Sermon Proper 22 (27) Year C 2007
October 7, 2007 World Communion Sunday
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
Rev. Tripp Hudgins, preacher
Luke 17:5-10; Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Reaching Out to Reach In
"O Lord, increase my faith!" Show me how to love. Make me love you more. Make me more faithful! You can do it! I want to be more faithful.
What a response from Jesus.
First, he tells the disciples that they don't have much faith (if any) in the first place.
"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."
Let me tell you a little something about faith, says Jesus. The disciples and the others gathered to listen are missing the point entirely. So he offers up a metaphor about slavery and the expectations of the landowners. He equates these expectations with the expectations of God.
Just do what your told. Feed the hungry. Clothe the poor. Do justice. Love mercy. Pray. Sing. Be obedient. When you gather, do this in remembrance of me. There are no strokes in it for you. There is no reward here in it for you. There is no praise to be had here. Not now. If you want faithfulness, know your place first. Be fully obedient to God. Be a slave.
Sisters and brothers, I promise you that this kind of word was as popular in Jesus' day as it is now.
They were slaves. The people in Jesus' company were struggling under the weight of an occupying empire. Their lives were shaped by stories of slavery in Egypt and of exile in Babylon. Why would anyone wish to be a slave?
We say we want faith. We say we want to be closer to God. But then God comes along and says: "Great. Leave all you have and follow me." Or, as in today's reading, "Fabulous! Be my slave."
"Perhaps," we say to ourselves, "God did not understand the request." What Jesus offers is not a popular notion. I don't think it ever was. I am not sure it ever will be.
We want to be moved. We want "meaningfulness" and high emotions. We thrive off of our sense of satisfaction. We are motivated by such emotions. And we should be. But the emotions don't always come. Experience does not always motivate. Worship services don't always move us. Often we are simply more aware of God's absence than we are of God's presence.
Mother Teresa has been in the news a lot lately. The letters she wrote to her confessor are being published. People in various circles have been astounded to discover that Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced long spiritual droughts, dark nights of the soul. In spite of her tremendous work and the accolades she received from a variety of communities, she still did not feel God's presence. She wrestled like any sane person would.
How can God allow so much suffering? Where is the justice? Where is the mercy? Where is God? Like Habakkuk did so long ago, she cried "Violence!"
What is actually revealed in these letters to her confessor is her surprising faithfulness. As much as we may find ourselves hung up on this proclaimed absence, what these letters underscore is her deep faithfulness in God, her obedience.
She did as she was told with no promises of reward, with no sense of God's presence. She was faithful. She was a servant. She was a slave. This is what it can look like. This is what makes her such a great example. In the end, faithfulness is about obedience and not about the "experience of the divine." The apostles in Luke were in the presence of God incarnate and they still had the questions, the darkness, the struggles. Mother Teresa's experience and example have a scriptural foundation in verses like the one we encounter this morning from Luke and in Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was an interesting person. He's one of my favorites. But I have a bias, you see. Habakkuk was a 7th Century B.C. Temple prophet. This means that his prophetic ministry was shaped and given context by the public worship of God's chosen people, Israel. Liturgy and prophetic witness. Yeah, I'm biased.
Habakkuk is giving voice to the frustrations of a nation. The Babylonians are bearing down on Jerusalem. God is silent. There stands Habakkuk in the Temple and God is silent. The Temple was God's house. God cannot remain silent while powerful people and their armies take what they want whenever they want. Right? Well, this is Habakkuk's question.
1:2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? 1:3 Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 1:4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-- therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
Habakkuk sees injustice but he does not see God. He and Mother Teresa are in good company. Likely we can all relate to this. We all experience moments of disillusionment and sometimes in dramatic ways, horrific ways.
This time last year we were all in awe and horror at the news of the school shooting in an Amish community. We were horrified that something like this could happen. And we were in awe at the response by the Amish people. They proclaimed love, love of the perpetrator of the crime, love of his family, and love for their own children. When questioned about this response, the leaders of the Amish community stated that they are commanded to love. Their proclaimed love is an act of obedience.
This love was not a denial of the horrors of that day. They professed grief, rage, and remorse. But their guiding light was their willingness, their choice, to be obedient to Christ's commandment: "Love your enemy." In the reporting at least, no one said that they did this because it made them feel good. They were simply obedient.
This is the kind of obedience that Christ asks of us. This is the depth of faith that is asked of us. It is the faith of an Amish community. It is the faith of Mother Teresa. It is the faith of Habakkuk.
What is tremendous about this faithfulness is that it is entirely centered upon other people. This faithfulness does not actually lead us to some escapist place, or to some sectarian sense of Christian community. Look at the examples we have been given. This kind of faithfulness leads us outward into the world. It takes us out of the communities that we know and are comfortable with and encourages us to reach beyond ourselves.
By being faithful as Jesus suggests, we will perform miracles...perform impossible acts like replanting mulberry trees in the sea.
We will feed and clothe and make room in our hearts for the poorest of the poor like Mother Teresa.
We will walk out of our homes and visit our enemies, comforting their wives and children, and ask how we can be of service to them.
We will proclaim a vision of God's righteousness to all the world that will echo through the ages. It has been almost three thousand years and Habakkuk's words still ring out.
2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 2:3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 2:4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Jesus says "My yoke is easy. And my burden is light."
We will be called to be obedient...to be taken out of our comfort zones and do impossible things, miraculous things with mulberry trees, or our friends, neighbors, the poor, the needy, and the powerful...
People will be drawn to us because we first go to them. We will reach out in faith. And by so doing we will reach in, discovering deep wells of faithfulness and a church community shaped by growth and an increasing sense of God's presence.
We can live by faith.
Thanks be to God.