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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sermon: Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 22, Year C
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-10
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I don’t know of anyone who remembers learning to walk as a child. It’s something we do long before our brains grow to the point of long-term memory retention. However, most adults have had the pleasure of watching a child learn to walk independently. Between our two children, and (at last count) 18 nieces & nephews, I’ve observed the milestones for lots of kids. Isn’t it a remarkable process? First, rolling becomes creeping, which becomes crawling. Then standing, then walking along while holding a hand or the edge of the furniture. Finally a momentous day comes, and the baby takes those first wobbly steps out into open space. The infant is now a toddler! It seems like a miracle, and it is.

Pretty soon, however, it’s a miracle we take for granted—until we trip over a crack in the sidewalk, or a bit of clutter on the floor. And then, either through injury, illness or simple old age, walking can become a struggle, and some of us need help getting around.

But for most folks, walking is something most folks do every day, and putting one foot in front of the other is simply the routine way we get from one place to the next. We don’t even stop to consider the intricate coordination of muscle movements it actually entails, and how many months of practice and preparation it took to develop that skill in the first place.

I think it will help us to keep that reality in mind as we consider today’s Gospel. The reading is a short one. Luke puts two lessons in the same brief conversation and, at first glance, they do not seem to fit together very well.

First, in response to the apostles’ request for an increase in faith, Jesus replies by comparing faith to a mustard seed, and indicating what the power of such a small bit of belief can accomplish. Then, in a seeming non sequitur, he goes on to remind them of the duty that a slave owes his or her master— hard work and service not done for any reward other than the knowledge that one has done what is expected.

One might wonder if they were simply unrelated bits of instruction, or if they were perhaps two conversations that just got slapped together when Luke was writing things down. Perhaps… but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think it’s entirely possible that Jesus was continuing to respond to their request.

It’s true that faith can accomplish amazing things. But it takes regular use to build it up, and to maintain it… just like walking. As babies in the faith, we have to work at it, to “step out in faith” until through practice and development it grows stronger.

It’s a circular, self-perpetuating gift. As we act on that tiny mustard seed of faith in our hearts, it begins to increase, which then allows our faith to grow, which increases the ability to offer loving service, which increases our faith even further…

Yes, sometimes we stumble. Things happen in our lives that can make it hard to be faithful, and to trust in God’s love for us. I think that’s when the importance of being in community becomes apparent. When our “faith muscles” are weak, we have one another to lean on.

So, just as Jesus told his apostles, he tells us today. If we are to be faith-filled disciples, we have to practice. Sometimes it feels like hard work, but it’s also work that will strengthen us, support and uphold us in troubled times.

So, practice your faith. Reach out in support and encouragement of one another. Give a bit more than you think you can afford. Take the risk of working for God’s justice in this world. Plant the seed for the Kingdom of God in our midst.

After all, it’s no more than our duty… and our privilege—in Jesus’ name.


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