Sermon 10/3/2010

Sermon for Proper 22 C
October 3, 2010
Michael Coffey

Texts: Habakkuk 1:1–4; 2:1–4, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, Luke 17:5–10

How’s your faith doing these days?
Do you have enough of it?
Has it grown dim?
Is it strong and solid like a tiger?
Maybe you haven’t thought of it that way.
“How’s your faith doing?”
As if it were something akin to your blood pressure,
or cholesterol level.
If it were like those,
there would certainly be a pharmaceutical
called Faithitor being advertised on television
enticing us with the promise of increasing our faith,
making it glow bright,
and leaving us strong and courageous.
And there would be that full disclosure at the end of the commercial:
Faithitor may cause drowsiness, excessive sweating,
constipation, and oddly enough,
a temporary increase in doubt and fear.

The disciples may have thought that way.
Increase our faith, Jesus!
Give us the magic pill that makes us true, full believers!
Give us higher concentrations of faith in our blood
so we will have no doubt and be certain in everything we do.
And Jesus says, more or less:
There is no pill I can give you.
There is no level or amount or quantity or size of faith.
Faith feels small and seemingly insignificant in the face of reality.
But it enables great things to happen,
things you thought impossible,
things that only make sense with God.

Something was kindled in you.
You know it was.
You felt its warmth and saw its glow.
Something you once called faith.
It likely got handed down to you
through your mother and grandmother, much like Timothy.
But some days and some years
it seems that its embers have grown dim.
Some moments and some months
you wonder if there were a pill you could take
to make it all clear and certain and concentrated,
all this talk of God and a supposedly merciful universe.

I have had conversations with many people in the last few years,
conversations about faith
and the difficulty many folks are having with it.
Sometimes people have an honest struggle
with theologies and doctrines and creeds,
so claiming faith feels false.
Sometimes people have known extreme tragedy and grief
that have left them wondering
if the thread of faith they are holding onto might break.
Sometimes people wonder what it means to be rational and intelligent
and be able to say you have faith.
Sometimes people feel that the faith they learned in Sunday School
or the faith they got from mom and grandma
and dad and grandpa
isn’t adequate for adulthood
and a world undergoing massive change.
So many friends, family, church folks, and strangers
have told me they aren’t sure about their faith anymore.
They’re not sure where to place it,
or they feel only a dim glow of an ember
and wonder if faith could really be rekindled in them.
That might be what it was like for Habakkuk and his people,
living in such times of violence and loss,
wondering if God would ever rescue them.
That might be the case with Timothy in the letter we read.
His faith is real but maybe growing dim
or meaning less now that he is in a new stage of life and maturity.
Maybe the disciples are worried
that what Jesus has taught them to do is too hard
and losers like them couldn’t possibly do it,
so they need more, clear-cut quantifiable faith.

All three readings are about faith
and the reality that one once had it
and now it seems small and fragile,
or changed and unclear.
And this is what I sense in many of us today,
and even in myself at times,
even though pastor types aren’t supposed to say that.

But let’s be clear about what all of this is about.
Faith is not about believing in theologies or doctrines or creeds.
Faith is not about repeating what you learned in Sunday School
when it feels childish and inadequate.
Faith is not about rising to some high level of spirituality
where everything is clear and easy
like a mild October morning in Austin.
Faith is not about certainty or scientific knowledge.
Faith is not about propping up worn out parts of the tradition
because of fear of losing them and not knowing what is left.

So what the heck is faith then,
and how do we really get it, or get it back?
Certainly not with a drug,
or by acquiring large quantities of it.
We might begin with Habakkuk’s important saying,
the one that set Luther off on a passionate search for God:
The righteous live by faith.
If we understand how Habakkuk was using the word righteous,
we get see it is about relationship:
Righteousness means being in a right relationship.
So, Habakkuk says,
faith is the way we are in right relationship with God.
People are in relationship with God through faith.
Habakkuk contrasts this with those who are proud.
So we can guess that he meant by “faith”
trusting God enough to be your honest humble self
and still know a deeply trustworthy, loving relationship.
Or as Jesus said:
trusting God enough not to need a reward for doing right,
but just knowing we did what we were supposed to do.

So we might go back and rephrase the earlier questions:
How’s your relationship with God?
Do you have enough of it?
Has it grown dim?
Did you confuse it with believing doctrines and creeds?
Did you think you could rationalize and control it?
Did you assume it had something to do with your intelligence?
Did you assume it was gone because you weren’t feeling it?
Are you having trouble trusting God enough
to love others joyfully
and live courageously the life that Jesus lived?

Well, for all of you who are glowing brightly with faith today,
this sermon and this day might not be necessary.
But for the rest of us
who wait and wonder and believe and disbelieve,
then these words from the letter to Timothy are needed:
Rekindle the faith that is in you.
Get some oxygen onto those embers
so the fire can burn again.
Rekindle the faith in you,
it came from your mother and grandmother,
your father and grandfather,
your family and friends and church,
your Sunday school teachers and your pastors.
But now it isn’t burning as bright, and that’s OK.
Rekindle your faith, but not faith for yesterday,
faith for today and tomorrow.
Now the old answers feel weak
in this time of new questions.
Rekindle your faith
now that you aren’t even sure what faith is for
and why you can’t just go on living quietly
with a couple of embers.

So the words come both as a command and a gift:
Rekindle your faith,
even if you don’t know what that fire should be now.
Rekindle your faith,
even if you thought you already had it all figured out.
Rekindle your faith,
because your faith is your relationship with God,
your capacity to trust God’s goodness deeply,
your ability to accept your own wounds and flaws,
your freedom to love others joyfully,
your courage to live the life that Jesus lived.
Rekindle your faith,
because it isn’t even you doing it,
but the Spirit of God at work in you.

Rekindle faith that we, you are called
called to act courageously,
called to live the life God gave you alone to live,
called to accept your deeply wounded and flawed self
without having to change anything first
as a powerful witness to God’s grace,
called to live courageously the life that Jesus lived:
trusting God’s goodness,
and loving others joyfully and freely.

Faith feels small and seemingly insignificant in the face of reality.
But it enables great things to happen,
things you thought impossible,
things that only make sense with God.
So instead of ending this sermon,
we are going to gather together in prayer and mediation for
rekindling our faith.

People are invited to participate in silent prayer, candle lighting,
and laying on of hands for rekindling faith,
while the hymn music is playing for “We are Called.”
At the end of the prayer time, the hymn is sung.

Prayer for rekindling faith:

May our merciful God
rekindle in you the gift of faith by the Spirit’s power
so you may trust God with your whole being
love others freely and joyfully
and have courage to follow our Lord Jesus.


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