2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Faith. It seems to be the keynote in today’s readings.
In Luke, the disciples demand (or are they begging), Lord, “increase our faith.” In 2 Timothy, Paul talks about the faith that lives in Timothy. But Jesus is a lot more skeptical about his disciples than Paul is about Timothy. The disciples are asking for an increase in what they think they already have. Jesus thunders back, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed . . .”
Well, have you ever seen a mustard seed? I have, or at least I think I have. When I was young it was popular for girls to wear a necklace with a little glass ball hanging on it. Inside was a tiny mustard seed, captured in its glass time capsule. No way it was going to grow. I suppose it was real. I don’t remember if I got it for its religious symbolism or because it was the “in” thing to wear that year. My guess? Remembering myself at that age? It was the latter.
So, if the disciples had faith at all, we figure it had to be even smaller than a tiny mustard seed. Otherwise they might have taken Jesus up on the challenge to command the mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. A show not of oratorical strength but of faith strength. Or they might just have wondered, “What on earth is he talking about? What good would it do to plant a mulberry tree in the sea?” Once again, and as they do so consistently, totally missing the point of Jesus’ illustration.
But we have the benefit of two thousand years and millions of words and thousands of important and not so important thinkers and writers and theologians contemplating, speaking about, writing about this word, “faith.” So it should be easy for us to grasp this idea of faith. Shouldn’t it?
But what is it? What exactly is faith? What does it look like? What shape is it? Can I hold it in my hand? Can I draw a picture of it? What color is it? Can I wrap it up in a box and give it to you as a present? Can you give it to me? Can we see it? Can we touch it? How can we get it?
Jesus makes “faith” sound important, and powerful. It sounds like something that we all want to have, doesn’t it? It sounds like the “treasure” Paul talks about in his letter to Timothy.
When I think of faith, I think of the wind. I can’t see the wind. I can’t touch it. I can’t hold out my hand and grasp it. I can’t box it up and give it to someone. The wind is invisible. The only way I know it’s there is by how it affects that which is visible to me.
I can see tall grasses waving as the wind touches them. I can see the tips of waves whitened by the wind as it blows over the ocean. I can see leaves dancing as the wind moves through the trees. I can see clouds racing across the sky, pushed by the wind. I can see a feathery seed pod, carried by a soft breeze, drifting gently towards waiting soil. I can see hawks, their wings motionless, held aloft by wind currents sweeping through mountain passes.
Faith, like the wind, is visible as it moves in and through and around things. Faith is made visible as it moves us, as we act in response to it, as we move to its rhythm in our lives.
Faith is a gift. It is a gift by grace from God through Jesus Christ. Faith manifests itself in and through us by the power of God who, as Paul says, has “saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” (2 Timothy 1:9) It is not our works that save us, it is God’s grace.
Paul talks about a living faith – a faith that lives in Timothy. Sometimes, when our hearts and eyes are open to the possibility of grace at work in life, we can catch a glimpse of faith alive and working in someone – moving that person to respond to the grace felt in his or her life.
My husband, Buff, is on our prayer list today. You may see him in church and wonder why. Early last Wednesday morning he made an unscheduled visit to the doctor. He’d not been feeling well off and on for several weeks and some abnormal physical discomfort convinced him to go to see the doctor sooner – to go right then. Sitting in my office an hour later I got a call from him. The doctor had put him in the hospital – immediately. Sitting together an hour later in a hospital room, Buff and I listened as a cardiologist told us that an EKG indicated Buff had had a heart attack – probably within the last week or two. I was stunned. It was as if the world stopped turning. The silence was deafening as the doctor waited – for what? For a slew of questions? For a startled outburst? I glanced over at Buff. He looked stunned, too. In the few seconds it took for that doctor to say those two words, heart attack, our world changed. Somehow, a line had been silently marked and crossed. And we could never erase what had happened.
After a heart catheterization and two stints inserted in two blocked arteries, Buff recovered quickly. As I drove him home from the hospital yesterday morning, I told him how I had felt – how stunned I was when the doctor spoke the words “heart attack” and how stunned he had looked too. We talked about the power of those words, their import and their impact in our lives. And then Buff turned his head toward me and said with great calmness, “You know, Torrence, somehow during this, I wasn’t afraid. I think I knew that whatever happened, it would be all right.” For the second time this week, I was stunned.
I saw a leaf flutter in the wind. I saw a small seed land on rich soil. I saw a hawk, wounded, but soaring in currents it couldn’t see. By the grace of God, I saw faith at work.