Preaching Notes for a Message based on Luke 17:5-10 and 2 Timothy 1:5-10

This week’s readings are: Lamentations 1:1-6  //  Psalm 137 or UMH 852  // 2 Timothy 1:1-14   //  Luke 17:5-10

You can read these readings here:   NIV  // NRSV   // The Message

 

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Did you ever beg God to increase your faith? Have you ever prayed, “Lord, show yourself to me… Help me to understand you…” Have you ever said something like that? Do you know anyone who prayed this prayer?

 

Our human condition is such that we like and seek concreteness in our lives; we like things that we can touch and feel. On the other hand, we know that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1 KJV). Today’s readings from the Gospel (Luke 17:5-10) and Early Christian Writings (2 Timothy 1:1-14) shed a light on how we can go from hope in the ephemeral “something” that we do not see and cannot touch, to concrete faith that is observable in our lives.

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On my spiritual journey, I have been fortunate to earn two units of CPE – Clinical Pastoral Education.

 

I recall one particular visit with a dying man in the spring of 2008. As I held his hand and listened to him pour out his soul to God, he told me about starting three separate families and walking out on all three of them. He told me how sorry he was that he was not able to be a supportive husband to the women he married, or a loving father to any of his children. It was sad because that man realized that he pushed away everything and everybody that could possibly bring meaning to his life and now, as he faced death, he was alone and lonely. The only people who were there for him were hospital nurses and a chaplain with a bad hairdo and a foreign accent. Both of us were moved to tears and both of us were swept in the holiness and honesty of the moment. And then something wonderful happened. I felt the light in the room getting brighter and I felt warmth enveloping me and everything else in the room. The patient felt something too. And both of us knew that we were touched by the presence of the Holy. Both of us felt the presence of God. It was “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…” moment.

 

Part of CPE is something that is called “one-on-one” with a CPE supervisor. During my next “one-on-one” with my CPE supervisor, I presented a verbatim describing that experience and in a theological reflection I wrote how wonderful it was to feel that light and that warmth and how I yearn to experience it again, and again and again. I wrote that I wanted to be able to facilitate moments like this every time I did rounds and with all of my patients. That was a “Lord increase my faith” statement; EVERYBODY wants to be able to facilitate such moments, everybody wants to command God and demand that God appear when and where we want God to appear.

Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed …” Luke 17:6

 

I am a city boy. Most of my life I spent living in a city. Staring into the sky was never my gig because in the city, there is too much light pollution and it prevents you from seeing many stars. When my wife and I moved to Cecil County, one of the things that surprised me the most was how many stars are there. At night the whole sky is covered with a plethora of tiny specks of light that sparkle and glisten like tiny diamonds. None of those specks is bigger than a mustard seed.

 

A tiny speck of light from a distant star in the depth of the dark skies propelled the Magi to recognize that something important was happening in Judea. On that hunch, the Magi made special arrangements, organized a caravan and traveled from Persia to Judea to discover and see for themselves what was happening. We are talking about a decision that led to the hardships and dangers of living on the road for months and maybe even a year or two; we are talking about actions that were inspired by faith. “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1 KJV) wrote Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.

 

The Magi had faith in a small speck of light in the sky… the Magi responded to that speck of light in the dark skies with faith and with action.

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6 NIV)

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Jesus used this metaphor – metaphor of a mulberry tree – as an illustration; it is not a call to find a mulberry tree and preach to it until it is uprooted and replanted somewhere else all by itself. Jesus makes the point that faith and service are connected and intertwined. The Magi uprooted their whole lives based on faith. Faith manifests itself in the way we live our lives and what we do with our lives. In the book of James we hear “… faith without works is dead” (James 2:20 NKJV).  The “mulberry tree” that Jesus referred to is a metaphor for you and I. The change in the “mulberry tree” that Jesus referred to is a metaphor for the changes that happen in us when we live lives of faith.

 

With that metaphor, Jesus makes the point that we increase our faith only after we learn to LIVE our faith. “Increasing our faith” is a life-long journey, it does not happen overnight. Our faith does not stay stagnant for the rest of our lives; it grows with each new experience of the Holy. Jesus makes the point that faith that does not influence our daily lives is a meaningless intellectualism. Jesus makes the point that faith that does not influence our daily lives is spiritually sounding chatter, condescending egotism and feelings of self-importance; it may look and sound good but it is meaningless.

 

With the metaphor of the mulberry tree, Jesus makes the point that if we want stronger faith, we need to focus on God, and allow God’s glory to flow through us in all aspects of our lives. It is about rolling up our sleeves and working with others towards wholeness in the world where and when we live. It is about being in mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ by teaching them everything that Jesus taught us – we do that by demonstrating God’s presence in our own lives.

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Today’s reading from the Early Christian Writings support this (my notes are marked in GREEN):

NIV 2 Timothy 1:5 I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. [Paul makes a point that faith started with Lois and Eunice who TAUGHT that faith to young Timothy. We are the stewards of our faith now and it is up to us to carry it out for future generations of Christians. Lois and Eunice did their part so that Timothy could do his.]

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6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God [Paul calls young Timothy to BE productive, to get INVOLVED in life of faith in order to nurture and strengthen his faith ], which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline [so that you, Timothy, could live productive life that reflects God’s love, grace and presence].

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8 So – [continues Paul] – do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord [to the best of your ability allow God’s grace and love to shine through you AND make sure that you welcome such opportunities – Timothy: be all that you can be – Timothy: be the best that you can be ], or ashamed of me his prisoner. … (NIV, my comments added).

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Today is the World Communion Sunday. Today is a day when all Christians are invited to set aside the things that separate us and to focus on what unites us – the love of God and the hope of eternal salvation.

 

{Open the Communion Table}

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