What Does it Mean to have Faith?
What Does it Mean to have Faith?
What is faith? Where does it come from? If we fail at something that we associate with our religion does that mean we have insufficient faith? Our passage from Luke this morning helps us get to the center of some of these questions.
Scripture: Luke 17: 1-10
Some passages of scripture are more difficult than others. We’ve had a few over the past few weeks that are challenging. Our passage from Luke today is a challenging one. The lectionary is actually only verses 5 onwards, but I thought it might help to know why the disciples were asking for more faith. Some weeks, As I am preparing for the service I asked God for the faith to preach the sermon.
Of course, if you read the passage closer you realize that God doesn’t hand out free gifts of faith. Like the disciples I asked for more faith. The reality is I am going to need to prepare the sermon, preach it, and then hopefully see and understand the depths of my faith. Faith isn’t something that is handed out like a gift, grace is that free gift. But faith, well it’s something else altogether.
I don’t think I’m the only one in the room who has said to God, I’d just like a little more faith or God give me the faith to get through this ordeal. But faith, if we think about it critically doesn’t operate like that. This doesn’t mean God isn’t with us through ordeals, it’s our approach to faith that needs re-working.
Regarding our passage and it’s relationship with faith, Francisco Garcia puts it this way, “Jesus’ loaded response to the disciple’s request for more faith—telling them that all they required was the faith of a tiny mustard seed to do the impossible—tells us that they are asking for the wrong thing. But what’s wrong with wanting just a little more faith to meet the urgent call of their fearless leader?” (Francisco Garcia – Commentary on Luke 17:5-10 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary)
And we’ve been there, just a little more faith Lord! Help me through this! But faith, like money doesn’t just grow on trees or arrive randomly when we need it most. Faith comes about through practicing our faith. As we pray and read scripture, then engage those two things in practice, our faith deepens. When you work for justice and seek to free the oppressed as Jesus did, then you’ll notice that your attitudes towards your faith changes. You’ll find that what were once shallow ponds are now deep pools of faith. You can ask for more faith if you’d like, but you’re going about it the wrong way. Faith requires a bit of work on our part.
Part of it comes from knowing our purpose. A grain of mustard knows its purpose. To grow into a bush. Do we know our purpose? Do we have faith in ourselves to see that through as disciples. Often this passage gets preached like condemnation for the listener. What is often preached and heard, is because you lack faith you can’t do miracles. But if you had even the faith of a tiny mustard seed you could move mountains. Nonsense, that’s not what this passage is saying. This passage wasn’t written, Jesus didn’t speak these words to chastise the disciples for being faithless. Nor should we think that because we can’t move a mountain that we don’t have faith or that we are failures as Christians.
Again it comes down to knowing our purpose and our place. To serve God and do the work of the kingdom. We find examples of what that looks like and what that doesn’t look like throughout all of scripture. If you want to increase your faith, then be faithful.
Eugene Peterson wrote a book titled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. It’s a book on discipleship and it speaks to running the marathon of faith as opposed to a short sprint. This passage isn’t about having a well of faith deep enough to move a mountain, it isn’t about one off occurrences. It’s about having the faith in God and ourselves, day after day, setback after setback, success after success to still rise each morning with an attitude and outlook that says I trust in the promises of God. To see ourselves as disciples of God, followers of Christ and willing to do the work which is close to the heart of God.
This passage is hard for a variety of reasons. First as people and as a society we find it hard to forgive. Second, this passage has historically been preached to tell us that we need more faith and I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. Finally, the language that Jesus uses at the end of the passage about slaves is problematic for us given our more modern context of slavery and the human slavery that still occurs today. However, it is an image that would have resonated with those first listeners. You will note that there aren’t demands placed on the slave, rather expectations. In the same way Jesus is reminding us that our purpose is to work towards God’s kingdom. Not to go our and create something of our own.
To dig a little further, in verse 10 we have the line “worthless slaves” which is a reference that Jesus is making towards the disciples and by extension to us. Being called a worthless slave probably doesn’t sit well with anyone. Our modern understanding of slavery aside, being called worthless seems out of character for Jesus.
That word, “worthless” (achreios in the Greek) is often translated as “being of no use or profit, worthless.” But, as Kenneth Bailey points out, its root word is chreios—having the prefix a– added to make it a negative. Chreios is less about profitability and more about need: “that which should happen or be supplied because it is needed.” So, when this word is made a negative—as in our passage—it can be translated as “without need.” In other words, Jesus could be telling his disciples that they are commenting, gratefully, “We are slaves without need, we have only done what we ought to have done.” We are reminded of another Lukan story about a master and slaves—of the Good Master. Slaves who serve a Good Master do not need to earn good treatment, but are happy to serve faithfully. (Chelsey Harmon – Luke 17:5-10 – Center for Excellence in Preaching (cepreaching.org))
Translating this word as worthless fits what I would call an older theology of judgement that comes out of this passage. That we are worthless because we can’t move a mountain and why can’t we have more faith. Rather, we are without need because we trust in God and the promises that God offers us. We’ve bought into the vision that God has for creation, the kingdom, which we read about in scripture. We believe that is the way we should live and treat one another. In this way we are without need, God provides for us. We simply need to discover the well-spring of faith that resides within each of us.
We need to live out our faith and as a result we will see our faith multiply. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
Donate to St. Andrew's
Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website.