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Increase our Faith



We hear this morning the plea of the Apostles for Him to increase or strengthen their faith. I looked at the lessons for this morning two weeks ago and saw in the lessons, including the Psalm a call to faith. If you wondered why the apostles felt the need to plead for more faith, here is the rest of the story. When we look at the verses that precede our opening verse in the gospel reading we find this:


Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent, forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith! " [Luke 17:1-5]


They did not feel capable of living up to the standard that Jesus had just set for them. If my brother sins against me seven times in a day and seven times comes back and says to me "I repent" then I should forgive him? Jesus said

"If your brother sins, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent, forgive him."


Jesus commanded his disciples, when he referred to a brother sinning against another brother. He was talking about in the fellowship of believers, there should be a constant relationship of love abounding that they would feel free enough to rebuke another brother when that brother sins against another. THEN, if the brother REPENTS, turns away from his sin, then we are COMMANDED, not suggested, but COMMANDED to forgive. NOW you see why the disciples cried out INCREASE OUR FAITH! I remember, about ten years ago crying out for the LORD to increase my faith when I came down with a virus of some sort. I found myself calling out to the Lord, like the Apostles, "Increase My faith and strengthen me to prepare to preach your word. For I felt the body aches and the sore throat and the stuffy head coming on and I asked the Lord to allow me to be healed in order to preach. I knew that he would and I only asked that he help me to feel better in order to prepare. I had faith in Him that he would take care of me just like He always has. It seems that the Apostles, like me, were asking for more faith, thinking that more faith would be better than the faith that they had. I guess, like we tend to think, that having something is good but more of it would be better. If I have $100 then $200 would be better and that does make sense. Just like having or earning $200,000 a year is a whole lot better than $50,000 a year. Jesus, however, points out to the Apostles, to you and me that it is not the amount of faith that you have but that you have faith. It is like having a little toothache as opposed to a big toothache. A toothache is a toothache! The issue is you either have it or you do not. If you have got it then you have got it. What becomes a matter of increase or strengthening is our relationship with God.


What we perceive as a loss of faith or a decrease in our faith is likely a turning away or a lessening in our relationship with God. Do you recall that poem called “Footprints"? It is about a man looking back on his life and his walk with the LORD he sees their footprints in the sand side by side. At the most difficult times, in his life there is only one set of footprints. He is quick to accuse the LORD of leaving him at the times he most desperately needed the LORD with him. The LORD reassures him that He loves him and would never leave him. Then the LORD tells him that at the most difficult times of his life the reason there is only one set of footprints is because that was when the LORD carried him. The point of the story is that the LORD is faithful and trustworthy to be with us, always. We have to maintain and strengthen our relationship with Him. This was the reason why the Prophet Habakkuk was crying out against the LORD, in our Old Testament lesson. The result of the people of Judah's failure to maintain their relationship with Yahweh God was the invasion of the nation by foreign armies and the wholesale slaughter of the people. There is no justice. Destruction and violence are everywhere, the righteous are surrounded by the wicked. This was going on within the nation of Judah, even before the arrival of the Babylonians. The people disregarded the warnings of the Prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah who told them that they would be invaded if they did not return to the LORD their God. They did not listen much less heed the words of the prophets and so on their very doorstep the marauding armies of Babylon were descending. This was not new to them for when they sinned and turned away from the LORD in the wilderness he chastised them.


So God's anger mounted against them;

he slew their strongest men

And laid low the youth of Israel.

In spite of all this, they went on sinning

And had no faith in his wonderful works. (Psalm 78: 31-32)


Throughout Psalm 78 we hear of their constant rebellion and breaking of the covenant they had with God. They had no faith in Him. It was not a case of a little faith, but no faith at all, and because they had a broken relationship with him. You might ask what has that to do with us? After all we are a Christian nation, we now know better than they and would never do that! When you look at the evening news and read the newspapers and the weekly news magazines can you honestly tell me that there is not Violence and Destruction in the land? Is not the wicked surrounding the righteous? Is not sickness and disease slaying our strongest men and laying low our youth? In spite of all this we seem not to recognize that as a nation and a culture we have turned away from the LORD our God and turned inward to ourselves and to satisfy our own selfish desires and material wants. As Christians we should be feeling like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, under siege by an invading army. I hope we have the will and determination that carried us through the Second World War, the Gulf War and 911 because we will need it. This is where faith comes in, for as Jesus said if we have faith as small as a mustard-seed meaning if we have ANY faith at all, we can cause the sycamore tree to be uprooted. In Matthew’s Gospel he says to cause a mountain to be cast into the sea. In other words, we could do the seeming impossible. What looks to us, as an impossible task is easy in the sight of God. I remember one Kairos weekend I had a man sitting at my table who I thought would not get one thing out of the weekend except to gain some weight. It was reported to us "street people" at his table that he was hard of hearing and all weekend we saw no change of expression on his face. It seemed to me that we had failed with him. Well at the closing service he got up and spoke louder than I had heard him speak all weekend and gave a stirring testimony to the effect of God's love on him. It just showed me once again that where we think things are not going, as they should they are going right along on His timetable. That prison ministry is aptly called "KAIROS" for it is indeed God's Special Time. That is why the focus should be on our relationship with God and not our faith and any increase in our faith, like it was for us to possess. We are always interested in getting more and more of something even faith in God. WE want to be able to get a handle on it, control it, and make it ours. God is a very jealous God He requires FAITH AND TRUST from his people. Faith is not something you can get or acquire, it is a Grace given by God, a free gift and completely unmerited by our own efforts. So we cannot increase faith, we can have it and then increase, strengthen or deepen our relationship with God the Father, through His Son Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. In Kairos we seek depth not surface luster so that his will and timing will be done. If you study the Bible and look over the long years of salvation history and God's relationship with those who believe in Him and who trust in Him, you will see a pattern of God moving and acting in His time.


Many of the Patriarchs, Prophets, Priests and Kings died before they saw the fulfillment of God's Promises, but they did not waver in their trust and faith in Him who they accounted worthy to believe in. They may have had doubts at times but they continued to trust Him. Even Jesus, His Son had doubts in the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane, but still he Trusted, and Trusted and Trusted right up to the Cross. This is Supernatural business we are about - there are Evil supernatural forces at work in the world to turn us away from God and His saving grace. All we have to do is Trust Him. It is not easy, by a long shot, for Jesus said that the way is narrow and the road hard that leads to Life. It does not take a lot of faith, but it takes a deep, deep awareness of God's love for you and deep relationship with Him to overcome the trials of this life to attain to eternal life. As Jesus told us in the Gospel of John when he prayed his High Priestly prayer, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." To know someone is to be in a relationship with them and to know Jesus Christ and be in relationship with Him is to Know God and have eternal life in Him. So it is not how much faith you have but your relationship with God. Because when you know Him, you have that Peace which passes all understanding. Listen closely to the Blessing at the end of this service and think about a Peace that will fill your heart and mind with the Knowledge and Love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. How can we do this? By getting to know Him through His Word and through communication with Him by Prayer. We think nothing of staying on the phone talking with our friends and getting to know them, how about staying on our knees and getting to know Him better? The more we pray, the more He wants us to pray, after all He enjoys getting to communicate with us also. He already knows us better than we know ourselves but he does want to communicate with us. The more we communicate with God the more spiritually aware we become and our relationship with him deepens. And as our relationship deepens, we have an awareness of what might be called a deeper Faith in God. We move from being just believers, to becoming followers and eventually disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us face it, if all we have done is what was commanded of us, then we are truly unworthy servants indeed, for we have only done what was our duty to do. We must strive to know Him better and increase our relationship with Him for then we will attain to eternal life. A TV news report was showing a group of skydivers jumping out of a plane and floating down to earth. All of sudden the picture went haywire. The news anchor explained that the photographer sent out to film the story had jumped out of the plane. He was filming until he reached for the D-Ring to pull the ripcord of the parachute, when he did not find it he realized he had left it on the plane. HE HAD JUMPED WITHOUT HIS CHUTE. Up to that point it was a nice trip down, because he had faith in a parachute he was not wearing. Do you not walk around pretending to have a faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you have yet to put on? Get in relationship with Jesus and have a deep, deep awareness of how much he loves you.



DOCTRINAL POINTS:


1. LIMITLESS FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS IS POSSIBLE FOR THE BELIEVER: Jesus' use of hyperbole indicates that it is not quantity but quality that is critical. What is faith? It is not magic in which human beings try to control divine power for their own ends. Rather, genuine faith is a personal relationship with a loving and forgiving God. If the disciples [themselves forgiven sinners] had faith the size of a mustard seed, even the impossible would be possible.


2. A HUMBLE SERVANT RECOGNIZES THE DEPTH OF HIS INDEBTEDNESS TO GOD: The parable Jesus uses pictures a servant who does double duty. He plows, keeps sheep, prepares supper and waits table, all ministerial terms for Christians of Luke's community. No master would say to the slave, "Allow me!" He need not be grateful to the servant who is just doing his duty. Humble servants are to put into action the little faith they have and they will do great things. In the end all is a gift and there is no room for boasting.



APPLICATION/DISCUSSION: Br. Clark Berge, SSF, is a member of the Society of St. Francis, and the Guardian of Little Portion Friary in Mt. Sinai, NY;


"Increase our faith!" the disciples say to Jesus in this morning's Gospel. Jesus replies with the parable of the mustard seed (Luke 17:6). A little faith can have a huge impact. These are encouraging words to people in small congregations, small religious communities around the world, because small numbers of faithful people can make a big difference in the world. Yet when numbers are down, or when we feel overwhelmed by life's odds, many feel they are failures. Today is a good time to examine our thoughts and feelings about being like the mustard seeds in God's dominion. Jesus' words are meant to encourage his disciples. The message of faith's victory is consistent in the Bible. The Scriptures are full of examples of the potency or strength of small groups of faithful people, and the power of small or insignificant people.

Being part of a small group in the church or world does not mean that that group or individual is missing something. Smallness is in many ways a gift. Small groups can take on tasks or living situations that are outside the scope of larger institutions: small groups of Christians living in neighborhoods that are predominantly non-Christian can witness to the power of Christ in a different way. Small groups of concerned Christians can embrace social outcasts, showing the love of God in a particular place and time. Change in our churches and other social institutions generally comes from the fringe, a dedicated minority that won't go away; the embrace of the church has become more generous, more inclusive over the years because of the voices and experience of little people on the edge with great faith.

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