Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on October 2, 2016
[sermon begins after two Bible readings, the 2 Timothy reading follows the sermon]
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!’ ”
Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous— therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Rob and I were engaged about 20 years ago. We’d been in Colorado a little while at that point. We talked wedding possibilities that ran the gamut between eloping to having a full wedding, finally settling on a family wedding at The Chapel at Red Rocks. About 40 of our family from the East, West, and Mid-west attended. The first dance music was to be “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. It had made a resurgence around that time. Even though we ultimately decided on a back yard reception without dancing, I still think of it as our wedding song. The song opens with a rose-colored glasses moment perfect for a wedding:
“I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world…”
I’ve recently learned more of the story behind “What a Wonderful World.” Originally released as a B-side single in 1967, it was a commercial flop. Armstrong was asked to sing the song by its two Jewish songwriters. Their hope was that Armstrong’s wide appeal would build bridges during a time when America was experiencing race riots and curfews in over 100 cities including attacks on Jewish shops. The third verse of the song sets a different vision for living together:
“The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
And also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.”
Accusations flew that the song glossed over serious problems. [Here’s what] “Armstrong said as he introduced a live performance of the song – words which are best read with his gravelly delivery in mind…‘Some of you young folks been saying to me: “Hey, Pops – what do you mean, what a wonderful world? How about all them wars all over the place, you call them wonderful?” But how about listening to old Pops for a minute? Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance.”
Which is it? Does the song gloss over real problems or does Armstrong sing about something real? A similar question could be asked about the additional faith that the disciples are demanding from Jesus. Does faith gloss over real problems or by faith are we proclaiming something real? As a preacher and a pastor, this kind of question is regularly posed to me from people in all kind of situations. I hear a lot about why faith is difficult for people. And I wonder if, like the disciples in the Bible story from Luke, our ideas and questions about faith are generated from a misleading premise.
Just before the Bible verses in Luke we hear today, Jesus challenges his followers to see and help people who suffer, to not cause other people to stumble in their faith, and to forgive and forgive and forgive again. Then we get to the apostles pleading for more faith, literally in the Greek “add faith to us!” Who can blame them? Jesus raises the bar high on discipleship telling them to relieve deep suffering, give away money and possessions, and forgive each other. A bit more faith to get these things done would be awesome! Most of us would like a heap more faith if it actually worked that way.
The apostles plead for more faith as a group – “Increase our faith!” They ask as a group. This is unfamiliar ground for most of us. We tend to think of faith as an individual rather than a group thing. In an individual way, I can wonder if I have any faith or enough faith or certain faith. I can analyze faith as an equation, that faith = proof + certainty. This is a misleading premise for faith.
And this is the premise I used for faith when Rob and I were married. We even found a minister that would do the wedding without mentioning Jesus. At that point, I’d been out of the church upwards of ten years. Faith in Jesus was something that didn’t compute. I couldn’t figure out why he computed for other people. In the following few years we baptized our two kids in Rob’s Lutheran tradition and we started going to church (a story for a different day). Confusion reigned for me for a while as the preacher talked about a God who loves us through Jesus without condition – flawed, fragile, and messed up as we are.
It began to compute but it was an unfamiliar calculus. The quick sum total was this…faith wasn’t about me. Well, of course, it was in some ways. In the ways I became more comfortable confessing to hurts I cause, real struggles of being human and screwing things up but still needing God’s love in the face of those flaws, that sin. And in the ways God’s good work in me is revealed. Sinner and saint. But more and more, faith became something about God, the people of God, and the wonderful world that God loves – claimed by faith rather making a claim about faith.
Being claimed by faith sounds like Habakkuk’s cries against violence and trusting in God’s faithfulness. Being claimed by faith names the living faith of ancestors like Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Being claimed by faith announces a wonderful world, created and sustained by God for all people. At the same time, being claimed by faith tells the truth about suffering, our part in it and Jesus’ challenge to us to relieve suffering, prevent it when possible and be present with people when it’s not.
We remind each other that God’s faithfulness overflows in the grace given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. Not alone and wondering if each of our individual faith-o-meters are full enough. Rather, as a group called the church living the faith that claims us through the cross of Christ and then frees us towards God and each other. Living faith that is smaller than a mustard seed as signs of God’s love for each flawed and fragile person in this troubled and wonderful world.
 The Chapel at Red Rocks: http://www.chapelatredrocks.com/
 George Davis Weiss as “George Douglas” and Bob Theile, songwriters. “What a Wonderful World.” 1967. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_a_Wonderful_World
 This paragraph and the Louis Armstrong quote that follows are referenced from, “Smashed Hits: How Political is ‘What a Wonderful World?” published December 10, 2011 on BBCnews.com. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-16118157
 Ibid, BBC article above.
 In order: Luke 16:19-31 (challenge against indifference), Luke 17:1-2 (challenge to teach well), Luke 17:3-4 (forgive).
 Audrey West, Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology Chicago. Commentary on Luke 17:5-10 for WorkingPreacher.org, October 2, 2016. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3028
 Habakkuk 1:1-4 and 2:1-4
 2 Timothy 1:1-14
 2 Timothy 1:9
Timothy 1:1-14 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.