Lord, increase Our Faith!

Lord, increase Our Faith!

The Feast of St. Francis is traditionally celebrated on October 4th, which was this past Friday, but we are celebrating it this morning. We remember St. Francis not only in the sermon and collect, but later in the service and later today we will have a Blessing of the Animals and a Blessing of the Cuddlies in honor of the man known for giving away all that he had and for preaching the Gospel even to the animals. One of the stories that the hagiographers tell about St. Francis is called the “story of the beggar.” As the story goes, Francis was working in the marketplace on behalf of his father, and a beggar came to him and asked for alms. Originally Francis said no because he was in the middle of a business deal, but as soon as that deal concluded, Francis left his father’s wares and ran after the beggar, and when he found him, Francis gave to the beggar everything that he had in his pockets. His friends, when they saw this, chided him and mocked him for his act of charity. When he got home, his father scolded him in rage. Most people can’t tell you his father’s name. Most people can’t tell you his friends’ names. Francis was born almost 900 years ago, but today we still remember the name of the young man who gave everything his pockets to the beggar who asked him for alms.

This story of St. Francis is often told because it exemplifies his character even at a young age. Francis was a fortunate person. He was born into a wealthy family. He was handsome, witty, gallant, and delighted in fine clothes. He spent money lavishly. But this story shows that even as a young man he was becoming disillusioned with the world around and with his own lifestyle. This disillusionment came to a head when he was sued by his father who was trying to make Francis forego his inheritance. In the middle of those legal proceedings before the Bishop of Assisi, Francis renounced his father and his patrimony, and by some accounts stripped himself naked as a sign of his renunciation, and the Bishop covered him with his own cloak. Francis wasn’t born poor; he was born rich. He chose to be poor for the sake of Christ, who he heard tell him, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house, which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

Sometimes when I hear stories like this, I think, “I don’t know that I have enough faith for that.” So, when I hear the disciples saying at the beginning of our Gospel reading, “Lord, increase our faith,” I relate to that feeling. Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like the life Jesus calls you to is beyond your capabilities? Do you ever feel like you know the thing you ought to be doing, but making that decision is just a bit too hard, just a bit beyond you? I know I do.

Take something as simple as forgiveness. My brother or sister offends, and I say, “No problem. I forgive you; I won’t hold it against you.” My brother or sister offends me again, and I say, “No problem. I forgive you; I won’t hold it against you.” My brother or sister offends me again, and I say after a long pause and a deep breath, “No problem. I forgive you; I won’t hold it against you.” And mind you, this is all on the same day. So, now, before my brother or sister can offend me again, I turn to Jesus real quick, and I say, “Jesus, how many times do I have to forgive my brother or sister in the same day?” And Jesus says, in the verses immediately proceeding our reading, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him” (Luke 17:3–4). Elsewhere Jesus is asked how many times someone should be forgiven, and he says, “Seventy times seven,” or in some translations “seventy-seven.”

And there’s a part of me that thinks, “That’s too much for me,” and the disciples felt the same way too because their response to Jesus is, “Increase our faith!” So, if you’ve ever felt like you don’t have enough faith to do the things Jesus is calling you to, know that you’re in good company with the Apostles. But Jesus’ response is fascinating. He doesn’t say, “Ok, let me wave my hand and give you more faith.” Instead, what he says is that the size of a person’s faith is irrelevant to the outcome. Your faith could be the size of the mustard seed, thought to be the smallest of seeds at the time, and you could still do the impossible.

Even with the tiniest bit of faith, you can forgive your brother or sister seven times a day because faith is like a window. Faith gives us a view out into the world through which we can see the power of our creator, redeemer, and sustainer God, and what matters so much is not how big the window is, but that you can see God at work in the world when you look through it. What matters is not the size of the window but the God who is at work in the world on the other side. Through that window that we call faith, we can see the God who created heaven and earth and everything that is and everything that we have. Through that window, we can see the God who died to redeem the world when sin kept us from being the people he created us to be. Through that window, we can see the God whose Spirit has been poured out on the church to enable the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to bring the kingdom of God to the least among us in this world.

His view through that window enabled St. Francis to forsake all that he had and follow Christ’s calling on his life. The view through that window enables us to be such a generous church. It enables us to see other people not as “the least of these” and not as someone who has offended us but as a person whom God created and for whom Jesus Christ died. There is no person you will ever meet, whether in the highest castle or in the lowest slum, for whom Christ did not give his life. And faith is our window onto the truth, and because we see through that window we can do the impossible. We can love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We can consider others as more important than ourselves. We go to the poor, sick, hungry, thirsty, naked, and imprisoned and treat them the way that we would treat Jesus Christ.

And here’s the kicker of it all. Even after we’ve done all that, we’ve looked through the window and by faith in the God we see at work in the world we’ve done the impossible, even then, we are still unworthy servants. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Luke 17:7–10).

We are Christ’s servants, called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. We are called to bring the kingdom of God to the least among us in this world. Everything we have, we have as a gift from God. None of us are worthy. None of us are deserving for the God of the universe to come down to this earth, unite himself to humanity forever, and die like a criminal upon the cross, but that’s exactly what Jesus did for every single person in this room, and, as a matter of fact, for every single person in this world. None of us are worthy of the grace that we’ve received. We are all servants, and together we look out onto the world through this window that we call faith, and what we see is God at work in this world, creating, redeeming, and sustaining, and when we join him in his work, we can do the impossible, so long as we do it by faith.



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