“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ and it would obey you.” Reading this passage, I can’t help but be reminded of that scene in the Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke (the Star Wars Luke, not the writer of today’s Gospel), attempts to use The Force to raise his ship out of the swamp. He fails, of course, but not because he doesn’t have the will to succeed, or doesn’t have sufficient amount of The Force. Luke can’t raise the ship because he doesn’t yet have an understanding of The Force; what it is and how to use it.
I think it’s the same thing with the Apostles in today’s Gospel. This passage of the Gospel writer Luke, come right after Jesus warns the Apostles about being a stumbling block to others. That it would be better “if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea”, if another were to be misled. After hearing that, I would also ask, or demand, that my faith be increased. Jesus, super-size me!
Being human, we all have doubts, from time to time, that we just aren’t good enough. We hear and read about the perfection of God, and the ancient stories of God’s anger with our imperfections. We feel we are being held to an impossible standard, given the all too human world in which we live. And we despair that we are not good enough. Yes, please Jesus, increase our faith.
But Jesus came to us as a living example, to teach through his words and his actions, that God does love us, right now, as we are, with all our imperfections.
So, what are we to do with today’s Gospel? I think it all hinges on an understanding of faith. What is it? Where does it come from? How do we get more of it?
Faith is a difficult thing, because we can’t touch it, or measure it. We can’t take a picture of it, nor can we hold it in our hands. But we know it when we feel it, when we see it in action, at work in others. St. Augustine tells us that, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Mohandas Gandhi writes of the potential of faith, ”A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” A more contemporary view of faith is offered by Steve Jobs. “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they are basically good and smart, and that if you give them the tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.”
From these few quotes we begin to get the idea that faith, again, like love, is not something to be held onto, but to be given freely. If we are to experience faith, we can’t do it by trying to bottle up and contain as much as we can for ourselves, for that, again, like love, is the surest way to lose it. We can begin to see that relationship between faith and love. Faith is how we put our love into action. Not with the idea that we will make things better for ourselves or gain something for ourselves, not with the expectation that love will be returned to us, although that often is the case.
It is faith which allows us to plant seeds in the Spring so we may enjoy the harvest in the Autumn. It is faith which allows the building of great cathedrals to begin, knowing they will remain unfinished for generations. It is faith which we pass on to each other, every Sunday, as we read and wrestle with ancient texts, trying to understand what they mean for us today, and how we can apply their teachings to our future. It is faith which sustains us through the work, pain, disappointment, and heartache we experience as we raise our families or care for one another. It is faith which allows us to love. For how can we have faith in someone we do not love?
And, as Christians, who are we to love? Everyone! As the Apostles are finding out, you do not follow the Christ in hope of achieving earthly glory. You do not follow Jesus in hope of achieving earthly success, wealth or privilege. If you want to see what you get for following Jesus, look at Jesus. He lived a short, hard life. He was dependent on others, was falsely accused, tortured and died a cruel death. Not exactly what you want to put on an enlistment poster. And yet, there is great appeal around what he did with his life. How he used his life to change the lives of countless others.
Jesus is teaching us that a life of faith is fraught with risk. Risk of being misunderstood and mistrusted. Risk of getting your heart broken and falling into despair. But Jesus is also teaching us that, with faith in God’s love for us, we are no longer held hopelessly captive to that pain and despair. He teaches that with faith in God’s love for us, we can change how we see this world. We can see how, by just taking the risk to walk with one person, to share the abundance of God’s love with just one person, we can change the world. In fact, my friends, that is just what we are called to do. We are to plant those seeds of faith in each other, and hope for the harvest to come. We are to begin building or re-building shattered and broken lives with the hope that, someday, a towering cathedral to God’s love will arise. This is the faith that moves mountains. This is the faith that will transplant a mulberry tree into the sea. And, yes, this is the faith which will get your star fighter ship out of the swamp.
One final thought on faith. This weekend, a group of people who live on the streets of Boston, or in shelters, or subsidized housing, are going camping with MANNA, the homeless ministry of the Cathedral. They are camping in tents on Taylor Farm, run by the Brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. These are people who, during the week, are ignored, stepped over, rejected, and beaten by those who believe they don’t belong in “our” city. They got up this morning, they milked cows, shoveled out pig pens, and helped make breakfast for the community. Somewhere in all that, they managed to get together and write their own morning prayer. With that community’s kind permission, I will share that prayer with you.
Prayer for Waking Up
Dear God: Thank you for waking us up today. Thank you for letting us be vertical. Bless our day. Let us love your Creation. Bless the birds we hear as we wake up. Bless the group, and grant us peace, and help us to love each other. Amen.