Text: Luke 17:5-6
The words that I have just read from the Gospel of Luke follow one of Jesus’ hard teachings on forgiveness. Realizing just how hard forgiveness can be, the apostles responded to Jesus by saying, “Teacher, increase our faith!” Jesus answered their request with that famous saying, “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.” One commentator reflected that what Jesus was actually saying to the apostles was, “You don’t need more faith.” There is no “more” or “less” in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, “Go jump in the lake,” and it would do it. The lectionary group this week pointed out that while the apostles were saying to Jesus “give us more,” Jesus was saying to them, “It’s right there. You have what you need. You have all that you need.”
I am currently reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book, An Altar in the World. I’ve read most of Taylor’s books and this one, in my opinion, reflects her authentic struggle of being in that in-between place of having “left” the church and now searching for how she will now encounter the Holy without all the structure and rituals that organized religion or the institutional church offers. The premise of the book and what she is finding to be true for herself now that her relationship with the church has changed, is that all the world, all our ordinary actions—our everyday activities, provide incredible opportunities to encounter the Holy and the Sacred. She suggest that our insatiable appetite, our longing for something “more” than what we have is keeping us from seeing what is right in front of us—all the things we do have. She argues that you don’t have to go on a spiritual pilgrimage to some distant land to find the “more” you are looking for in your spiritual life. She makes a compelling case that we already have everything we need to deepen our spiritual identity. Listen to her words:
“…religious people are vulnerable to this longing—[the longing for more]. Those who belong to communities of faith have acquired a certain patience with what is sometimes called organized religion. They have learned to forgive its shortcomings as they have learned to forgive themselves. They do not expect their institutions to stand in for God, and they are happy to use inherited maps for some of life’s journeys. They do not need to walk off every cliff all by themselves. Yet they too can harbor the sense that there is more to life than they are being shown. Where is the secret hidden? Who has the key to the treasure box of More?
“People seem willing to look all over the place for this treasure. They will spend hours launching prayers into the heavens. They will travel halfway around the world to visit a monastery in India or to take part in a mission trip to Belize. The last place most people look is right under their feet, in the everyday activities, accidents, and encounters of their lives. What possible spiritual significance could a trip to the grocery store have? How could something as common as a toothache be a door to greater life?
“No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is the willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.”
The apostles said to Jesus, “give us more.” And he said, “It’s right there. You have what you need. You have all that you need. You don’t need more faith. There is no more or less in faith.” Maybe the message for us today is this: there is so much we can do with what we have if we will only have the willingness and the courage to imagine that we already have everything we need.
Throughout my years at Pullen around budget time I have heard people say, “we just need to have more faith.” I’m not altogether sure what we mean when we say that, but I imagine that what we mean is that if we had more faith we would pledge more money. In some sense we are like those first apostles saying, “increase our faith” because we don’t think we have enough. And still Jesus says to us, “but you can do so much with what you do have.” Yes, it seems to me that what Jesus is really saying to us is that it’s not so much about having more faith as it is about what we do with what we have—acting in ways that show love and forgiveness and grace. Or as my Franciscan friend says, “We don’t think our way into a new life; we live our way into a new kind of thinking.”
As we prepare to gather around this table, again, the message is this: you already have everything you need—God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s grace. This is the table of love and grace. After communion, as we leave this sanctuary to continue our worship throughout our building, may we all see that there is so much we can do with what we have if we have the willingness and the courage to imagine that we already have everything we need. If we can truly believe this, there is no doubt in my mind that we, as a church, will live generously.