PENT20C16B – 10.02.16

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  The context for their request is found in the four verses that precede our gospel lesson.  Jesus warned them that they must not become a stumbling block to prevent anyone’s faith, and furthermore, they must continue to forgive even as many times as a person continues to sin – as long as they repent.   The disciples are on the road to Jerusalem with Jesus, and at this point they are feeling anxious and unsure about themselves, their mission and their ability to live up to the demands of discipleship.

Don’t we all feel that way at times?  The prophet Habakkuk was clearly dealing with a similar scenario – how often do we have to ask for something, how long do we have to wait?  Try as we might to keep a strong faith, sometimes it seems to weaken in the face of injustice, tragedy and wickedness.  Yet God assures the prophet that there is a vision, there is a plan, and we need to be patient to see the fruits of righteousness.  That is surely easier said than done, yet God also reminds us that it is the work of the Holy Spirit that will make the vision a reality, not human knowledge.

“Increase our faith” is an appeal which comes from anxiety and not trusting in God.  It reflects our uncertainties in a world that demands certainty.  It demonstrates how uncomfortable we are with questions that do not seem to have clear answers, with mysteries that cannot be revealed.  Sometimes we just want God to make things easier for us, to give us the answers and find the quickest and least complicated way to the end result we are looking for.  We don’t always want to wait; we want things to be done.  Sometimes we are just so tired of thinking and we want assurance.  Or we are just too weary to put forth the effort required to find the best resolution for a difficult situation.

The question really is:  what do we think more faith will get us?  Are we looking for an easier life, for a minimum of pain and sorrow, for more certainty and wisdom or for easier answers to those questions that perplex us so much?   If we were just asking for faith, it would be easier, but the question put to Jesus is to increase our faith.  So how do we measure faith?  In our society we are so used to everything being quantified we can’t be blamed for thinking about faith in that way.  Obviously having faith is better than not having it.  But we have to accept the response Jesus gives to his disciples, that faith cannot be quantified.  He talks rather confusingly about mulberry trees and mustard seeds and the nature of being a slave.  But the bottom line is that faith cannot be quantified, it is immeasurable.  Faith works like God’s love for us – it is immeasurable, inestimable and incalculable.  God does not measure our faith just like we cannot measure God’s unconditional love for us.

In our second reading from Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, Paul assures him that he is confident that the faith which was instilled and nurtured by his mother and grandmother lives on in him.  Timothy is going to be ordained to serve as a presbyter, which we would call a pastor or priest.  Paul is telling him that God’s Holy Spirit will be rekindled in him through this ritual and it will give him confidence in his ministry and assurance in the love of God, along with self-discipline.  Because all the skill and confidence and knowledge in the world –  even the strongest faith – is not enough, we need the self-discipline to know how to properly use those gifts to do God’s work.

Today we will be baptizing Masiel and Sophia who asked for this gift of grace.  Sophia says that she wants to be part of God’s family.  As children so often do, she recognizes an important aspect of this question about faith that we are confronted with in our readings for today.  We are never alone, as members of God’s family we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, not just from the present but past and future, who will support and nurture us in our faith.  In baptism, just as in ordination, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands.  Timothy first received the gift in his baptism and it will be renewed and strengthened at his ordination.  Masiel and Sophia will receive that same gift of God’s Holy Spirit today.  The spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord – which does not mean being afraid but being in awe of God’s power and glory- and finally, the spirit of joy being in God’s presence.

Receiving the gift of the Spirit is not to be confused with receiving God’s unconditional love, which is given us from our beginning.  When we receive the gift of the Spirit we become part of the church, God’s family, as Sophia describes it.  We are in this together, as reflected in the disciples’ request of Jesus, “Increase ourfaith.”   It wasn’t an individual asking, “Increase my faith” it was all of them together.  They had been on this journey with Jesus together, they had heard him teach, witnessed his healing power, and shared experiences that they had never anticipated.   Although there were many moments of inspiration and even euphoria, there were also moments of doubt, because doubt is part of faith.  Jesus was entrusting them with a rather daunting mission, to carry on his work when he would no longer be with them, and there is no doubt that must have felt pretty intimidating and even somewhat frightening.  Although he had confidence in their ability to carry out his mission, they weren’t so sure.

After his crucifixion, even before they understood that the prophecies had been fulfilled and Jesus had defeated death by his resurrection, the disciples all stayed together.  They knew there was comfort and strength in community.  The power of the community of the faithful that surrounds us is just as immeasurable as faith itself.  During the baptismal ritual we will, as fellow members of the faith community, promise to support and nurture Masiel and Sophia in their faith.  In their case, because they live in Queens, they will probably become a part of another congregation closer to them.  But we can still support them with prayer, and we are confident that the members of that congregation will nurture and support them during their faith journey.  As Paul reminds us, together we hold to the faith and love that we have through Christ.  Together we share in the treasure we have been given, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in and acts through each one of us.  Amen.

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