20th Sunday After Pentecost; October 5, 2013; Year C
Habbakuk 1.1-4; 2.1-4; Psalm 37,1-9; 2 Timothy 1.1-14; Luke 17.5-10
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, I became a godparent for the first time. It was not to a baby niece or nephew, but to two college seniors. From 2008-2009 I did my pastoral internship (essentially where I had the opportunity to practice learning how to be a pastor) at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s campus ministry. I arrived in Lincoln mid-August and the campus ministry had a co-ed softball team. I went to watch the game and accepted an invitation to go to Sonics (a fast food restaurant) with the team to celebrate with an end of the season slushi. It was over a brain freeze in which I first met my future godchildren, Kim and Andy.
I assumed incorrectly that all the college students on the softball team were Christians and active in campus ministry, attending worship and being a part of the Lutheran Center. So here I am, nervous, new, not knowing anyone or their stories, trying to strike up conversation.
“So…” I said, “You like going to the Lutheran Center? Are you excited about the BBQ coming up?” Kim and Andy exchange looks.
“Um,” Andy said awkwardly, “I don’t really attend worship at the Lutheran Center or anywhere else. My friend, Tom, and my girlfriend Jenika do. My major is science and I’m not sure how I feel about the whole religion thing.”
Then Kim spoke, “I went on a trip to Haiti with the Lutheran Center this summer, which was awesome, because of my boyfriend, Tom. He’s really active in his faith, but I was never raised in the church and it’s just not really a part of my life.”
“Okay…so…how’s that blue-raspberry slushi?” I did not expect to see Kim and Andy at the BBQ that started the school year, but because they were invited they came, and then they kept showing up. Over the next number of months I had the joy of getting to know them, of talking about science and religion, of training for a ½ marathon together, of volunteering together, of starting to see them in worship, of late night intense and exciting conversations about God.
It was in February in the midst of all their questions and doubts, in the midst of the truths of science and the truths of faith, in which they both came to me and said, “We have thought it over very carefully and we both have a desire to be baptized.” They were baptized a couple months later on Easter Sunday and I became a godparent to 2 college students who were just a few years younger than me.
Since then I have acquired three more godchildren who were baptized as infants, and are now 3, 3, and 2. Every night in my prayers, my husband Jon and I name them before God: Kim, Andy, Ellanora, Rebekah, and Elizabeth. As their godparent and as someone who deeply loves them, besides knowing God’s love, there is one thing I want for each of them more than any other:
To trust God…to have the gift of faith. I want the gift of faith for them more than anything else because faith is powerful…even a tiny little bit of it.
People who have had faith in Jesus have:
Lead civil rights movements
Overturned apartheid in South Africa
Saved thousands of people in Nazi Germany during WWII by hiding them and risking their own lives
Have had strength to endure incredible suffering
Have been able to Heal, forgive, and love beyond all odds
Through faith in Christ, people have:
Had courage in the face of death
Had joy in the midst of great loss
Had hope when there was cause for none
Through faith in Christ, people are given eternal life
There’s not too much that people are willing to die for, but people die all the time for their faith.
Between my two fingers I have a mustard seed. Jesus is saying that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed you would be able to do these things I just named. Faith can look as small as a mustard seed in the face of unbelief, of addiction, of stage 4 pancreatic cancer…And yet…Jesus says it’s all we need.
Now you might be thinking, Yeah right! Easy for her to say. It’s actually not easy for me to say. There have been many times in my life in which I have felt like my faith was “this big” and it did not feel like enough. I have cried out like Habakkuk and so many others: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” In the face of violence, hunger, addiction, poverty, and disease, mustard seed faith often does not seem like enough. We want to ask Jesus with the disciples, “Increase our faith!”
If you have a bulletin, please pull it out and look at the picture on the front. If you notice someone around you who doesn’t have one, make sure they can see the photo as well. What do you see?
When I look at the photo I don’t see bigger mustard seeds…I see many of them together that fill a whole spoon to where they are falling out the sides. When I look out at all of you, I see the faith of…June, Elly, Brady, Emily, Alli, Gerry…and it fills up this house of worship. Together we add a lot of flavor to the world. Instead of asking Jesus to increase our faith, perhaps we should ask him to increase the workers for the harvest.
In the words of theologian, Kimberly Bracken Long, the question is not “How much faith is enough,” but “what is faith for? Faith can’t be measured, only enacted (Feasting on the Word, p. 144).” Faith is not given to be lived out in a vacuum, to somehow endure life on one’s own, but to be lived out together in community as the body of Christ in the world. Faith is about trusting God, about turning to Jesus when in need. It is about living out that trust in a community of faith and in the world.
I understand that trusting is hard, especially if all kinds of people have given you reason to not trust anyone. But you can trust God. We often cannot control what happens to us in life and faith has the power to make or break how we respond to what occurs. If you have not prayed for the gift of faith before, consider praying for it. If you are struggling in believing or trusting, ask God to give you faith, not a whole bunch of it like the disciples did, but enough…faith even the size of a mustard seed.
We here today are so blessed to have the opportunity to welcome Evelyn into the body of Christ through baptism. In faith, Evelyn’s family has brought her to the waters to receive the mark of the cross on her forehead, claiming her as a daughter of God, and to receive the promises God has for her. Evelyn’s life of faith is just beginning and look at all of us who she has to help raise her to love and trust God.
There is a reason in the baptismal liturgy we name the responsibilities of those in Evelyn’s life:
Live with her among God’s faithful people
Bring her to the word of God and the holy supper (in other words, bring her to worship)
Teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
Place in her hands the holy Scriptures, and nurture her in faith and prayer
And Why? It is not so she can be really smart and prove how holy she is when she grows up, it’s not even so she can make all the right choices and be a moral person. All of this is for one reason: So she can learn to trust God because it is what will give her life, not only here in this world, but also in the life to come. The Spirit of God is working in Evelyn’s life long before she will every know it. It is our job to share the God of love with her in order that she can live out her faith in the world.
The mom of one of my 3 year-old goddaughters, named Ellanora, was having a conversation with her at breakfast one morning, as she held her infant son, Micah. Ellanora looked at her mom and out of the blue said: “Mama, Micah is made of God. Did you know that? And God put Micah in your belly.”
More than anything besides knowing the love of God, my prayer for all my godchildren and for all of you is that you trust God, that you have the gift of faith.