2016 World Communion Sunday
The problem is not the Faith
Rev. Kee Ho Hwang
Scripture Reading: Luke 17: 5-10
We Christians are not only serious people, but also funny people. In one of his books, Chuck Swindoll tells about a lady who wanted desperately to go on a tour to Israel. But she wanted a sign to confirm that it was God’s will. The morning after she began planning the trip, she woke up at 7:47 a. m. The tour group to Israel was planning on flying over on a 747 jet. That was her ‘sign’ that confirmed God was going to bless this trip.
Another young man needed to buy a car. But he wanted to know that whatever car he bought was in God’s will for him. One night he had a dream in which everything he saw was yellow. The next day he went to a car dealership and bought the ‘yellowiest’ car he could find. True to form, the car was a real lemon.
And there was the deacon who wanted to be a pastor, but he didn’t want to spend a few years at seminary. Would God approve of him buying a fake seminary degree from an online degree mill? The deacon concluded this was certainly God’s will after he read First Timothy 3:13 from the King James Version Bible. It reads like this: “For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree.”
These well-meaning people looking for a sign remind me of Jesus’ disciples asking him for more faith in today’s scripture. Already, in Luke 9, Jesus had given them the power and authority to heal and to cast out demons. Wouldn’t this be enough? They were with Jesus daily. They saw miracles that would make their hearts stand still. But they wanted more faith? What more could Jesus possibly give them? He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
I come to believe that he is saying to them and to us, “Your problem really isn’t a lack of faith. It doesn’t take much faith to do sensational things. What it takes is commitment. What it takes is determination, and persistence, and a will to see it through to the end.”
A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Until the church doubled the size of the parking lot, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church with its undersized lot had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain out of the back yard. Undaunted, the pastor announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had ‘mountain moving faith.’ They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service the following week.
At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen.” “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time too.” The next morning as he was working in his study there came a loud knock at his door. When he called “come in,” a rough looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from Acme Construction Company over in the next county. We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed area free of charge if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.”
Yes, the little church was dedicated the next Sunday as originally planned and there were far more members with ‘mountain moving faith’ on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week!
Well, then Jesus tells them a strange little parable. He says, “Suppose one of you has a servant who’s been plowing or looking after sheep. When that servant comes in from work would you say to the servant, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat?’
Not likely. You would probably say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink.’ Then, after dinner would you thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?” Then Jesus adds these interesting words, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
You and I would not fare well in such a culture. We like to be appreciated for our work. We like to be patted on the back, rewarded. We would not like being a faceless servant. We like people to recognize us when we’ve done a good job, to say, “Well done,” or even, on occasion, to give us extravagant praise. Also because of so-called the high self-esteem movements, many of today’s people have gotten at home and in school from the day they were born. “You are the greatest! There’s never been anyone like you before!” It’s getting hard for people to imagine doing anything simply and solely because it’s our duty or responsibility.
However, to set Jesus’ words in a more contemporary setting, we might imagine paying our bills. When you send that small fortune off to pay for your utilities, you don’t expect a letter back from the president of the power company saying, “Well, done! You paid on time! Super job! Keep up the good work! We’re proud of you!” No, we pay our bill because that is our responsibility, particularly if we don’t want our lights turned off. Or, when we pay our taxes, we don’t expect a letter from the commissioner of the IRS saying, “You are one super citizen. I wish we had ten million more like you.” No, we pay our taxes because that is our duty as citizens.
So, also, says Jesus, when we serve God, we are only doing our duty. We don’t deserve any special reward. Neither do we need any special gifts to carry out our work. We don’t need any special spiritual insights. We don’t even need an abundance of faith. What we need is to show up willing to do our part.
The disciples thought their problem was that they lacked faith. Jesus’ told them that was not the problem. The problem was a lack of commitment. That is our problem, too, isn’t it? Yes, that’s true. We should serve. Without fuss! Sometimes with very little recognition and not a lot of glory! It’s only when you pass over to the other side, to be received into the arms of Jesus that you hear those ultimate words of commendation, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Come, share my joy.”
Paul Tillich, the great theologian, defined faith as courage. That is just wonderful. He said that is what faith will look like when you see it. It will look like courage. What faith is, is acting on your trust that God is faithful. Most of the time, if you are doing anything worthwhile, it is done on faith, and in fact it takes courage.
Most people think the opposite of faith is doubt. They think, “I have some doubts, therefore I don’t have faith.” Well, faith doesn’t remove doubt. Faith is courage to go into an unknown future in spite of the doubts. Faith doesn’t remove fear either. Faith is the courage to do the right thing even when your knees are trembling. Faith doesn’t remove disappointments, or guarantee victory. Faith is the courage to keep on going even when you want to give up, but you keep on going. That is what faith looks like.
Madeleine L’Engel put it rather clearly. “I don’t have to have some special qualification to do what I have to do. All I have to do is have the courage to go on and do it.”
That’s what we do. That’s who we are – servants. We serve because of God first served us. We are not seeking to work our way to heaven. That is already taken care of because of what Christ did on the cross. Now God calls us to service. Not because it will look good on our resume, not because we will be praised for it, but because that is who we are, we are followers of Jesus who became a servant of all that we might be children of God.
Does this make sense to you? Yes, we have a crisis of commitment, a crisis of servant-hood. Often times we felt the crisis when there is a job that needs to be done, a job for which there is little opportunity for recognition and praise, only hard work, sometimes without even the sweet scent of success. Teach a Sunday school class, sing in the choir, serve on the committees—“Oh, pastor, I couldn’t do that.” The disciples asked Jesus for more faith. There is no record that Jesus granted their request. They didn’t need more faith. What they need was simply to show up for duty. He would give them what they needed, but first they needed to show up. They, I mean, we, only need to say with Isaiah the prophet, “Here am I, send me, Lord.” Amen? Amen.