After many, many conversations about faith and plenty over the last week and a half, I have decided to publish this sermon. May you find it of value. Grace and peace to you this day. xo~anna
You Are Enough (Luke17:5-10)
Sermon for the people of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Lake Stevens, WA
October 6, 2013
Pray with me. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen.
In this week’s Gospel lesson, the disciples are, once again, missing the point. (These guys are so painfully human; it gives the rest of us hope, doesn’t it?) In the verse before our text begins, Jesus has just informed them that they must be forgiving. REALLY forgiving. 70 times 7 forgiving…and we know that’s not really a math lesson. That’s Jesus saying we are to forgive and forgive and when we are just sick of forgiving, to do it again.
The disciples are overwhelmed by this instruction, and so they say, “Oh, Jesus, increase our faith!” And Jesus gets irritated with them. He tells them they have enough faith. That even the tiniest amount of faith is enough.
I wonder if this is what the disciples really mean. Are they concerned that they are lacking in faith? Or are they concerned that they themselves are lacking? Are they comparing themselves to an imaginary impossible standard and deciding that they just don’t measure up?
We do this often, you know. We spend an excessive amount of time comparing ourselves to one another. And somehow, we always decide that we are just not as smart, healthy, strong, competent, fast, creative, young, old, tall, available, dedicated, concerned, laid-back or whatever as the next guy. And somehow this particular quality we decide we lack is the one that prevents us from doing the thing we proclaim we’d love to do. For example, “if I were rich, I’d hire a sexton for Holy Cross so Pastor Susan wouldn’t have to play janitor all the time”. Or, “if I weren’t so busy, I’d volunteer at the Salvation Army once a month”. Or, “if I were younger, I’d get out there and weed around the church sign”. Or, “if I were older, I’d assist during worship.” Or, “if I were smarter, I’d lead Sunday School”. And there are a million examples of this in life outside the congregation, too. Give yourself a minute…you’ll think of one.
The most dangerous of these “lacking qualities” is the one where we have convinced ourselves that we are unlovable. Incapable of receiving God’s love and God’s grace. Not whole enough to be called into leadership or servitude. Not good enough. Unlovable. Worthless.
And this is where Jesus gets irritated with the disciples… and with us! Because when we decide we are not good enough, we are choosing to shut God out. We are declaring God’s creation “Worthless”. We are losing our faith. The moment we declare ourselves unlovable…worthless, we are declaring we know better than God does, we are shutting God out. We are turning our backs. We are saying that all the good things that we have and own and are are because we do them…because we are in control.
Here’s the thing about faith. It’s not about us. It’s about God. It is about acknowledging that we are imperfect, but that that is okay because God is in control. God is with us. And when we hold on to the knowledge that God is there, even when we can’t see or feel it, God is able to work through us. When we own our faith, we open our hearts to the good things God can do through and for us.
Mother Teresa is arguably the most loving, faithful servant-leader of the 20th century. She lived her life in absolute financial poverty and humility. She devoted herself to the “wholehearted and free service of the poorest of the poor” as she lived among the street people in the slums of Calcutta, India, and tended the “untouchables”…those whom society had cast out: the poor, the sick, the uneducated, the lame, the orphans, the widows, the dying. She said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor.” Mother Teresa became a powerful woman even as she shunned power, because the courage of her conviction and the abundant living out of her faith began to change the world…and presidents, kings, executives, and even the Pope began to hear her words and to listen.
Yet, when she died, her personal letters were studied, and the world was stunned when they were published in 2007 in a book called Come Be My Light. Mother Teresa lived the majority of her life in darkness of spirit as she confessed she could no longer “hear” Christ. Once she began her work in Calcutta, she began to experience this deep spiritual dryness. And yet, she came to understand through spiritual direction in the church that, “No one can long for God unless God is present in his/her heart. Thus the only response to this trial is the total surrender to God and the acceptance of the darkness in union with Jesus.” Mother Teresa began to feel a deep joy that “Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony—but that He wants to go through it in me.—More than ever I surrender myself to Him.—Yes—more than ever I will be at his disposal.”
This woman, this embodiment of love and pillar of strength, understood perfectly the overwhelming tasks to which we are called in our life with Christ. She felt at times she lacked the faith to do the job, and she felt at times “not enough.” But her willingness to open her heart and to allow God to use her completely to bring the light of Christ forth into the darkest of places, her willingness to reflect Christ into the bleakest of life’s situations enabled God to touch and to transform the lives of not only the people Mother Teresa touched with her hands, but also to transform the lives of people all over the globe…people Mother Teresa touched with her words and her example. This woman, who struggled so violently with her faith on the inside, became the most visible and accessible example of a faith-filled life to the rest of the world. Mother Teresa was certainly “enough.”
We are not all called to the kind of life Mother Teresa lived. We are not all called to work in the church…but we are called to be the church. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world, allowing God to use the gifts we have been given to bring forth the kingdom. Perhaps not all around the globe, but certainly here in Lake Stevens, and in your own families, and with the lives that you touch every day.
If you aren’t wealthy, brilliant, young, older, creative, or whatever gift you see yourself lacking, what gifts do you possess? What are you willing to use for the kingdom? What are you willing to give back to God? Instead of counting the ways we are lacking, we should honestly look at the love and grace God has bestowed upon us. It is more than enough. Because God has declared you “good”. You, in all your flawed humanity with all the things you see wrong with yourself, God declares you “good’. As part of Creation, God has declared you “very good”.
So, perhaps instead of asking for bigger faith, we should be asking to have our hearts softened so that we can be more willing to be used by God. So that we are willing to be open to our callings through our faith…that faith that shrinks to microscopic proportions sometimes.
And, through our openness and our willingness to be loved, gifted, owned, and used by God, we will find our faith increased…because it was never about us in the first place. It is about God’s abundant love and grace and willingness to claim us all. the. time. Even when we feel we are lacking, God says, “You are enough.”