Faith

Since humans began to measure things – once we learned to count and realized that there was a strategic difference between ‘more’ and ‘less’ – since that fateful day, we’ve decided that more is better.  That decision has led to plenty of heartache; conflict driven by greed continues to cripple us even in the twenty-first century.  But who wouldn’t want more of a good thing?  This is the argument we use to explain away our behaviour – and of course, when it comes to love, compassion, mercy and ice cream, there’s no such thing as too much.(well, maybe there is a limit on ice cream…)

That is why Jesus reaction startles us this morning.  “Lord, increase our faith”, is the cry – and isn’t faith a good thing?  Shouldn’t that be the sort of thing we ought to be eager to have in abundance?  The conversation in Luke 17 has centred on forgiveness.  To whom and how often is forgiveness extended, are the questions, and the answers are challenging; to all who repent – as often as they ask.  This news seems to prompt the disciples’ plea for more.

They might have asked for more patience, or more compassion – qualities that seem to be helpful when dealing with repentance and forgiveness – instead they ask for the one thing they don’t need more of – for more faith – and Jesus frustration is evident.

Faith is not like other human activities – something that can be generated or measured by our actions – compassion, mercy, love (and their opposites – indifference, ignorance and selfishness) are recognizable as human qualities with human consequences.  Faith is (according to the apostle Paul) a spiritual gift – a gift of God.  Where faith is concerned, while there are recognizable qualities and consequences where faith is present – they are certainly not of our making.

“Faith can move mountains” – or so we are fond of saying, and according to Jesus, the smallest measure of faith can accomplish the impossible (trees uprooted and relocated, for example).  Why do you think that is so?  Is it possible that faith, as a gift of God, is something of God’s own glory and power, offered directly to us?  Just as with God there is no ‘more’ or ‘less’, there is just God, so it is with faith.  Jesus is not questioning the disciples’ faith, he is aligning their vision towards God, the source of faith.

The master defines the relationship with his slaves – the master has all the power, the slaves accomplish their work enabled by that power.  It’s a crude metaphor to our ears, as we are eager to imagine that such inequity in relationships is beneath us (or behind us) but the imagery serves a purpose here.  God is the power behind the gift (of faith) – for the faithful to do “only what we ought to have done” is to act in the power of that gift; the power of God.  There is no need to talk in terms of less or more; there is only faith, as there is only God, and that is enough.

So we might want more religion – or more who believe as we do; we could do with more worship and more grace.  Some will argue that the world needs more churches, and those churches need more people.  We can (and we will) continue to measure and analyze our acts of faith, but let us never imagine that faith is like a commodity to be gathered and grown and traded and claimed as a prize.  Faith is that gift of God that offers us access to the power and glory of God, There will always be enough, so long as we recognize, acknowledge and celebrate the author and source of the gift.

It is a gift that has achieved the impossible – more spectacular than mountains moved or trees replanted in the sea.  This gift of faith has given us life – new life – eternal life – snatched from the jaws of death.  That is the test of it for all who follow Jesus – that faith has conquered death completely.  No comparisons required; no difference between ‘more’ or ‘less’.  The gift is given; may God be praised.

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