Thursday, October 7, 2010

October 3 Sermon (Proper 22)

“Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe.” – St. Augustine
These words of some 1600 years ago from St. Augustine, one of the pillars of Western Christian faith, remind us that faith is forward looking, hoping, ready to see before us what we believe in our hearts. But our first reading from Lamentations is depressing. It is a lament for the fall of Jerusalem and a loss of faith…
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!
It is a writer’s reflection on what has befallen the chosen people. As we hear in the reading, it is a voice filled with desolation & despair…
Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.
Indeed it is a bitter reflection on what has come to pass and it would seem that God has let it all happen. But in the midst of this is another voice, a faithful voice, a voice that says all is not bleak, God is still here. It is what we read together this morning from another part in Lamentations, words of waiting & hoping
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
They are familiar words to us. Often read as the first lesson at a funeral, they remind us that God is faithful & just. It is where this author has placed his hope. For with the Lord is salvation and with God we must wait for our redemption. But it is hard work. We look around and sometimes its hard to see God’s work, God’s mercies, God’s faithfulness. We see destruction & death, we see debt & hate, we feel in our bones that things are unsettled and we look to the future with nervous anticipation (much like the first author in Lamentations).

It was also true of the disciples, who eagerly asked Jesus to increase their faith. They had an inkling that rough times were ahead. But Jesus, as Jesus so often does, makes them see things in such a different light. Mustard Seed. Tiny specs. A good wind like we had just the other day would have easily scattered this seed. But if we had faith as tiny as this seed, we could move mountains said Jesus. For we are both called to live such faith as faithful servants, and we can with that faith do such things as would seem impossible. It reminds me of the words from a Franciscan Benediction,
"May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done."
It is that last piece that really resonates with this mustard seed faith Jesus is talking about, the faith of the voice in Lamentation full of hope and the words of St. Augustine: “Faith is to believe what you do not yet see…” And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

The difference we make is in living with our faith, which will lead us to life, to trust in that faith, reach out with that faith, even when we struggle to keep it when others cannot or will not see such faith in us. I think of Leo Tolstoy with his struggles with his own faith and as we hear from his Confession, it is on a journey of faith that he found it & life. In his words:
“"What more do you seek?" exclaimed a voice within me. "This is He. He is that without which one cannot live. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life." "Live seeking God, and then you will not live without God." And more than ever before, all within me and around me lit up, and the light did not again abandon me… I returned to a belief in God, in moral perfection, and in a tradition transmitting the meaning of life. There was only this difference, that then all this was accepted unconsciously, while now I knew that without it I could not live. What happened to me was something like this:

I was put into a boat (I do not remember when) and pushed off from an unknown shore, shown the direction of the opposite shore, had oars put into my unpracticed hands, and was left alone. I rowed as best I could and moved forward; but the further I advanced towards the middle of the stream the more rapid grew the current bearing me away from my goal and the more frequently did I encounter others, like myself, borne away by the stream. There were a few rowers who continued to row, there were others who had abandoned their oars; there were large boats and immense vessels full of people. Some struggled against the current, others yielded to it. And the further I went the more, seeing the progress down the current of all those who were adrift, I forgot the direction given me. In the very centre of the stream, amid the crowd of boats and vessels which were being borne down stream, I quite lost my direction and abandoned my oars. Around me on all sides, with mirth and rejoicing, people with sails and oars were borne down the stream, assuring me and each other that no other direction was possible. And I believed them and floated with them. And I was carried far; so far that I heard the roar of the rapids in which I must be shattered, and I saw boats shattered in them. And I recollected myself. I was long unable to understand what had happened to me. I saw before me nothing but destruction, towards which I was rushing and which I feared. I saw no safety anywhere and did not know what to do; but, looking back, I perceived innumerable boats which unceasingly and strenuously pushed across the stream, and I remembered about the shore, the oars, and the direction, and began to pull back upwards against the stream and towards the shore.

That shore was God; that direction was tradition; the oars were the freedom given me to pull for the shore and unite with God. And so the force of life was renewed in me and I again began to live.” (Part 12)
Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe. It was true for St. Augustine, it was true for Leo Tolstoy. It is true for us too & that is mustard seed faith. And its in you and in its me. So we need not worry about increasing our faith, or if we have enough, we just need to live it, get in our boat and row. Amen.

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