Old Testament: Lamentations (1:1-6)
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
The Response: A Song of Waiting
The thought of my trouble and my homelessness *
is as bitter as wormwood and gall.
My mind dwells on it continually; *
my soul is weighed down within me.
When I remember this I have hope: *
by God’s kindness, we are not destroyed;
For God’s mercies are never-ending *
and are new every morning.
How great is your faithfulness, O God! *
“You are my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I hope in you.”
You are good with those who wait with patience, *
to every soul that seeks you.
It is good to wait, even in silence, *
for the salvation of the Lord.
The Epistle: II Timothy (1:1-14)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The Gospel: Luke (17:5-10)
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Most days, I bring my lunch to work and eat it at my desk. It gives me the opportunity to check email and various news sources so that I can keep up with what is happening in the world and in our local community. From time to time, a side article catches my attention, simply because it has to do with something that I didn’t know; and I like opportunities to learn.
Recently, bbc.com included a brief article titled, “Why the green great dragon can’t exist.” It included observations from a book by English-language scholar Mark Forsyth on things that we all know about the English language but don’t realize that we know. In this case, it is the order in which adjectives appear in our sentences. He points out the fact that the order has to be “opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose.” We were never taught that sequence in school; but, along with all other native English-speakers, we somehow learned it, and we use it. That is why there can, at least in fiction, be a “great, green dragon” but never a “green, great dragon.”
The author of the BBC article, Matthew Anderson, offers his own example. We can speak of “a lovely thick black coat”; but it can’t be a “black thick lovely coat.” In any other order, the words just don’t sound right.
The words that we use matter; and the order in which we use them matters as well.
In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus’ apostles ask him to increase their faith. He replies that, if they have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed – and he acknowledges that they already do – then they already have enough; they have all that they need in order to do everything that God calls them to do. The problem seems to be where they, and maybe we, put the adjective “great.” What they – and we – need is not great faith in God, but faith in a great God. It’s there that many people in our world fall short. They aren’t willing to accept a God who is truly great. They try to bring God down to size, to limit God to a role that fits what they want God to be for them and not necessarily for everyone else.
In the ancient world, each village or clan, and eventually each nation, had its own god or gods. Their chief deity ruled over and protected them, not all the other people in the world. He – and it was almost always a “he” – was concerned with them, because they, of course, were better and more important than everybody else.
When the early Hebrews, along with others, began to assert that there is one God rather than many, they still saw that God as their own special protector, all too often ignoring the role of God’s care for the rest of the human race. But as the centuries passed, and their prophets and others began to recognize that God was the God of all people, some in Israel found it difficult to let go of at least a little bit of their exclusive status. They began to adopt, along with other religions, the idea that other mystical beings existed. They called them “angels”: a word that means “messengers.” They insisted that these beings were not other gods, but the special assistants and messengers and workers for the one God. They started thinking of some of these angels as special protectors or advocates for the various nations; each people had its own. And they came to view one of them, Michael, as the foremost among them. And naturally, since he was preeminent, they saw him as their own special angel: the special protector of Israel, as opposed to those “other people.”
That seems to be a pattern that has always been hard to break: accepting God as the great God of all, without each people trying to put itself first. As the centuries of the Christian era continued, different nations and sometimes different cities came to adopt saints who were their own particular patrons. “If we can’t have our own god or our own angel, we can at least have our own saint to assure us that we are different from, and maybe even a little more important then, everybody else.”
Humans, it seems, have always struggled with the implications of the biblical assertion that the God of Israel, who is also the God of Jesus, is in fact the God of all people and the God of all creation. Each of the major religions of the world, and even the multiple denominations within the one Church of Jesus, has insisted at times that God is really their God, and the only way to life in that God is their way. Members of different world religions, and members of different Christian denominations, have persecuted, and sometimes even killed, those whose views of God have differed from their own. They have insisted that their way is the only way.
Essentially what they have done is to take the great God that we and others proclaim, and make him or her into a very small god, a god who is as narrow-minded and closed-hearted as they are. As novelist Anne Lamont once observed, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
Today our world continues to be plagued by those who insist that their view of God is the only valid one, and their way to God is the only real one. The suffering that such people cause is not limited to terrorists who are currently active in parts of the Middle East. Fundamentalists in all of the world’s major religions have, at some time in their history, asserted that they alone have the unquestionable and exclusive truth about God and the ways of God. (By the way, atheists have done the same thing.) And their actions have caused, and continue to cause today, horrendous suffering.
On the other hand, a faith that is open to a far greater, far larger God opens up the possibility of coming to know and experience God in new and often insightful ways. Throughout the history of Christianity, for example, mystics have gained new insights through their contacts with the mystical traditions within Judaism and Islam; monastic communities have been enriched by learning from the monastic traditions of eastern religions such as Buddhism; and believers have found their experience of God expanded and deepened by learning from religious traditions other than the one in which they have found their own spiritual home. And in doing so, they have come to know and live more deeply in a God who is truly great.
It continues to matter where we put our adjectives. We might not be blessed with a great faith in God. But, if we allow God’s Spirit to reveal the Divine Self to us through the varied experiences of the rest of humanity, we might just be amazed at the way that our faith, even though it might be as small as a mustard seed, can open our hearts, our souls, and our lives to a truly great God.