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Saturday, October 02, 2010


 Luke 17:5–10

In my office she stood, then sat. It was important.
It always is when people come in and sit and we close the door.
And they catch their breath and the words just tumble out one after the other.
I want a great faith, she said.
A super-faith, you see.
A faith that can face anything.
How do I get a faith like that?
That’s what she wanted to know.

I think: What kind of faith do I want?
If faith came in all sizes and colors and flavors and strengths and brands.
Faith like yogurt – smooth and silky or whipped to a light froth or filled with fruit on the bottom or charged with pro-biotics or acidophilus and good for the digestion.
A healthy faith that would make me regular and cure what ails me and either fix my receding hairline or find a satisfying haircut that blinds me to that truth.
That would be some faith.
A good healthy faith, but not a great one. No that would fall short of greatness. .

I certainly need more these days.
Don’t we all?
“Increase our faith!” the apostles said.
They needed more too.
Faith to trust.
Trust that this man, this Son of God, this Jesus who called them from the seashore, from the work with nets and boats and stinky fish and said “Follow Me.”
They had faith enough then to drop it all and leave their families, too.
And follow him.
No questions asked.
No job description or contracts or promises beyond one.
That they would have a new job:
They would be fishing for people.
Whatever that meant.
They didn’t even ask if they should bring the nets.
Increase our faith!
They would be needing more in the days and weeks and years ahead.

But faith to rip mulberry trees out of the ground and send them crashing into the sea.
Now that is some powerful faith
Faith to move mountains it says elsewhere.
To underscore the point even more so.
I’m lucky if I can make a sandcastle that can withstand the incoming tide for half an hour.
I’m lucky if I can take a chainsaw to a tree and not have it come crashing down on top of me.
Fall THAT WAY, I plead. But it does not listen.
I run and quickly run the other way.
Increase my faith before I hurt myself, swapping out mulberry for melaleuca.

Increase my faith while I sit at the bedside of a woman in hospice dying. Dying.
Why am I dying like this, she says. But I don’t know what she means.
In pain? Too slowly? Wasting away rather than just going quietly in her sleep.
Dying too slowly and knowing that she is dying despite the drugs meant to keep her calm and comfortable. Sadly they cannot calm her mind from the fact that she is dying.
Why am I dying like this? She is going home. Going to be with God. Going to a place of forever and evers in peace and light and endless joy in the presence of God.
Why am I dying like this?
Increase my faith, good Lord, or give me back my net. Because sometimes there seems to be nothing more to say. Nothing more to do. And the silence is its own pain.
When all we can think is that “it is what it is” even though we know, we have more than an inkling suspicion, that it is so much more than it “is,” then it seems to be, but the words fail. Fail quickly and completely.

Increase our faith!
Enough to send mulberry bushes crashing into the sea and to tell dear Betty that the Kingdom of God is bigger than her pain and fear and will soon swallow it up forever. Tell her with conviction and certitude with a voice not strained in empathy, not braking in sympathy. Tell her so that she will believe it
Increase our faith!

If we only had more Oh the things we could do!
To the mulberry bushes of the world. To the mountains! And when Betty is dying and wants to know why she is dying like this.

But it wasn’t before Betty that the disciples clamored for more faith. The disciples had just been told that if anyone sins against them that they must forgive Not “should” forgive. Not “probably” forgive. Not forgive in word as a word, but forgive in more than words. Forgive absolutely, completely. And not once, but seven times. Which means always. If someone sins against us and turns back to us in repentance, True repentance, we must forgive always. Forgive completely.
Increase our faith the disciples cry out. Increase our faith!
Because they, like we , like all, do not easily forgive.
And if there is pain in the silence before the bedside of the Bettys of the world, when their question as to the nature of their dying goes unanswered, then there is ever so much more so when we must truly forgive those who have offended us. Hurt us. Betrayed us. Forgive completely. Forgive absolutely.

Let me tell you a story.
Jesus hanging on the cross. Nails in his hands. Nails in his feet. A wound from a spear in his side. A crown of thorns on his head. Every breath a gasp. Thirsty. Stripped and scarred. His clothes the objects of a game of dice. Prizes for others.
“Forgive them Father for they know not what they do!” he shouts.
Easy for him to say, we say. After all he is Jesus. That is what he is supposed to do.
I guess we would have had to be there. To be the ones who mocked him. Who urged Herod to crucify him. Who screamed with bloodlust for his immediate and complete destruction. Who spat at him and jeered at him and called him names until the bitter end to believe that he had to forgive. Like he had no other choice.

After Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit in power, in flame and wind and Spirit like a dove, Peter addresses the crowd:

36Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified."
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, "Brothers, what should we do?" 38Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him."

You see the first congregation of this faith of ours was full of those who ignored, who failed to believe, who mocked and jeered and betrayed and spat and stripped and beat and abandoned our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Could you imagine the first worship service of this most odd collection of people when they go to pass the peace and the very lips that spat at Jesus are the ones kissing your cheek?

Increase our faith!
Not so we can be powerful and smug and holier than thou.
But so we can say 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
We have sat at the bedside of the dying and entered into the silence in the holy name of Jesus and bore the pain and fear of another so that they would not make that journey alone.

Increase our faith!
Not so we can be powerful and smug and holier than thou.
But so we may forgive those who have hurt us. Who have loved us one moment and hated us the next. Who have broken promises and even vows, friendships and marriages and covenants and commandments of all sorts. Love God. Love one another. Dear Lord, forgive them. Forgive us.
Increase our faith! Increase our faith! Amen!

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