Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Sermon: October 7

We could begin with the biblical plague that seemed to drop down on the Yankees pitchers on Friday night, or the salvation of the Red Sox by a child who caught a foul ball but instead I have a couple of images for you…

Superman's "S"

Batman's "Bat"

Just holding up the symbols and you knew the superheroes. We know them from childhood and they become part of our memories (comics, cartoons, TV). We watch new films of them and we still love them. Even with everything against them, the superheroes are able to stand up against evil and save the day. But as much as our culture loves the superhero, the warrior who wins the day, we don’t need superheroes.

We remember those whose heroic acts changed our world or saved the day, and so often did it in quiet, and simple acts. Those that paved the way for our better days. I think of…

Alvin York, a simple farmer from Tennessee, whose bravery in World War I, led him to become the most decorated soldier of that war, he helped turn the tide of the battle of Argonne Forest in France and whose nearly single handed bravery captured over 130 German soldiers and allowed the allied forces to continue the battle toward victory. He is best known because of the classic film, Seargent York, when Gary Cooper played him in the movie.

Or a Rosa Parks whose tired feet, led her to sit down and refuse to give up her seat to a white woman andgo sit in the back of the bus. Through this simple action of civil disobedience, she helped start the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and is often called the mother of the Civil Rights Movement.

Heroes of America who were not born in the limelight but who had a profound effect, and whose faith helped them in the struggle. We might think to be like them that we have to have a great faith that we need to ask like the disciples did, increase our faith, Lord. Let it be huge so we can do great things.

But when Jesus talked of faith, he doesn’t talk about it using the mighty sequoia or the redwoods of California, the great cedars of Lebanon or the great charter oak of CT.

No. He talks about faith as a mustard seed…

Jesus said, “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.”

Mustard Seed. Small. Tiny.

It is as if Jesus is not expecting huge faith from us, from which we would do superhuman feats of faith and goodness. There is no superhero faith because Jesus knows if we strive for that, then we will lose the faith we have.

We all have faith and doubts, struggles with our faith. Alvin York gave up Christianity after his father’s death, lived a rather immoral life but came back to the faith a few years later.

Its easy to have faith when all is going well, the struggle occurs when all is not well, too often we find our faith wanting and we lose any sense of it.

But Jesus wants us to have faith, as simple and small as a mustard seed, for then we can live in the midst of struggles and tragedy, in the midst of good and bad times, believing that good will come again, that there is a deeper meaning for our lives on the journey we each take.

“Faith is better understood as a verb than as a noun, as a process than as a possession. It is
on-again--off-a-gain rather than once -and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyway. A journey without maps.” (Frederick Buechner)

A great description: faith is something we rely on but sometimes lose, having faith is taking a journey without maps. It is why we come back here, each week, to be with one another, to pray and celebrate and give thanks, to taste and see that the Lord is good.

Alvin and Rosa acted with the faith they had in them, that small mustard seed faith, that led them down paths they did not know but they followed…

I think of a story…

After church one Sunday, a parishioner pulled the pastor aside. He was a dedicated member of the parish’s ministry to the sick and homebound. Just the day before he had visited the local hospital and discovered that a young couple in the church had just had a baby: a little girl with Down Syndrome. “I didn’t know what to say,” the man said to the pastor. “We visited for a few minutes. They let me hold her and I told them she was beautiful . . . I didn’t know what
to say.” He went on to describe how he had prayed with the couple, thanking God for their child and asking God’s peace and blessing on the family.

The pastor assured the man that he had said exactly the right thing and that his words and gestures were appropriate and kind. The pastor said he could not have done better

A couple of weeks later the man again pulled the pastor aside and showed him a note from the young mother. She thanked him for his visit and prayer and then concluded her note: “Thank you for not saying what so many people said and telling us how sorry you were. We are so happy to have our baby. Thank you for sharing our family’s joy.”

“That’s great,” the pastor said.

“But can you imagine people telling them how sorry they were?” the man wondered. “Well,” the pastor replied, “I guess they just didn’t know what to say."
[From “Living by the Word: What to say” by Patrick J. Wilson, The Christian Century, June 26, 2007.]

The visitor allowed his mustard seed faith to guide him to give thanks and to ask for God’s blessing on the family when he didn’t know what to say…

It is that reliance on our faith, when don’t know what to say, when we don’t know what to do, when we don’t know where we are going, but to go on our journey of faith, trusting that God indeed walks with us in the bad times and the good and with the hope and the faith that God will lead us through our deserts, through our storms to places of peace and refreshment.

I want to leave you with one last image…

Pictures of the Monks of Myanmar

These Buddhist Monks, clad in red robes, marched in protest to a brutal military junta, hoping for life and to move that mulberry tree (that is the government) with their faith, even when they knew there could be crackdowns, there could be repression. And of course, there is, as the regime has stepped in and brutally stopped the protests.

But they went anyway, not quite knowing what would happen, but with the hope for better days…

That is mustard seed faith.

And its in you and in its me.

We don’t need to increase our faith, we just need to live it. Amen.

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