Pentecost 19C, 2010
Luke 17: 5-10
A Liturgy is also available
...AND HE SAID: ‘UNLEASH THE FAITH YOU ALREADY HAVE’
When social commentator Hugh Mackay was writing for various newspapers
I always tried to read and reflect on them.
Indeed, I collected them for some years.
And still have much of his ‘newspaper’ wisdom.
In one of those columns (a few year's back now) he wrote:
“A survey published… by Edith Cowan University has revealed the depth of the Australian paradox. See how chirpy, sports mad and easy going we all are? Well, yes, but see how anxious and insecure we are, too”. (Sun-Herald, 26 Sept. 2004. Pg: 82).
And politicians wanting to be re-elected (or elected), tend to play on that sense of anxiety.
Indeed, they count on us wanting to seek out security and comfort,
rather than risking the so-called stresses and challenges of change.
Be it about so-called illegal boat people,
work-place relations, or
Similarly, Luke the storyteller has the disciples of Jesus
in the first part of today’s reading, making a ‘comfort’ or ‘security’ request of him:
make our faith greater.
But, the storyteller says, Jesus’ replies:
unleash, expend, use... the faith you already have.
Faith is a style by which life and work are done.
It's not a fossile fuel, that must be hoarded and marketed.
It’s a way of seeing and a way of being (GGallop Web site, 2001).
Reflecting on my own religious journey, I know there have been times - several years ago now -
when I have understood ‘faith’ as a collection of knowledge,
beliefs, affirmations, and memorised Bible verses.
Looking back, I believe I probably understood ‘faith’
as something that could be measured by volume.
If I studied hard or worked diligently or impressed my Sunday school teacher,
I could increase my faith.
Imagine my surprise later in life as I read the writings of Henry Nelson Wieman,
my theology mentor, who said: “(faith) is not a verbal statement. It is a way of life”.
And Andrew Greeley, poet, priest and sociologist:
“There is no such thing as a little faith anymore than there is a little pregnancy. Faith is an overwhelming power no matter how weak it may seem”.
They didn’t say anything about a set of beliefs or affirmations...
even though honest theological thinking is important.
They didn’t say anything about providing answers to a set of questions...
even though an intelligent religion is more healthy than an unbelievable one.
They didn’t say anything about shooting God into the hearts of others
we so often experience in the words of many evangelical Christians...
Rather, their comments invite us to recognise and acknowledge the presentness of God already there!
From a study of 'historical' Jesus it seems he recognised the presence of faith in the most unlikely of places.
For faith is an action rather than a commodity.
And in most cases it is an action, a launching out, a moving on against
what appears to be overwhelming odds.
I like New Testament scholar Brandon Scott’s comment:
“Theology can never begin by assuming that it already has the answer. Any theology that does not begin with radical doubt is basically
dishonest” (Scott 2003).
For where there is radical doubt, there is also the possibility
of new beginnings, of imagination, of hope.
Of change. Because as philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said:
Life refuses to be embalmed alive!
But this is only the first part of today’s story.
The second part – the bit about slaves or servants – jars our 21st century sensibilities.
Indeed, this saying by Luke reflects the social conservatism of Christianity
around the end of the first century and the beginning of the second.
For it is also from this same period that we get
the psuedo-Pauline Pastoral Epistles - Timothy and Titus - with their household codes
that exhort Christians to reflect proper respect to those above them in the social order:
wives to husbands,
children to fathers,
slaves to masters.
In these collections as in this Lukan saying
the radical vision of Jesus has given way to the collective instinct that
traditional values should not be challenged (Jenks. FaithFutures web site, 2010).
And once again the link between the story and the saying can be found
in the contemporary call of politicians wanting to be elected or re-elected,
with their claims for "family values" and faith-based engagement in party politics.
Greg Jenks, Australian progressive biblical scholar, asks:
Are Gospel values to be found in historical expressions of human society,
or in a prophetic critique of any and every human institution
that claims ultimate value? (Jenks. FaithFutures web site, 2010)
“Conservatives opposed to homosexuality appeal to the Bible as if it provided timeless truths free of the cultural conditioning of its authors and original audiences. To their chagrin, progressives also appeal to the counter-cultural instinct of the faith tradition that birthed the Bible in the first place…"
But he goes on to make what I reckon is this important comment:
“The Bible does not serve either side well in such disputes. It is a flawed text insofar as it assumes and promotes such things as slavery, demon possession, ethnic cleansing, racial superiority, a three-tiered universe, and the subordination of women. Such realities should be an embarrass- ment to traditionalists and progressive alike. The Bible does not fit neatly with our cultural assumptions… The immense spiritual value of the Bible may lie more in its capacity to empower our human quest than its ability to (re)solve our immediate challenges” (Jenks. FaithFutures web site, 2010).
We find out what life is all about through the living of it.
We are always becoming.
To be alive is to be becoming.
And this is what faith is all about:
a way of living, an attitude, a vision, that creates us daily.
Like good cheese or good wine, a matured faith is a gradually maturing process.
So even if your faith is like a small seed particle
you have within your grasp a potent life force.
Scott, B. B. 2003. “Father knows best! Where is fundamentalism taking us? In private circulation from the author.