The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.” But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it. -Luke 17.5-6, The Message
I've been told occasionally that I don't have enough faith. Sometimes I've told myself I don't have enough faith. The disciples are expressing an entirely human desire there in that passage from Luke: Give us more faith. I hear it a lot from persons who are searching, spiritually. I hear it from persons who feel like if they just had more faith, things would be clearer, or easier, or safer, or happier. They are not alone.
Welcome to the family of faith—people in all stages of imperfection, trying to find faith together, trying to live it out in some coherent and meaningful way. That’s who we are, together, in this enterprise called church. None of us is fully finished in our course in faith, and we are learning all the time, sometimes easily, sometimes the hard way.
There’s no secret to it, though, as Jesus points out. Faith isn’t something you work at, or strive for, or even measure. Faith is something you welcome as a gift from God. That’s the part that gets by most of us most of the time.
Faith isn’t something we work at. It’s a gift. It sounds like a contradiction, but faith really is freely given by God, in order to bring us closer to God. Faith isn’t ultimately about us, but about God. It is so hard for us to wrap our heads around it, but faith is not our response to God’s acting in our lives at all--faith is God’s action in our lives, so it can’t be our response.
So all our working at it, trying hard to have more of it, measuring how much we have against how much he has or she has or they have, evaluating the strength of our faith—none of that matters. It’s a struggle as old as the church, this asking questions about our faith—but none of those questions are relevant, because faith is really a gift.
Our job is to recognize it and receive it, this great and precious gift that God has already given to us.
Maybe this is what Jesus is saying every time he commends someone on their faith, or he tells them that their faith has healed them. He is celebrating that moment someone has recognized the great gift of the presence of God near them, within them; he is celebrating how that recognition transforms their lives.
Which is why I think we get this odd answer from him in Luke’s gospel when his disciples ask him to increase their faith. It’s another of his hard sayings here, but essentially he is trying to tell them that the life they have been living with him, the work they have been doing with him, is their faith. It’s been given to them freely; they already have it. There is only one expectation, and that is not that they will have more, but that they will live it. Do something with it; pay it forward, if you like.
In other words, quit looking for more faith and start living the faith you already have, no matter how big or how small it feels like it is. Stop worrying about it and start living it. Church language often calls that “mission and service.”
This faith and the act of living it out is what unites us with other Christians all around the world. Our worship may look different from Alaska to Zaire, our theological understandings might look different from Zimbabwe to Arkansas, but we are profoundly alike in the gift of faith, and in the commitment to be doers, not just observers, of the life Jesus calls us to live in response to that faith. That’s the unity we celebrate in the church—the unity of people joined by sacrament and service in the life of Christ. Loving like him, living like him, serving like him, all as response to our faith.
Jesus’ punch line for his disciples makes it clear: You have faith, he says. Quit looking for faith in the wrong places. Quit looking for others to celebrate the strength or the magnificence or the holiness of your faith. Quit expecting anything from your life of faith but a call to God’s work in the world, because that is simply what we are expected to do, and who we are supposed to be. This is the freedom and the responsibility that faith brings into our lives.
Thinking about our faith, pining for more, wishing for our faith to look like someone else’s, all of that is a waste of time. We already have it—even if it’s only the size of a mustard seed, Jesus says, that is enough. More than enough, because it will change us, and with it, we will change the world.
None of this makes us superheroes. Or super saints. It just makes us Christians. That is the gospel truth; that is the good news. (from a sermon, 10.06.19)