Sunday, October 3, 2010

19 Pentecost

October 3, 2010

Luke 17.5-10

+ I know it’s a strange thing for a priest to say (among the many, many other things you’ve heard me say) but….I love to read all the latest literature on atheism. It’s all fascinating to me. Whether it be Richard Dawkins best-selling book The God Delusion or Sam Harris’ End of Faith, or even the classics such as Bertrand Russell’s, Why I am not a Christian, or even the Essentialist philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre or Albert Camus, I actually do enjoy reading such books. Maybe it’s because I can actually understand atheism to some extent. I, of course, am a very committed Christian who believes deeply and firmly in my faith in God and in Jesus. But, I also can understand how people doubt. I doubt too. I hope we all doubt at times because doubt is important to faith. We need to doubt occasionally. After all, as I often say, Jesus doesn’t want us to be mindless robots. And doubt shows that we are not robots. Doubt shows that we are rational, thinking human beings who are given the gift to make balanced decisions about our faith.

Now, of course, there are people who think I am crazy to even suggest that something like doubt is a good thing. This past week, I was at a very conservative Roman Catholic store in town here and was having a lively discussion with the young girl behind the counter. She was very intrigued by me—this progressive-minded Anglo-Catholic priest who believed many of the things she did, but who also did not believe in many of the things she held dear. However, in the midst of our discussion about our respective churches, I said to her, “Well, no doubt there are things about your church you don’t agree.” She stopped and the smile fell from her face and very seriously she said to me: “There is nothing about the Roman Catholic that I disagree with.”

For her, her faith is 100% strong and sturdy. For me, I can’t say the same. I do doubt occasionally—and let me tell you, I do doubt especially the organization called the Church on several occasions, even despite the fact that I am a uniform-wearing representative of that organization. And when it comes to my faith, there are some days better than others. Some days I do feel pretty convinced about what I believe. But other days, I doubt certain things. And that’s all right too.

“Increase our faith!” the apostles ask Jesus in today’s Gospel. And two thousand years later, we—Jesus’ disciples now—are still asking him to essentially do that for us as well. It’s an honest prayer. We want our faith increased. We want to believe more fully than we do. We want to believe in a way that will eliminate doubt, because doubt is so…uncertain. It is a sometimes frightening place to explore. And we are afraid that with little faith and a lot of doubt, doubt will win out. We are crying out to Jesus—like those first apostles—for more than we have. But Jesus—in that way that Jesus does—turns it all back on us. He tells us that we shouldn’t be worrying about increasing our faith. We should rather be concerned about the mustard seed of faith that we have right now.

Think of that for a moment. Think of what a mustard seed really is. It’s one of the smallest things we can see. It’s a minuscule thing. It’s the side of a period at the end of a sentence or a dot on a lower-case i. It’s that small. Jesus tells us that with that little bit of faith—that small amount of real faith—we can tell a mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea.” In other words, those of us who are afraid that a whole lot of doubt can overwhelm that little bit of faith have nothing to worry about. Because even a little bit of faith—even a mustard seed of faith—is more powerful than an ocean of doubt. A little seed of faith is the most powerful thing in the world, because that tiny amount of faith will drive us and push us and motivate us to do incredible things. And doing those things, spurred on and nourished by that little bit of faith, does make a difference in the world.

Occasionally we do need to ask ourselves: what do we need to get to heaven? And the answer is not what we expect. It’s easy for us to think: the big things are what get us to heaven. Must we believe everything and then somehow t will all be made clear to us? Must be we do things other people can see—or the things God—way up there—can see? No. Not at all.

The things that win us our salvation are the small things. The thing that wins us our salvation is our faith. And all it takes is faith the size of a mustard seed. Even if we have 99% of doubt and 1% of faith, that 1% wins out over the rest, again and again.

We are going to doubt. We are going to sometimes gaze into that void and have a hard time seeing, for certain—without any doubt—that God truly is there. And that’s all right to do. But if we still go on loving, if we still go on serving, if we still go on trying to bring the sacred and holy into our midst and into this world even in the face of that 99% of doubt, that is our mustard seed of faith at work. That is what it means to be a Christian. That is what loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves does. It furthers the Kingdom of God in our midst, even when we might be doubting that there is even a Kingdom of God.

Now, yes, I understand that it’s weird to hear a priest get up here and say that atheists and agnostics and other doubters can teach us lessons about faith, But I think God does work in that way sometimes. I have no doubt that God can increase our faith my any means necessary, even despite our doubts. I have no doubt that God can work even in the mustard-sized faith found deep within someone who claims to be an atheist. And if God can do that in the life and example of an atheist, imagine what God can do in our lives—in us, who are committed Christians who stand up every Sunday in church and profess our faiths in the Creed we are about to recite together.

So, let us cultivate that mustard-sized faith inside us. Let’s not fret over how small it is. Let’s not worry about weighing it on the scale against the doubt in our lives. Let’s not despair over how small it is. Rather, let us realize that even that mustard seed of faith within us can do incredible things in our lives and in the lives of those around us. And in doing those small things, we all are bringing the Kingdom of God into our midst.


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