Inspired by Luke 17:5-10
Well this is without a doubt one of my least favorite bible passages in all of scripture. And that’s saying something because there’s a lot of em I don’t like. But this one, I’d like to just scratch out of every Bible in the world. Let me explain. This passage has been used to guilt and shame people into faith for way too long. Taken by itself, it seems to scream at us how inadequate we are, how faithless we are, how worthless we are—in fact, most translations even use that word at the end of this passage, “worthless”.
But that’s not the way that we are supposed to read scripture is it, though we do it all the time, we are not supposed to take a verse or two, read it in a vacuum all by itself, and then draw conclusions from it! But we do this all the time, I catch myself doing it too! So, whenever dealing with difficult passages, which is most of them, the question should not be, what does this mean? But rather, in light of the rest of the Bible, and in the shadow of the cross, what does this mean?
Our passage begins with, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” That should be red flag number one for us—because let’s face it, the apostles, were not the sharpest tools in the shed. They are constantly getting things wrong, and the Gospel writers intentionally portrayed them that way. It was kinda like their way of saying, “Don’t be like these guys! Please, whatever you do, learn from their mistakes!”
Now don’t get me wrong, the apostles got a lot of things right as well, we are standing here today because of them, but boy it took them a long time to get there. And that’s intentionally meant to give us hope on our faith journeys as well. But back to their request, “Increase our faith!” So, if their missing the mark on most everything else at this stage in their faith journeys, the reader, us, should already be asking, I wonder if they’re getting this wrong too.
And the answer is a big resounding yes! Their request, to increase their faith, is proof that they are coming from a perspective that needs a serious adjustment, and Jesus then attempts to do just that. And in typical Jesus fashion, he does it with all the snark and sassiness that we have come to know and love in Jesus. So he says to them, if you had this much faith, you could do miracles.
If the American brand of Christianity is guilty of anything, chief among them has got to be this individualistic, self-centered view of faith. Somewhere along the way, and I won’t bore you with a history lesson on the 18th century American Great Awakening, but “somewhere along the way”, Americans got it in their heads that this faith business was all about “me” and what I have to do to be saved or what I have to do to get to heaven. And we’ve come up with all kinds of answers: I have to go to church enough. I have to behave enough. I have to give enough offering. I have to read the Bible enough. I have to believe a certain way. I have to decide who I’m going to follow. I have to. I have to. I have to blank.
And Jesus says no to this idea! Scripture, taken as a whole, says no to this idea! And that’s good news! That’s the gospel! Because if it’s left up to us, if it’s left up to our faith, if it’s left up to our beliefs, if it’s left up to our church attendance, our offerings, our behavior, our anything, we’re doomed! That’s why this is such good news! That’s why it’s good news when Jesus says if you had this much faith you could do miracles! So thank God it’s not about our faith at all, but God’s faith. Thank God it’s not about our faith, but God’s faithfulness to us and to all of creation. If that doesn’t take a load off our shoulders I don’t know what will! And that’s the whole point here. We spend our faith lives worrying about all the wrong things, just like those apostles in our story.
And Jesus, who is always ready to carry the load for us, says stop worrying about yourselves. I’ve taken care of you. Stop worrying about your own fates. I’ve taken care of you all. Why? So that you can take care of each other. So that you can take care of the world. It’s no accident that the rest of our gospel reading is all about being a servant. At first glance it may look like Jesus goes on a bit of a tangent but no, he speaks of servitude very deliberately here.
Because to follow Christ is to be a servant, not a servant to Christ, Christ doesn’t need our servitude, what would the ruler of the cosmos need? No, we are expected to be a servant to each other, to Auburn, to this nation, to the world. And not so we can get more faith and be saved. Remember, that work, is already taken care of by Christ. We are already taken care of. Period. Thanks be to God. Amen.