3rd October 2010 - "Increase our Faith"

Diane Whittaker - St Michael's, Woolmer Green and All Saints', Datchworth
Luke 17 v5-10

The disciples said to the Lord – increase our faith.

How often do we pray like that?

It seems sometimes in our life as Christians that we have very little faith – we are hanging on by our fingernails to a precipice of unbelief!

Reading the Church Times this week, I re-found a story that I heard a while ago -

There was a tourist walking in the Lake District. He fell over a precipice. As he plummeted down, he grabbed the branch of a small tree. He looked up and desperately called out, “Help! Help! If there is anyone up there, help! The divine cloud appeared, the angelic choir sang, and a voice from Heaven said: “I am here. I will help you. Let go of the branch, and I will send the holy angels to hold you safe in my supporting arms. Have faith, let go.” The lad looked up, looked down to the jagged rocks below, looked up again, and asked: “Is there anyone else up there?!”

In the end, though there isn’t anyone else up there!

Increase our faith, Lord

And Jesus response – if you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could….

Hmm – that doesn’t seem at first hearing very helpful either. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of moving trees anywhere by faith seems rather unlikely.

I haven’t noticed any flying trees recently!!

BUT the English treatment of the Greek original is not very satisfactory – it misses some of the sense of the construction of the sentence Jesus uses in reply to his disciple’s request. It has more the sense of ‘If you have faith, and you do have, then you can….

That helps a little – the disciples are being reassured rather than challenged.

But I still don’t see any trees flying around!

What we must also bear in mind is that Jesus had a love of exaggeration – remember the camel and the eye of the needle? It was a way of getting a point across.

You don’t need more faith – you need to remember that the faith you have is in a great God, who can and will give you all you need to do the tasks he has waiting for you.

So – we don’t need to ask for more faith, just remember that we believe in a mighty God who in the final analysis is entirely dependable. This is what Paul is saying in his letter to Timothy, when he is urging him to hold on to the faith that he has received. Paul trusts in God that his faith is not misplaced, and that God will give him all he needs to endure – so too must Timothy place his trust in God – so too must we.

We also don’t need to do marvellous and showy things to prove our faith in God – so flying trees are not required.

What is required of us is a commitment to do all that God requires of us, as the parable Jesus tells his disciples underlines.

The master does not reward his slave for doing his work – the slave is expected to work – there is no sense of earning any favours.

So too with us, we must quietly get on with our Christian lives with no expectation of reward.

That sounds a bit dreary, doesn’t it – but I’m not saying that we won’t be rewarded many times over by our loving God, who wants to heap good things upon us – just that we must not have the attitude ‘I’ve been a good obedient Christian, therefore God will reward me’ It doesn’t work like that.

As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, we can do all the heroic things we like, but if we have not love, we are nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Similarly, nothing we can do can earn us God’s grace – it is a gift freely given to us.

That doesn’t mean to say that we can just sit back and bask in God’s love, because if we are truly members of God’s family then we must of our very nature work with and for God to further the work of his Kingdom here on earth.

So it doesn’t matter that we feel we haven’t enough faith, it doesn’t matter that we feel that we can never be good enough. We need to remember that the little mustard seed of our faith is enough for God to use to enable his work to be done in this world.