SERMON 10/6/19 Pentecost 17C Proper 22 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church

faithHabakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Doubt and Faith

It should not surprise you that I am a liturgical traditionalist and that I love the hymnody and traditions of the Episcopal Church.  I have a little secret to share with you. I do love Christian music that you may not hear played on Sunday mornings, and at one time, I played guitar and drums in a band at the parish that sent us to seminary.  Specifically, I have loved the music by a band called Third Day, and their songs strike a spiritual chord in me, which I cannot explain.

Maybe it is the strong voice of the lead singer, who has been influenced by artists like Rich Mullins, or groups like U2 and Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Maybe it is the way the band weaves into their southern rock genre, deeply stirring, spiritually passionate, and emotionally striking lyrics.  Several years ago, I was struggling with my faith, and one night I heard the band’s song “Cry Out to Jesus” for the first time.  It touched emotions in me that I could not explain.  The chorus of the song is:

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
And love for the broken heart
And there is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing

He’ll meet you wherever you are

Cry out to Jesus.

Yes, in my desperate state that night I cried out to Jesus, and every time I hear that song today, it brings tears to my eyes.  Like me, I bet many of you in this journey of faith have wanted to just walk away and go back to the way life was before.  I bet there have been times that you have wanted to cry out to Jesus, but the answers you hoped for did not come.  Look at us though, here we are today still coming to the church, still seeking answers, still looking for hope, rest, love, grace, and forgiveness.

God has been faithful to us in the dark times, always providing us with just enough faith, to keep us on the path and not allow us to stray too far away.  Nonetheless, we still think having faith is based on NOT having any doubts, about never straying from the path, and never thinking of quitting.  We forget that doubt and uncertainty is at the core of this journey of faith.

Those early disciples had doubts and they struggled to believe Jesus.  Many of them abandoned him when he was arrested.  Only a few were with him at the crucifixion, and even after they saw him raised from the dead, they did not fully believe.  Thanks be to God, something happened in their lives, the power of the Holy Spirit touched them deeply and they let go of what held them back from being vulnerable to the overwhelming power of God’s grace.  We are here today because a rag-tag band of followers decided to have faith even when they felt they only had a speck of faith.

Faith and Trust

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”   Many of us are like them and say, “I sure wish I had more faith,”  but I think we may be confused about what faith really is, and what it is not.  Some think faith is a list of doctrines, practices, or they even believe faith is an affiliation with a religious organization. Webster defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”  Faith is really trusting in God.

Webster defines trust as a “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.”  Faith is trusting and having confidence in God.  The Apostle Paul understood what faith really is.  He encouraged young Timothy to live in faith as he did, when he wrote these words, “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”   Thinking of faith as trust, we hear the apostles ask for Jesus’ help this way, “Increase our trust in you.”    So, were they asking Jesus to prove himself, because they really did not fully trust him yet?

I wonder what we all need from Jesus in order for him to increase our trust in him.  Maybe we hope for a miraculous sign to prove his identity.  Maybe we hope he would overthrow the afflictions in our lives to demonstrate what is really possible.  Maybe we trust in ourselves too much, and rely on what we are able to accomplish all alone.  If we must trust in our own abilities then, there is no room to trust the One, in whom all things are possible.  We need to ask ourselves daily, “Do we really trust Jesus all the time, even when doubt creeps in, and when all around us is falling apart?”

Faith in Bad Times; Faith in Good Times

A verse from the song “Cry Out to Jesus” goes like this, “And to all of the people with burdens and pains, keeping you back from your life, you believe that there’s nothing and there is no one, who can make it right.”  It is easy to trust Jesus when all around us is going our way, when we are filled with happiness, and when we are on top of the world, but what about when everything falls apart.  Trusting Jesus is not so easy “for the marriage that’s struggling just to hang on, for the ones who can’t break the addictions and chains, for the widow who struggles with being alone, when you’re lonely and it feels like the whole world is falling on you.”  Trusting Jesus is not easy when unexpected circumstances make careers fade away, when money gets tight and income disappears, when the doctor shares news we did not expect, when we are betrayed by friends or colleagues, when we are ready to give up, when we feel like failures, or when past hurts that we have experienced keep raising their ugly heads.  We need to trust Jesus both in good times and in the bad.  Trust does not come easy, but trust is possible if we decide to break down the walls and barriers that block our hearts to the grace and mercy of Christ.  In our despair, we need to humble ourselves and cry out to the one who is faithful in all things, whose presence will change every circumstance into opportunities for healing and mercy.

The key to trusting Jesus in the bad times is to release our need for control, and to reject the idea that we really are the ones in charge of our lives.  We must seek God’s help in earnest.  In the words of the song I love, “When you’re lonely and it feels like the whole world is falling on you, you just reach out, you just cry out to Jesus.”  In our desperation, in our loss, in our fear, in our hopelessness, we must turn our hearts to the one who is the only one to bring us comfort, because no matter where we find ourselves in this life, “He’ll meet you wherever you are.” Jesus shows up even if the only trust we can muster up is a speck as small as that tiny mustard seed you received on your way into church (tonight) this morning.

Faith of a Mustard Seed

Jesus said, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  Jesus’ metaphor for the low bar of trust we need is described by the tiniest of seeds.  The mustard seed when planted grows into a wild and wooly bush that overtakes all the ground around it.  That is all we need folks to follow Jesus; just a little trust. We need mustard seed faith because as the Third Day song tells us, when we begin to trust Jesus even through our tears and doubts:

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
And love for the broken heart
And there is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing

He’ll meet you wherever you are.

I would be lying to you if I were to tell you that I never have doubts, that I never want to give up, and that I stand before you with absolute certainty every day.  The truth is that we all struggle with faith, but our faith is not all up to just us. We need to forget the myth that in order to be a faithful follower of Jesus, we have to accomplish grand acts of service doing everything of which, others expect from us to do.  Remember, there is no holy tally sheet somewhere keeping track of what you do for Jesus.

We need to forget the myth that faith is a life of having no doubts at all and the measure of your discipleship is based on absolute certainty.  Remember, there is no penalty for living in doubt sometimes, especially when everything around you is falling apart. If we really want to be faithful Christians, then we must start somewhere and that somewhere is only trusting Jesus just a little bit.

Each of you received a tiny mustard seed when you came into the sanctuary today.  Some of you may have lost it in the hustle and bustle of the service.  Sometimes we lose our mustard seed faith in the hustle and bustle of life and troubles of life.  Please remember that when you come together with sisters and brothers in the faith, there is always an ample supply of mustard seed faith right here.  So, when we you feel like walking away, when life overwhelms you, when faith seems allusive and far away, just open your heart, grab that little mustard seed of trust, which you should carry with you each day.  In other words, when you have just a mustard seed faith in those dark times of life, you will discover God’s grace, God’s solace and peace that is, when you are allow yourself to “Cry out to Jesus.”

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