The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 17:5-10

My, oh my. The Gospel lessons have been rather rough on us lately, haven’t they? Jesus has been rough on us – calling us to no less than full discipleship, full servanthood, if we would be his followers – making us feel woefully inadequate to the point that we want to cry out even as the disciples did, finally: “Increase our faith.” Help us where we are lacking to “measure up” to the life we are called to live.

“Lord, Increase our faith.”

And what is it exactly that Jesus is calling us to? What kind of life? We are to love our enemies. Turn the other cheek. Pray for those who persecute us. Judge not. Be servants. Wash feet. Give generously. Never worry. Be perfect, even as God, your Father, is perfect.
Come on, Jesus. Get real.

But Jesus is real, and he is telling us that with faith, even just a little faith, we can do all those things and more. If we just have faith.

But how do we have faith? And how is our faith to be increased?

Well, the first thing to understand about faith – about having faith – is that it’s not something that can be produced on our own. It’s not some self-generated thing that comes from inside. It is a gift from God.

“Have faith,” we’re often told. Jesus on more than one occasion admonishes his disciples, “O you of little faith.” But, really, about the best we can do is to work toward faith: to open ourselves up to and make ourselves ready to receive faith. Ultimately, though, faith is a gift that comes from God and one God won’t deny us if we are open to receiving it. (But it’s really a kind of passive thing to that point.)

Actively, What we can do – what is up to us – is what we do with faith when it is given to us. & There are three ways of dealing with faith. Three ways people deal with faith once they have it. (Or, at least, once it’s offered.)

The first way is to use it. Once you have faith, you trust it. You go with it. It’s the stuff that allows people to risk. People who use their faith are risk takers. They have no fear of the future or the unseen or the unknown, because they rely on their past experience with God and they know that if they are going about the work of God,—what is best for the kingdom, what is right (the right thing to do)—then God, who has been with them in the past, will be with them again, and God will bless their faith, and their efforts, and make provision for their needs.

Our vestry is / are risk takers. I love working with them because they’re not afraid to take risks. They’re not careless, but they do take risks, on faith, trusting God, and I love working with them in those times when we don’t know exactly how we (this church) and God are going to pull something off.

There is some ministry need, a decision to be made, money to be spent, and the resources we have seem to be lacking – a bit thin – on the surface, but if it’s something that really needs to be done, if it’s the right thing to do, and God seems to be calling us in that direction, we do it. And it gets done, with God’s help, by faith, by people who have accepted the gift of faith, and who are confident to take risks based on God’s promises and presence and providence. A trust that God will provide for our needs.

Sometimes their faith is stronger than mine. They inspire me. And I hope they inspire you, because soon, we’ll be asking for your faithful response in our Annual Stewardship Campaign.

We’ve been doing a lot of fundraising here, lately. And it’s been successful fundraising due to your faithful response. But we have ongoing, annual operating expenses as well, and that operating budget funds the heart of our ministry as a church. We’ll need your continued help and generosity to keep our programs and ministries healthy and strong and meaningful. Our goal and challenge this year, and every year, is to increase our ministry, to do more. The only way we can do that is if each of you will do more, which should be the goal of any church.

This year, our goal is a 2 percent increase in our budget, and so a 2 percent in our giving. It’s not much. It’s basically keeping up with inflation. We are sensitive to the fact that you are already giving on top of giving with the capital campaign. We know. The vestry and the stewardship committee and the clergy are all participating in that with you. But we feel that God is giving us this opportunity and that, in faith, the church / you / us together, with God’s help, can and will meet this challenge.

Think about it. If your annual pledge is $10,000 dollars, a two percent increase is $200 dollars. If your pledge is $5,000 dollars, your 2 percent pledge increase is $100 dollars. If your pledge is $2000 dollars, a 2 percent increase is $40 dollars. But what a difference that would make in an $850,000 budget. $17,000 dollars difference! If everyone did it. If everyone participated.
Lord, increase our faith!

Consider the fact that God has blessed us in the past, is blessing us now, and we trust – have faith – that if we are about the work God is calling us to do, supporting the work that God is calling us to do, God will bless our lives and our future.

That may sound foolish to some, but not to those who have faith. To those who have faith, it’s standard operating procedure. And the effect of that is blessing. The effect of faith is more faith. (Cautious people wring their hands with anxiety and worry. Try to protect and conserve and hold on to the gifts they’ve been given. Faithful people laugh and marvel in joy at the works of God, and open their arms wide to share God’s generous gifts, knowing that God has so much more to give to those who have faith.) Faith is a gift, but those who use it and cultivate it grow in faith. And the result is faithfulness. (Faith-fullness.)

That is why we are celebrating this coming year 160 years as a community of faith. That is why we have been able to accomplish so much over the last century and over the last decade—more than we could have imagined—because of faith and trust in God, and because of a working partnership with God and with one another.

And it is why we will continue to move forward and grow, in stewardship, in outreach, in fellowship, in service and in care for others, all exercised in faithfulness and trust in God and in Christian love for one another.

By contrast, another way, a second way, of dealing with faith is to hoard it – to hold it for selfish purposes. And what I mean by that is, some people, even after they’ve been given the gift of faith, and have seen it – experienced it at work – still don’t quite trust it.

They are afraid to test it too many times, for fear, I suppose, that they’ll use it up. So, they have a tendency to hold it in reserve like some sort of scarce commodity to be doled out in small quantities and at properly spaced times, so they don’t run out. The problem is, that that kind of faith is no faith at all.

When faith is shared, it grows. Only when faith is used and shared does it grow, and when it’s not used or shared, it dries up, evaporates to nothing. And the gift we’ve been given, what little we have in the way of faith, is taken away.

People who hoard faith have faith mixed up with belief. Belief is something you have and hold on to. Belief is something you can do on your own. But Faith is something you use, something you share and give away, and the more you give, the more you get. A full measure, pressed down and running over. Which seems to be a primary rule in the kingdom of God.

The third and final way of dealing with faith is to refuse it. You can do that, you know. The gift of faith is there for us anytime we are willing to open ourselves, truly, to receive it. But if we are not open to receiving that gift, then there is no way we’re going to get it. And that’s a pretty good way of putting it: We don’t “get it.” God is not going to force feed us faith. And if we choose not to receive the gift of faith, then that will be our choice. And people without faith will never have the benefits that come from faith–the peace, the joy, the hope, the reality of God’s grace that people of faith do have and employ.

Jesus’ says, “Ask, and it will be given; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” Again, faith is not something we do—something we manufacture on our own. But we must be open to it, and ready and willing to receive it when the gift is offered. As a holy man once said, “This thing that we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers will find it.”

Faith. Don’t abuse it. Don’t lose it. Don’t refuse it.
But use it! Because for those who use it, even the smallest faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, can accomplish great things.

Let our prayer to God—may the prayer of all our hearts—be, “Give us faith.” And then, “Increase our faith.”
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.