By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral Parish October 7, 2007
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 Luke 17:5-10
Let’s have a little review; it’s part of my teacher mode.
Last week we heard the story of the rich man and Lazarus in the Gospel.
It described just how difficult it is for the rich to get to heaven.
Did it make you decide to give away all you had to become poor?
I doubt it.
The week before, it was praise for the squandering and dishonest servant.
Would you now applaud when you learned that your neighbor
had to pay back only 50% of his mortgage,
while you were held responsible for the full amount of yours?
I don’t think I would. I’d probably complain.
The week before that it was the father forgiving his prodigal son.
Would you be able to forgive a son or daughter who
deserted you and wasted his or her inheritance
on a lifestyle of unworthy acts. Not very easily.
And from the week before that:
Have you been working on being last, so that you can become first?
Jesus said that the last will be first and the first last.
This section in Luke’s Gospel contains a string of difficult teachings
that the apostles were having to deal with
as they were traveling with Jesus.
Is it any wonder that they said, “Increase our faith?”
They were asking for help to follow the teachings.
We, too, often find the same difficulties with following Jesus.
Like the apostles, we might also plead with the Lord,
“Increase our faith. Help us to follow your teachings.”
And what did we hear today as the response from Jesus?
It seems to be a put down,
Jesus seems to be very critical of the apostles’ faith.
It is as though Jesus is saying,
“If only you had just the least little bit of faith, you’d be fine.”
The apostles plead with the Lord for help,
and he seems to give a sarcastic answer.
There are people who are rich, like the rich man last week.
Their riches can be a roadblock to heaven,
but they just can’t take that leap of faith
that says that they will be alright
if they divest themselves of a major portion
of their riches for the good of others.
They cling to the roadblock; they may not even recognize it.
Some have difficulty with going out on the limb
that sees the good in what someone else has done.
It’s a limb that might darken their self image.
Some can’t let go of a grudge in true forgiveness of another;
letting go would be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
Some always have to be first; it seems necessary for survival.
We, like the apostles, plead, “Help us to follow your teachings.”
It is not always something within us.
It’s “out there” around us also.
We have seen the ruin of the lives of many
at the hands of those with guns, knives or other lethal weapons.
We are well aware of the destruction and violence of war.
October is Respect Life Month.
We are reminded that we have witnessed the ruin of the lives of many
at the hands of abortionists, at the hands of executioners
and at the hands of those who promote assisted suicide or euthanasia.
We have experienced the misery
of post-abortion mothers and fathers,
the misery of the friends and family of victims of capital punishment,
and the strife among families of the victims of euthanasia.
We have witnessed the clamorous discord
brought on by street crime, war, abortion, capital punishment
and by assisted suicide and euthanasia.
We question why God could allow such violence to happen.
Like the apostles, we pray, no we beg, for an increase of faith.
And we, like the apostles, hear the response that seems to say,
“Y’know, if you had just a little bit of faith, you would be fine.”
How do we understand Jesus’ response?
Let me illustrate with a story.
*It was a Sunday morning in a little chapel in South America.
As Mass was beginning, a not uncommon occurrence took place:
a band of men armed with machine guns came out of the jungle
and forced their way into the chapel.
The priest and the congregation were very afraid.
The men dragged the priest outside to be executed.
Then the leader of the group
came back into the chapel and demanded,
“Anyone else who believes in this God stuff, come forward!”
Everyone was petrified. They were frozen. There was a long silence.
Finally, one man came forward
and stood in front of the leader and said,
“I love Jesus.” He was roughly taken outside to be executed.
Several others came forward and said the same thing.
When no one else stood to be identified,
those standing were escorted out by the leader.
After the sound of machine gun fire, the leader came back in
and told the remaining congregation to get out.
“You have no right to be here!” he said,
and with that he herded all of them out,
where they were astonished
to see their pastor and the others standing.
The priest and those who stood up
were ordered back in the chapel to continue with Mass,
while the others were angrily warned to stay out.
“Until,” said the leader, “you have the courage
to stand up for your beliefs!”
and with that, the gunmen went back into the jungle.
The apostles were asking for an increase in faith;
it was as though they wanted more.
And Jesus’ response about the mustard seed was
that the amount of faith is not the important issue.
Jesus was saying that even the smallest amount of faith
is very powerful.
It is the character of the faith that is important.
Even the smallest amount of faith
put into action is very powerful.
The apostles had the right amount of faith;
they just had to put it into action.
That is what the last part of the gospel is all about,
the part about plowing, tending sheep and serving at table.
Faith gets its character by how it is put into action.
Faith must include standing up and taking action based on beliefs.
Instead of asking for more faith,
the apostles should have been asking for help, for the courage,
to put their faith into action.
This should be our petition also.
God is always there for us with the help to put our faith into action.
We all have that small seed of faith. We must use it.
If you are rich, give of your riches to those who are poor.
You will be amazed at what you can accomplish with your generosity.
Recognize the good in others, even though they may not be perfect
like you may think you are.
You will be amazed how it will help to clarify your own self image.
Open yourself to forgive those who hurt you.
Make it a win – win situation of rebuilding a relationship.
Check out being last.
It’s never a struggle to be last;
it’s a struggle always trying to stay on top.
Stand up against violence in its many forms,
especially violence that threatens innocent life.
Remember, God is standing also, right there next to you.
This is how we plow the field,
tend the sheep and serve at the table.
Faith is not a list of rules or beliefs that can be expanded.
Faith is a virtue, and, like any other virtue,
it must be put into action
A teacher once told me that faith was our response to God
who is ever inviting us into a relationship with him.
Our response to this invitation is action,
our action supported by the grace of God.
*Story taken from W.J. Bausch, “A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers” Twenty Third Publications Mystic , CT 1998 #121 p 271