Rev. Anne Ryan
2 Timothy 1:1-14 & Luke 17:5-10
Sermon Transcript (not word for word)
A 7 year old child, after hearing about starving people in Africa in Sunday School, drew a picture and made a donation box. This she installed at the front door and made sure any visitors saw it. She could not cure the ills of Africa but she could plant her small tree in the sea of general apathy.
One young man who decided to study both economics and social work so that he might be able to offer some skills to the long term unemployed. Fellow students who found out his game plan, derided him as a crank.
The mother in her forties who went back to study and completed teacher training so that she could specialise in helping children with learning difficulties. In a large school, she worked with a class of what others (off the record, of course!) used to call the “dumbos”. Because she actually asked for this difficult class, some teachers treated her like a nutter.
Planting trees in the sea?
Not all tree planting has to be as dramatic as these examples. Much is common stuff. Some happens very quietly and unobtrusively.
I am keenly aware of many of you in this congregation have done your share of planting trees in the sea. In your own way, you tackle the difficult and attempt that which seems improbable. Sometimes you appear to succeed, at other times you may appear to fail.
Common plantings do matter. I am convinced that in the kingdom of God, what appears like a waste of time is always a success. The act of attempting the difficult for Christ is itself a glorious success, no matter the outcome. No brave act of faith is wasted in God’s regime. That which may not appear to bear fruit, will fruit in ways we cannot discern. Nothing done for Christ Jesus is a write off. No brave risk of faith and love is a pathetic defeat. All about faith and faithfulness.
The word ‘faith’ (pistis, in the Greek) is often spoken about as if it meant trying to talk ourselves into intellectual assent to something, with “increasing our faith” meaning that we are successfully persuading ourselves that we have adopted an idea we think is ridiculous. That’s not faith; it’s self-deception, and usually a pretty unsuccessful kind of self-deception that results in our feeling a little guilty and hypocritical, as we know that we don’t actually believe what we say. But faith is not an intellectual exercise about measurement; it is not a process we go through to build and maintain superiority. Faith is relationship — a relationship of trust, of allegiance. When Jesus talks about “faith,” he’s not talking about what you do in your head; he’s talking about what you do with your hands and your feet, your wallet and your privilege, your power and your time. Faith in Jesus is not shown by saying or thinking things about him, or even to him, but by following him.
When we pray for the world it is not earning us extra points for our diligence and effort. And when we hold out our hands to receive the broken bread at communion, pray, or even go to church – it is not in the expectation that it will prove to be some kind of spiritual steroid to build up our faith and enable us to perform at a higher level. We do these things because God has sacrificed everything for us and poured out love and mercy and desire and grace on us in lavish abundance, more than we could ever comprehend, more than our hungering hearts could ever consume. And we do these things so that we might write the gospel story into our hearts, that we might act it out and so come to know, deep in our bones, that it is only as we release our controlling grip and stand empty-handed and vulnerable and trusting before God, that we will enter into the joyous freedom of those who know themselves beloved and drink deeply from the wellsprings of mercy and grace.
You want more faith? You want the kind of super-faith that will move mountains, that will enable you to command a mountain ash to be uprooted and planted in the sea? Well what are you doing with the faith that you’ve got? Are you living faithfully? Are you doing your job, doing the basics, acting justly, loving mercifully, and walking in simplicity with your God? That’s just basic nuts-and-bolts Christianity, lived out.
You have more than enough faith for these things. Everyone of you. More than enough. In essence Christian discipleship is not something extra, something special. It is nothing more and nothing less than living out the meaning of our humanity, growing into what we were created to become. We should be able to take that for granted of everyone.
The only reason we can’t take that for granted is, because it means that living faithfully is living out of step with the culture around us, and that’s why we need to stick together – to reclaim our basic integrity as Christians and as human beings , our simple faithfulness together. To encourage one another and support one another in the living out of our mustard seeds of faith. Without that support it is easy for the flames of faith to be blown out in the storms of greed and callousness. We have to remind each other to rekindle the gift that is within you, for the Spirit that God gave you is not a spirit of cowardice or even indifference but of power and love and self-control.
Living Christianly is not a job reserved for the experts. It’s not just for the specially gifted. It’s a job you’re up to. It’s your basic responsibility as a Christian and a human being, and if nobody ever patted you on the back or commended you for it, that should be OK – you’re just doing your job. But if the fact that you have got what it takes already is not good news enough there is more. Our God is a God of extravagant generosity, of limitless grace, and so despite having every right to take our faithful living for granted – God instead showers us with blessings and honour. God even goes so far as to become one with us and face suffering and death for our sakes, though we never did more than expected and seldom did even that.