Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Sermon: Faith Seed and Beating Heart

http://d.christiantoday.com/en/full/52808/mustard-seeds.jpg?w=760&h=570Pentecost 22, Year C
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse,
Director of the Whitaker Institute,
Episcopal Diocese of Michigan
Sermon for October 6, 2019
Preached at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Waterford, MI

Text here
May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of all our hearts
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

Good morning, St. Andrew’s!
My name is The Rev. Vicki Hesse
and I serve as the Director of the Whitaker Institute,
the educational arm of the Diocese. 

“The Whitaker Institute activates lifelong learning!
We are the educational arm of the Bishop’s office
and our purpose is to educate, equip and empower
faith communities
with fresh ways of learning.”
Which is a lot to say in one breath!
Who here has taken a course from the Whitaker Institute? 

Our three main programs are
the Academy for Vocational Leadership
(at which Priest Jonathan is the Theology and Ethics Mentor)
Exploring Your Spiritual Journey, and Safe Church.
There are many others; perhaps y’all can join me
at the Adult Forum today to learn more. 

Now let us turn to the gospel message today.

How many of you are Downton Abbey fans?
Just a few weeks ago,
the movie version of this popular TV series was released.

Placed in England, in pre-WWI,
the Abbey of Downton profiles a family
who struggle with their place in things. 
We see their lives unfold as the characters experience
personal pain, anguish, joy and sacrifice. 
These images from the upstairs family and
the downstairs staff and servers
invite us to recognize how
we all experience the same human condition. 

In the film, the King and Queen visit Downton Abbey
during tough times. 
The family has already had to cut back on staff and servants.   
Revolving around this royal visit, the film reunites
characters from the TV show as
the Downton staff work themselves into a tizzy
getting ready for the royal visit.
There is drama in the house, and in the air:
The world is in disarray,
depression looms and
a World War has ended. 

When Lady Mary muses out loud to her personal maid
about whether she should say goodbye to it all
and leave for a new life,
Anna Bates, Lady Mary’s loyal maid,
snaps back about
the ordinary and important role
that Downton plays
for the wider community –
that small local English village.

Anna says to Mary,
‘Downton Abbey is the heart of this community
and you’re keeping it beating!’ 

I think that Mary’s musing
points to her sense of inadequacy
in the face of “it all.”

Anna reminded Mary of Mary’s stewardship
for “this place” to sustain not only
the house and occupants
but also the English village –
the community in which it is placed.

~~ ~~
And if we turn the clock back 1900 years prior,
our gospel text glimpses the disciples’
sense of inadequacies
in the face of “it all.”

“It all,” being little things like
finding lost items or lost brothers, or
not putting up stumbling blocks
and big things like
forgiving anyone who sins against you,
seeing and serving
people who are poor and suffering
right in your midst,
restoring the saltiness of your faith. 
No wonder they feel insufficient.
As they try to imagine accomplishing
any of what Jesus asks of them,
they ask for more faith.

~~ ~~
And after the week we have just had –
with political divisions[1], global trade uncertainties[2],
shootings[3], stabbings[4], injustices[5] -
I suspect that many of us
feel the same way:
inadequate to face what Jesus asks of us.

We, too, ask for more faith, just to get by,
let alone make a modicum of difference in the world.

But there is a twist (as often the case.)
When the disciples
recognize their need and ask for help,
we think that Jesus would
comfort them, re-assure them, and grant their request.
But he doesn’t! 
Instead, Jesus seems to scold them.
“If you had even a hint of faith…”
He implies that their faith isn’t even as big
as that tiniest of mustard seeds.
I mean, really,
is that any way to respond
to the disciples
in their authentic plea for help?

So what do you think they were “really” asking for?

What if the question the disciples ask
is the wrong question? 
Perhaps Jesus’ snap back
was just the cold-water-in-the-face they needed
(maybe that’s what we need?)
to reset their inner compass
to the inconceivably awesome presence of God
already around them,
the absolutely sufficient faith they already have.

When Jesus offers the story of the slaves,
he tells them of
the ordinary role that faith plays.
“…servants were not invited to the table with the landowner;
they ate when their work was done.
Nor do the servants deserve great thanks
simply for doing their job; they just do it. [6]

That’s the faith you have.
That’s the faith you need.
Simply the willingness to do what needs to be done.
Simply the hard work of faith:
·        Big proclamations and little mentions of faith.
·        Heroic rescues and daily smiles.
·        Feeding five thousands and offering a sandwich.

Jesus tells the disciples, “faith is a verb” –
it’s the heart of your lives and Jesus is keeping it beating!

That ordinary faith-work is
what Jesus has already shown the disciples
in several instances:[7]
·        With the confidence of the woman who believes,
o   if she only touches him there will be healing (3:48),
·        In a centurion’s concern for a sick servant (7:9),
·        And in a woman’s gratitude at being forgiven (7:50).

Perhaps Jesus’ cold-water response
should not surprise us.
Jesus reframes their request
by showing them an ordinary scene:
one that was played out daily
in the hard work and service of the servant
doing the servant’s job.

Faith is not found only in mighty acts of heaven;
it is found in:
·        the daily and near-invisible acts of getting life done.
·        responding to what and who shows up in front of us
·        caring for the people we meet along the way.

“Faith is not just a matter of your own strength,”
Jesus is saying,
 “it’s the Lord’s doing!
You have faith, because you have me.”

What if Jesus is telling us that
in light of what we experience in the world,
we are to go forth with our lives and do faith. 
Do the loving, forgiving, caring things.
Right here. Right now. As ordinary as they might seem.

Theologian Debie Thomas said,
Faith isn't fireworks; it's not meant to dazzle. 
Faith is simply
recognizing our tiny place
in relation to God's enormous, creative love,
and then
filling that place with our whole lives.  
Faith is duty, motivated and sustained by love.”[8]
Do you believe this?
Do you realize, Jesus would call your near-invisible acts, faith?

What are those?
·        Showing up for your grandchildren.
·        Doing a good job at work.
·        Answering the phone, listening to your friend.
·        Voting. Even when the field of candidates seems discouraging.
·        Praying for your neighbor. Even when they don’t know it.

And as I read on your website,
you “don’t just attend a Sunday service,
you live your faith inside and outside the church.”
·        Collecting food and blankets
o   for Oakland County Pet Adoption Center.
·        Hosting & assisting with the O.A.T.S annual holiday party.
·        Participating in and collecting donations for Crop Walk.
·        Collecting water and helping with
o   St. Andrew’s Flint homeless ministry.

All of them are acts of faith, for
Love is one thing
that only grows when it is given away. 

When we read the paper
and turn our attention
to ‘breaking news,’
it can seem like there is no hope. 

Yet all around us are signs
of hope, of God’s inconceivably miraculous presence
in love and care for the world,
in the simple, ordinary, even mundane acts of faith
that you are doing already.

St. Andrews:
Despite how it may feel,
you are totally enough.
Your faith is enough.

And God’s unconditional love
frees us to “faith” with grace. 
Because God’s love endures for ever. 
Because God’s love is stronger than death. 
Because nothing, “…neither death, nor life, nor angels,
nor rulers, …, nor powers, , nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[9]

God loves for who you are in your ordinary humanness,
as your faith shines light in the world
and sparks others to do so, too.

Jesus tells you, today: your faith is that verb –
Your faith is the heart of your lives
and Jesus is keeping it beating!


[1] Cited here on October 5, 2019
[2] Cited here on October 5, 2019
[3] Cited here and here on October 5, 2019
[4] Cited here on October 5, 2019
[5] Cited here on October 5, 2019
[6] Inspired by David J. Lose at http://www.davidlose.net/2016/09/pentecost-20-c-every-day-acts-of-faith/ on October 2, 2019
[7] Ibid.
[8] Offered by blogger Debie Thomas cited here on October 3, 2019
[9] Romans 8:38-39