October 3, 2010

2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:1-10

Today’s Gospel reading begins with some sayings of Jesus. Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times a says, “I repent,” you must forgive.”

When the first disciples heard these instructions from Jesus, I imagine that they were overwhelmed by the demands. They were being called to a high standard of goodness and uprightness. But even if they did well at following the commandments, they weren’t given license to look down on others, or complain, or scoff at those who might do less well. Indeed, even as they were instructed to rebuke their fellow disciples when they did wrong, Jesus made it very clear that his followers must be people who forgive. Forgiveness must be offered over and over again – even seven times a day!

Pause for a moment now, and think of those people who may have done wrong to you… whether through ill-will, or neglect, or indifference… Think of those who have hurt you, or offended you, or insulted you. If they came to you and asked you to forgive them, could you do it? Could you let go of the hurt and the negative feelings and the harsh judgments?

Like it was for Jesus’ first disciples, this command may be difficult for us. And yet, that is the way of Jesus that we are called to follow… the way of humility, the way of self-giving, the way of forgiveness and love… And the love that Jesus models for us is not love for those who have earned it and deserve it. It’s love for sinners, for selfish people, for people who make the same mistakes over and over, even seven times a day.

Though they were leaders among the followers of Jesus, Jesus’ apostles cried out to him for help in meeting his heavy demands. They said, “Increase our faith!” If only we had a little more faith, perhaps we could become the self-less, self-giving people that you are calling us to be.

There are other places in the bible where it becomes clear that faith is a gift from God. And so the apostles’ prayer makes sense… “Give us some more faith, God, so that we can live by your high standards.” The fact is that we can’t “think” our way into having faith. We can’t work hard enough to get some more. It’s simply a gift that we are given, and we can only choose what we do with it.

Last weekend, a group of youth and young adults (some from Saskatoon and some from Regina) went up to Camp Christopher to enjoy God’s beautiful creation and to spend time together in discussing, eating, playing, praying, and worshipping God. Our theme for the weekend was “Got Gifts? Using our Talents to Serve God.” Not only did we have a talent show so that we could share our talents with each other, but we also completed a Spiritual Gifts Inventory to help us identify which spiritual gifts we have each been given and how we might use them to serve God.

After answering the many questions on the inventory, we calculated the results and looked for our highest scores, indicating the gifts that each of us has most strongly. I wasn’t surprised by what showed up on my list because they were the things that I most enjoy in ministry: teaching, theological reflection, and liturgy. But some of those present got a few surprises… and hopefully they are continuing to think and pray about how they can start putting their gifts to good use for God.

One of the gifts that came as a surprise to some in our group was the gift of FAITH. The material we used said this about the gift of faith: “Faith is not something we learn in our heads, but is indeed a gift. It is not to be automatically assumed that all people in the church necessarily have this gift. For some, it is stronger than others. Faith can grow, and the gift of faith can come at any time. For some it is sudden, for others it develops over time.”

Those with the gift of faith agreed with statements like these on the Spiritual Gifts Inventory:

I believe in God who has created and is creating.

I believe that God has come to us in Jesus Christ, the “Word made flesh.”

My desire is to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

I believe that we are called as a church to “proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen.”

I believe that followers of Jesus must live with respect in Creation, love and serve others, and seek justice and peace in the world.

I think what the Spiritual Gift Inventory pointed out was that the gift of faith is not reserved for a select few… for ministers, or missionaries, or especially spiritual people. Just the fact that you can agree with those simple statements of faith… “My desire is to be a faithful follower of Jesus.” … just that may be an indication that you have already received the gift of faith.

And though the Spiritual Gifts Inventory suggests that our faith can grow, which I’m sure that it can… Jesus makes it clear that even the tiniest amount of faith is enough. When the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, he replies, “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.”

Like the apostles who asked Jesus for a little more faith, there are times in our lives when we long for more strength and courage to do what is right. There are times when we wish we could be free of questions and doubts. There are times when we want to ask God for certainty… for some kind of guarantee that the Kingdom will come, that all will be made right, that the goodness of God will win out in the end.

But I guess we have to pause and remember whose way we have decided to follow. We are followers of Jesus, and Jesus’ ministry took him through a very interesting journey on his way to resurrection.

He worked hard… teaching and healing and gathering followers. He enjoyed life… at wedding banquets and parties and meals. He met and made friends with all kinds of people… men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, well and sick. He engaged with people… with people in authority and with people on the margins… and he got in quite a few arguments along the way. And he stood up for what he believed in… even when it meant putting himself at risk, even when it meant losing his life.

I wonder how Jesus felt in the midst of that part of his journey. I wonder if he also doubted whether his faith would be enough, whether his faith was well-founded. I wonder what questions he had about how God would turn defeat into triumph, death into life, the moment of the total rejection of God into the ultimate act of drawing all people towards God once again.

As today’s Gospel text draws to a close, Jesus compares the people of God to servants working in their master’s house. The servants are expected to work… out in the field, and then serving at table as well. It’s a natural part of who they are as servants, and it’s what is expected of them. Like servants working in the master’s house, we, the servants of God today, have work to do… using our gifts and serving God as we worship the Lord and serve our neighbours in need. That is who we are, and that is what we were made for.

But our God is amazingly kind and gracious, because God sent Jesus to show us the way and to humble himself and serve us first. And as we gather today to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, we come not as servants, but as invited guests. Jesus is the host at this holy meal to which all are invited.

As we share it together, may God increase our faith. And may we be strengthened for the journey ahead, that we may use all our gifts to serve God in each other and in the world. Amen.