A Reading from the Book of 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.
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.
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to 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 Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to 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. Deacon George Snyder
May the words of my mouth and the meditation in all of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, o lord! You are our strength. You are our redeemer. Amen!
Today’s gospel lesson from Luke seems to contain two totally different stories. Let’s look at those stories for a few minutes.
The first part of the lesson has the disciples asking Jesus to increase their faith. The verses before today’s reading tell about Jesus’ admonishing his disciples to forgive, forgive, and then forgive some more—up to seven times. Jesus tells his disciples that if their brother sins against them that the disciples must forgive the brother over and over. Apparently the disciples find this a difficult lesson. Consequently, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.
Jesus then tells them that they already have enough faith to do whatever is asked of them. Jesus tells them that their faith—even if it were only the size of a mustard seed, which is very small–is so strong that they could order a mulberry tree to uproot itself and transplant itself into the ocean, and the tree would do it. Jesus tells them that their faith is strong, that it is powerful. It would appear as if Jesus is also telling his disciples that they are not using their faith. They have more than they think.
That is probably true of most of us: we think our faith is weak, so weak that it will not help us in situations where we truly need it. Throughout the Bible we hear stories of people responding to God’s call and telling God that they are the wrong person—they are not able to do what God wants because they lack the skill, the ability. In every case, these people forget that God has promised to always be with them. He has made the same promised to each of us. They have forgotten that God promises to give them what they need. So, the disciples do have enough faith to do God’s will. They lack confidence in themselves, and they too easily forget God’s eternal presence. They are too accustomed to relying on themselves. God would not send his disciples—or us—into the abyss without the ability to accomplish his will. It would be pointless for God to ever do that. God’s kingdom cannot grow if we fail. If we succeed, the kingdom succeeds. God has a stake in our success.
The second part of today’s Gospel lesson tells about a landowner and his slave (or servant) who had spent the day in the field working. That part of the day has ended, and it is time now for dinner. Jesus asks his disciples if they wouldn’t rather invite the servant to sit down and eat. But, the reality is that the servant’s work for the day has not ended. His work ends when he has fed his master. The servant is not under the control of the master just while they are in the field; they are under his control 24-7. The slave’s commitment to the master never ends.
Now these two stories seem to be totally separate—but, are they? I read and reread this passage several times this week, and I failed to see how they were connected. New Testament scholar Marcus Barth says, “If you can’t find the Word in the text, it isn’t the text’s fault. Go back and try again. Dig deeper.”
So, I dug deeper. There is a connection between the two stories. Jesus tells both stories to his disciples when they ask him to increase their faith. Both stories are in response to their plea. Jesus connected them.
We all know that great things can be accomplished with very little. I don’t know whether or not I have told you that I have nine brothers and sisters. My father was a factory worker who did not make much money. My mother was a child of the Depression; she learned to get by with very little. Even though my father brought home little money, my mother was always able to put a meal together for the twelve of us. I was oblivious to that as a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized my mother had worked wonders with what little she had. I do know that I never went to bed hungry; she didn’t give us fancy food; but, she gave us nourishing food. She accomplished a lot, with very little.
We know of the hard work with little resources that Martin Luther King used in his work in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. They had few resources at their disposal, but they accomplished much. His work was grounded in the church; he taught his followers about Gandhi’s ideas of peaceful, nonviolent protest. We know of Archbishop Tutu’s similar work in South Africa that ended racial apartheid in his country. We have read accounts of crowds streaming out of the churches in Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin who suffered under the rule of the Communists in East Germany after the end of World War II, and how their defiance of the regime finally brought down the Communist government. None of these movements accomplished what they did as the results of using large sums of money and an army of people and other resources. They had so little at their disposal, and they accomplished so much.
A part of the American psyche says that if we believe in our goals enough, and we work hard enough, we will accomplish our dreams. That little mustard seed of faith can grow into tremendous accomplishments.
While we definitely do not like the idea of a servant or, worse yet, a slave having his life resolve around the desires of the master, the truth of that society in Jesus’s time was that that was the job of the slave. He was a servant. His job was to serve the needs of the master.
Let’s move this story a step further. Jesus was telling this parable of the servant to his disciples—to men and women who had chosen to refocus their lives so that they could serve God by being Jesus’s disciples. Their job was to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in which they lived. It was not a 9 to 5 job; it didn’t end after working all day in the fields. It was a job that consumed their entire lives; they had to serve their Master even after a long day at work. Their work was never done. There was always more for them to do in order to bring about the Kingdom of God.
The same is true of all of us who are followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are his from the time we arise in the morning until we fall asleep at night. We are his whether we are in his holy sanctuary, or whether we are out in the world in our daily lives. Our job is to help bring about his kingdom. That is what our servant-hood is all about. It never ends; there is always his work to do.
Like the disciples in today’s gospel lesson, we may feel that we are not up to the task of doing his work. We may feel that we are not equipped to be successful in those efforts. We may feel that we do not have enough faith to do God’s will. But Jesus’s words that we hear in today’s gospel tells us otherwise. God has equipped us with enough faith to serve him in the fields, and then to go home and prepare dinner. God has given us enough faith; if we ever use it up, He will replenish it. He will never leave us without the means to do his will.
People of faith who are not sure that our faith is alive and working need to use it—we need to learn to rely on. For we know that we can rely on God. Do we know how it feels to rely on our Creator God? Can we let go and not worry about relying on ourselves and rely on him? I watched our high school football team practice last week. A football team runs a play over and over and over. They run it so much that it seems natural—almost as if they are doing it automatically. We should do the same with our faith—use it so often that it is natural, that we automatically turn to God. I almost said “practice it until we need it;” but that isn’t right. Using our faith is never practice, waiting for the big moment in the game. Using our faith daily will get us in the habit of relying on God, and will help us realize that we don’t have to rely only on ourselves. God—through our faith—is there for us in those small moments as well as the big moments.