about particular areas of belief? Do you ever wonder if these doubts get in the way of your relationship with God?

These doubts are natural. They’re normal! They’re part of what being human is about.

Even the disciples... who have been hanging out with Jesus day after day... even they have doubts. They say to Jesus: "Increase our faith!"

Jesus’ response might be hard for us to hear. It might make us feel even MORE guilty about our doubts. Jesus almost appears to scoff at the disciples because they ask him to increase their faith.[1] We hear Jesus' reply: "If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.'"

This can make our doubt even worse, right? This is because our rational brains take over, and we immediately doubt if THAT could ever happen. THEN we feel guilty for doubting it. THEN we start to spiral...

We ask ourselves: "Is that what Jesus was talking about? Do I just need to INCREASE my faith blindly and start believing in things like the ability of trees moving into the sea?"

But then our rational minds take over again, and we say, "surely Jesus did not mean THAT! Trees moving into the sea? That's not how the natural world works!"

So how do we gain any hope from this?

Reading this scripture the way we often read it, from this perspective of OUR lack of faith makes it seem like pretty tough language from Jesus.

He seems to be a harsh disciplinarian father taking us to task.

It feels like we--the disciples--have doubts, so we ask Jesus to increase our faith, Jesus responds by saying: "if only you had the faith of a mustard seed--(but you don't), you could move a tree into the sea (but that’s not gonna happen).”

That can feel pretty awful, right--especially coming from Jesus!

It can feel like Jesus is giving the disciples--is giving us--a pretty serious tongue lashing just because we dare to ask to have our faith increased.

But perhaps there is another way to read this gospel. After all, "gospel" is supposed to mean "Good News," isn't it?

What if we start with the premise that Jesus is loving and compassionate. What if we go with the radical idea that Jesus hears these types of questions with absolute love and understanding. What if we assume that Jesus ...understands ...doubt? ... even... embraces... doubt?

So, imagine that Jesus hears the question from the disciples with a sense of true love and compassion.

The disciples say: "Lord, increase our faith."

The Lord looks at them with all of the compassion of a loving mentor, rabbi, brother, and savior. He knows what they are capable of. He knows that--especially in community and in supporting each other, they will be able to do so much!

Imagine that when he answers, his words are not formed in a scolding manner. He's not narrowing his gaze. He's not furrowing his brow in disappointment.

Instead, Jesus looks at them--he looks at us. He smiles broadly ...  kindly ...  gently ...  and holds up his hand. He pinches together his thumb and forefinger. He says: "If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.'"

In other words, Jesus is lovingly asking them ... lovingly asking us... why do you need MORE faith? He’s telling them... He’s telling us... you already have more than enough faith! You can do anything that God requires of you! But we can’t do it alone. We need God’s help. And we need each other’s help!

Jesus is changing the question from "How much faith is enough?" to "What is faith for?"[2] And the answer to that is: faith is about being accountable to one another. Faith is about loving one another.

God is already abundant, generous, loving, whole, and enough!

And we are part of that abundant, generous, loving, whole, and enough life.

So, where does the question of giving money to the Church fit into this?

 This month for us happens to be St. Andrew's Annual Fund Stewardship Month. For the whole month of October our Vestry members are asking everyone in the parish to pray about their money and think about their money. And, specifically, they are asking that everyone to be faithful in considering giving a pledge of financial support to the church's annual budget for next year.

That annual budget covers mission and ministry programming, outreach, building and grounds maintenance, and other necessary expenditures. This budget is more than $960,000 for the year. We are a big church.  Just for perspective, St. Andrew’s is in the category among the largest Episcopal Churches in United States. Ninety percent of Episcopal Churches are smaller than we are.[3]

So, when the vestry members ask us “to give faithfully” to the church, are they suggesting something along the lines of those Prosperity Gospel preachers who say we need to give financially in order for God to reward us in return?

Those preachers tell us that wealth and monetary reward are signs of God’s favor.

That’s not what the vestry is saying. And that’s not what Jesus teaches us! Jesus teaches that it’s not about prosperity... it’s about generosity!

Let’s recall our loving Jesus who tells us with the greatest compassion: “you already have enough faith!” We are already part of God’s abundance and God’s generosity! But it’s not just about God’s generosity... it’s also about our response to this generosity.

We generously give our time, talent, and treasure to build the Kingdom. That’s what faithful giving looks like. It’s not a transaction. We don't give in order to receive rewards. Instead, we give our time, our talents, and our financial gifts to the church and the rest of God's great creation, because of God's generosity.

And no matter how hard life might be right now, God and God’s people are working to show that generosity...in that much-needed smile at the check-out counter... in that unexpected joyful conversation among friends... in that gathering of the faithful for worship... and in hundreds of little ways every day!

And our response is to join in the generosity. Our response is to give of ourselves. We give our time, our talent, and our money, and it transforms us. It transforms the world! Our giving is not transactional. It is transformational!

 That's what faith is. We live and love in community. We serve each other. We forgive each other. We have doubts. We have good times. We have bad times. We stumble and fall. We pick each other up. We love each other. And then we go out into the world and proclaim God's generous love. And we do this all, with God's help.

Amen. 

 

               [1] Some of the ideas of this interpretation from See Kimberly Bracken Long, “Luke 17:5-11: Pastoral Perspective," Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary  Year C, Volume 4:Proper 22  Pentecost Through Advent.

               [2]See Ibid. 

[3] St. Andrew’s membership is about 850. In 2018, approximately 13% of Episcopal Churches had a membership of more than 500. See https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/updated_2018_fast_facts.pdf.