Luke 17:5-10 What Faith Is Not [or Holding God to God’s Promises]
October 6, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Luke 17:5-10 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “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. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Some of us make this faith thing really hard. And pretty much by “some of us”, I mean at least me and maybe some of you too. Those of us who make faith hard complicate it with a lot of stuff that makes no sense in the conversation about faith. Take the disciples in our story who demand that Jesus increase their faith. What does that even mean?! “Increase our faith!” It’s kind of a desperate request, isn’t it? It sounds like they think they don’t have enough for what this life has in store.
Jesus’ answer is great. He basically tells them that they have enough. After all, who actually needs to make a mulberry bush jump in the ocean? (I imagine him telling them this while secretly wishing he could send them into the sea along with the mulberry bush.)
After Jesus tells them that they have enough faith, he launches into the slavery comparison to tell them that they have all the faith they need to simply show up and do what needs to be done. A lot of us are just trying to make it through the day. Our lives move along in ordinary ways – work and play, highs and lows, are all the stuff of our mostly ordinary lives. And we are given enough faith to make it through the days.
Which begs the question of what is expected of faith? The disciples are worried because Jesus has been talking about things like forgiveness, giving money to the poor, and picking up crosses and following him. This is a big to-do list that seems to require some big help to get through. It’s no wonder the disciples were asking for an extra sprinkle or two of faith. How could they possibly have enough to get it all done? And if they think they don’t have enough faith with Jesus right in front of them, how could we?
One of the wrinkles in this text is that faith doesn’t seem to be a measurable thing. And yet we tend to think that faith equals agreement to each point on a checklist about God. Like if we intellectually agree 100% with each statement of the Apostle’s Creed then we have a lot. As if faith can be boiled down to some kind of mathematical proof that has form and measure and only then we can trust in it. The problem comes when we try to explain how this all adds up to enough faith in the right things. The problem comes when we think we can measure it at all.
Last week I had a chance to hang out with the 9th graders who are participating in the ritual of Confirmation in a few weeks. I asked them to explain the scientific method to me. They did this as easy as 1-2-3. First you make a hypothesis about something being true, then you set out to collect the data to prove your hypothesis, and you make a conclusion that proves or disproves the truth of your hypothesis. I then told them that we are not teaching them to argue the faith by way of the scientific method. We are not making statements about Jesus and proving them. Rather, the ritual of Confirmation is yet one more point in the baptized life where we are able to pause and take stock of what faith means in our everyday lives. This is the place where our brains show up. After all, we don’t leave our minds at the church door. Plenty of brilliant scientists and gifted minds spend their lifetimes figuring out how to talk about the faith, the meaning and the mystery of it, in their own lives.
Like Timothy, in the second reading, whose faith moves through his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice to him, the Christian faith lives, in part, through what our ancestors of the faith have been moved to confess about God. It is a confessing faith that is both in tension with the ordinary things of our ordinary days and woven through them. Like Paul writing to Timothy, faith rests in trusting God to be God “in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” This confession of faith allows us to hold God accountable to God’s promises made in baptism.
God’s promises in baptism are this…
God promises in baptism to be in relationship with you. God’s presence is true even, and maybe especially, if you don’t think it is or feel like it is. And because God is the God of today, tomorrow, and forever, these promises are eternal. And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the life everlasting.
God promises in baptism to always be reconciled with you, always open to your return to God. And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the forgiveness of sins.
God promises in baptism to draw you into a deeper relationship with God, into discipleship. And so, trusting God to keep God’s promises, we confess the holy catholic church and the communion of saints – the community of people in which our lives as disciples are nurtured.
The disciples have one thing right. Faith does come from Jesus. This is a faith that rests on the promises of God made to us in our baptism; a faith that moves within our lives no matter what the outcome or how we think it gets measured.
May Christ Jesus gift you faith for today, tomorrow, and all of your days. Amen.
 David Lose in “Dear Working Preacher…” on WorkingPreacher.com for Sunday, October 6, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2773
 2 Timothy 1:12-13.
 John Pederson, personal conversation about the promises of baptism.