October 6

Living Faith

By Marsh Chapel

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2 Timothy 1:1-14

Luke 17:5-10

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Faith and Fear

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” They do so emphatically. Enthusiastically. Or perhaps fearfully. At the very least, we know the translators ended this statement with an exclamation point: “Increase our faith!”

In order to understand why the apostles would make such a demand, it’s important to understand the context of this scripture passage. The lectionary lets us down a bit because it starts this scene in media res, in the middle of the action. Jesus has already begun addressing the apostles when this week’s reading from Luke starts. Immediately before their request for more faith, Jesus tells the disciples that they must not become stumbling blocks for others and forgive those who sin against them if they are repentant, even if those people repeatedly sin against them. The disciples draw a logical conclusion: if they are to be so forgiving, so full of love, then they must also have more faith. They turn to Jesus and say, “Increase our faith!”

The disciples want to do better. They want to be Jesus’ followers in the best way possible. To them, if only they could increase their faith, they would be able to follow Jesus’ commands. They could heal more people. They could evangelize more effectively. They could care more, love more, and forgive more. They don’t think that their faith is adequate to meet such demands. Whomever can forgive and forgive and forgive again must be someone who is brimming with faith.

But Jesus points out to the apostles that it isn’t a specific amount of faith that makes faithful actions possible. Faith the size of a mustard seed – a very tiny amount of faith – has the ability to do miraculous things. It can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the ocean. Mulberry trees infamously have very intricate and complex root systems, making them difficult to move. Also Jesus says that the bush will be planted in the sea. Not thrown into the sea, but planted, where one would assume, it would continue to grow. So, not only would a mustard-seed sized faith allow for the movement of something that seems immoveable, but also its flourishing in a new place. This mustard seed-sized faith is very powerful.

We all have moments when we think our faith can’t be enough. Moments when we are faced with a task, an interaction, some “thing” that we don’t think we can do. Trust me, after years of slogging through academic work for a PhD, there were plenty of moments when I threw up my hands and said “I can’t do it!” We tell ourselves and others that if only we had more time, more experience, more confidence, we could do what is asked of us. Maybe we find ourselves in a place of fear about what is to come or what we don’t know. We think ourselves incapable of finding the wherewithal to face an uncertain future or outcome.  Doubt and fear are the opposite of faith. Fear prevents us from moving forward. Fear tells us that we’re not good enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re incapable.

The point that Jesus makes is that it is not the size of one’s faith that matters but how and whether it is used properly. One’s faith is not a private matter. Faith in God is the foundation for all of our interactions in the world. Faith is relational. Faith is a commitment. Faith requires trust and love. Faith that only resides within a person as a private means of belief in God, but that does not spur them to action, is like having no faith at all. Martin Luther reminds us that while we are justified by faith alone, sola fide, faith is never alone in practice. It must be accompanied by works of love. We must have an active, living faith if we are to follow Jesus. The task of the disciples and for all of us is to allow our faith to overcome our fears in doing what we need to do in the world.
Sometimes, also, it’s that our faith requires us to do things that we don’t want to do. We resist those things that feel too difficult. We fail to speak up in unjust situations. We avoid interaction with those with whom we disagree. We refuse to forgive because we don’t think the other party is worthy of forgiveness. We live in a time when divisions run deep and instead of listening and trying to understand one another, we rush to judge or dismiss on the basis of who we perceive people to be. Our tendencies toward self-preservation and egoism prevent us from experiencing the empathy needed to genuinely share our faith with others.

Jesus cautions against doing works in anticipation of reward with his set of sentences in this reading, however. The actions we do through faith are what is expected of us. We should not anticipate special rewards for doing what we are called to be and do in the world. Jesus’ imagery is jolting for us who live in a context which still suffers the consequences of a history of slavery. To us, one person being enslaved to another is abhorrent. In Jesus’ context, this was not the case. The point that Jesus makes in this description of the slave and master relationship is that we should not expect special rewards or treatments for the things that we are expected to do. The language may be difficult for us to hear, especially depicted in the slave/master relationship, but it is important to recognize that the things we do in faith are things that we ought to do. We may not be uprooting mulberry trees with our commands, but our faith guides every interaction we have on a daily basis.

World Communion Sunday and Our Faith

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday. In this yearly liturgical tradition we recall how we are all joined together in the Body of Christ no matter our denominations, our backgrounds and cultures, our places of origin. We join together in sharing Holy communion. The act of communion, of eating and drinking, reminds us of our relationships with the Holy Trinity and the world around us.

This week, preeminent Christian Social Ethicist, theologian, and church historian, Dr. Gary Dorrien gave the Lowell lecture at BU’s school of theology. Dorrien described how the field of Social Ethics within the Christian tradition did not exist prior to the late 19th, early 20th century. Social ethicists asserted that Christians must consider the social structures that create sin in the world and look for communal solutions to such problems. The Industrial Revolution created new challenges including addressing factory workers’ wellbeing and safety, child labor, and urban poverty. The realities of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and forced migration to reservations created an unjust society in which those who were perceived as an “other” conflicted with the Christian vision of a world filled with justice and righteousness.

Focusing on the Black and White Social Gospel movements of the early 20th century, Dorrien also made mention of the growth of the ecumenical movement during this time period. Organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches, which would later become the National Council of Churches, formed to provide unified statements aimed at shifting corrupt practices by corporations and building social welfare for all people. One thing that Dorrien pointed out in his presentation is that instead of representatives from different denominations coming together to discuss theological ideas, such as the nature of God or the meaning behind the sacraments, they instead focused on how the Christian faith could actively address problems within societies. The living faith of Christians brought them together to see past theological differences in the interest of assisting those in need. Joining together to create statements and movements for better pay, better working conditions, immigration reform, and racial justice was a unifying force that then lead to deeper understanding between denominations. The result is that many of our Mainline Protestant Denominations in the US now share full communion with one another, allowing for leadership, worship, and cooperation across theological differences.

World Communion Sunday also developed out of the burgeoning ecumenical movements of the 20th century. Today, our relationships with the global community take a much different form than they did in 1933 when the first World Communion Sunday was held. We are more connected to our global neighbors. It is easier now to learn about and observe how people around the world live, work, and experience the world. And yet, we still encounter some of the same challenges that the world experienced in 1933. Political rhetoric that alienates us from one another, the rise of nationalism throughout the world, and corruption and monopolization within corporations seem all too familiar for those of us familiar with world history. Add on to those issues deteriorating ecosystems, massive global economic inequality, and increasing tensions between nations and it might feel like our faith can do very little to address all of the challenges of the present moment.

On a day like today, however, it is important for us to take a moment to reflect on what our faith requires of us. In the reading from Second Timothy, we hear the letter writer, identified as Paul, encouraging Timothy to stay committed to his faith despite the challenges he might face. The faith Timothy shares with his mother and grandmother is “not a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” We must also heed these words. While the global challenges we face today may seem insurmountable, our faith lived out through our actions of love grounded in Christ can lead us to create change and understanding in our world.

I have hope despite the fact that there are so many challenges facing us today. Maybe it’s because I get to encounter future leaders from all over the world on a regular basis. The next generation who is entering into their young adulthood now see the mistakes of the past and feel energized to address those problems. If you need proof of this, look no further than Nobel Peace prize winner, Malala, who fights for equal access to education regardless of gender,  or climate activist Greta Thunberg, who addressed the United Nations in an impassioned speech two weeks ago; Dreamer activists who continue to fight for immigration reform; or the students of Parkland, FL who organized the March for our Lives gun reform activism that increased voter registration and turnout for the last election. It’s important that many of these voices are from people under the age of 25. Their voices carry hopes for the future of our country and the world in which there is more justice and less violence, more care and less destruction, more acceptance and less ignorance. This week, Marsh Chapel will host a conversation regarding LGBTQ affirmation in the Korean church entitled “God Loves Me. Period. A talk on Queerness, Koreaness, and Church.” This is just one example in our midst of the next generation of the church seeking to affirm the dignity and wellbeing of all people. Moving forward, the church must also become more receptive to differences, finding opportunities to engage people of different faiths to create a just and sustainable world.

United Methodist Elder, artist, and author Jan Richardson offers a reflection for World Communion Sunday that reminds us of the gifts of coming together in community. On her website, The Painted Prayerbook, her poem “And the Table Will Be Wide” accompanies her artwork entitled “The Best Supper.” A play on words of the Last Supper, the image is of a circular table from above with people from all nationalities (and one cat!) sharing a meal together. In the center of the table are loaves of bread, representing different types found around the world. Some of the people depicted hold glasses of wine high, others embrace their neighbors. Listen now to Richardson’s words in “And the Table Will be Wide”:

And the table

will be wide.

And the welcome

will be wide.

And the arms

will open wide

to gather us in.

And our hearts

will open wide

to receive.

And we will come

as children who trust

there is enough.

And we will come

unhindered and free.

And our aching

will be met

with bread.

And our sorrow

will be met

with wine.

And we will open our hands

to the feast

without shame.

And we will turn

toward each other

without fear.

And we will give up

our appetite

for despair.

And we will taste

and know

of delight.

And we will become bread

for a hungering world.

And we will become drink

for those who thirst.

And the blessed

will become the blessing.

And everywhere

will be the feast.[1]

At God’s Holy table we all are welcome, no matter where we come from. At God’s Holy table, there is enough to feed our spiritual needs. At God’s Holy table, we are able to free ourselves from those things that cause fear and trust in the power of the Divine that permeates all. At God’s Holy table we are reminded of the promises of Jesus and our commitments to enact our faith in the world. At God’s Holy table our mustard seed faith germinates. Amen.

-Dr. Jessica Chicka, University Chaplain for International Students


[1] AND THE TABLE WILL BE WIDE, Jan Richardson,


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