Sermon for 18 Pentecost Yr C, 3/10/2004
Based on 2 Tim 1:3-5 & Lk 17:5-6
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“A Lasting Faith”
Back in the Second World War, when the Nazis bombed London, there was an elderly woman who remained peaceful and calm when others could not even sleep at night. When someone asked how she could be that way, she answered, “When I go to bed at night, I pray to God and then I go to sleep. There is no sense in both of us staying awake!” Now that’s faith! During that same war, found on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany where Jews were hidden was the following statement of a solid faith that endured all manner of sufferings and persecutions: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.” Now that too is faith!
In both today’s second lesson and gospel we learn of how important faith is in shaping and forming our lives as well as in being the motivator for us to act and accomplish the LORD’s purposes. After Jesus his disciples about how to practice forgiveness, they respond by asking him for more faith to be able to put into practice what he has just taught them: “Increase our faith!” they say. Jesus responds by reminding them of the tiniest of seeds from the mustard, which takes 725 to 760 seeds for one gram of weight. Now that is very tiny! Yet, Jesus encourages his disciples and us by reminding them and us that it’s not the quantity of faith that really matters. Rather, the tiniest of faith, like the tiny mustard seed, can make what seems impossible quite possible. Such mustard seed faith can take a very deeply rooted mulberry tree, uproot it, and plant it in the sea, Jesus says.
And in our second lesson, Paul speaks of his own faith and that of Timothy’s. He emphasises in verses three to five how important an influence our parents and grandparents can have in modelling faith for us and in passing faith on from one generation to another. Paul says, he is able to worship God with a clear conscience because his ancestors modelled that faithful worship for him and passed on their faith to him. He also acknowledges the faith of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice; faith which was passed on by them to Timothy. This message too is one of encouragement that we as parents and grandparents can take to heart. Even our mustard seed faith can be passed on to our children and grandchildren and make, what seems to us, the impossible possible. Indeed, some of us here today, could also attest to this truth, for it was our parents or grandparents who passed on their faith to us. As inheritors and recipients of this faith life has made a difference. Such faith is like a priceless treasure to us and therefore worth passing on and sharing with others.
This faith is often tried and tested, and especially in facing the difficult things in life; our faith matures, is refined and strengthened—as both Jesus and Paul knew so well. It is, in the most difficult of times that faith finds ways of serving others and serving God; which transform dead ends into new adventures.
Very often encouragement comes from words written or spoken by people who have known real trouble of one sort or another. John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, written in a 17th century jail, is an example.
On another occasion he wrote, “There is nothing like faith to help at a pinch; faith dissolves doubt as the sun drives away mist—let it rain, let it blow, let it thunder, let it lighten, a Christian must still believe.”
After the war, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, war hero and founder of the country wide Cheshire Homes, had many ups and downs when trying to discover the best way to use his life. In his, Autobiography and Reflections he stated: “A spirit of adventure, of putting one’s self and one’s future second, and the needs of the deprived first, comes as a breath of fresh air.”
Eventually this way of helping less fortunate people became his way of life, but he realised the help had to be given because of the persons themselves, not just because of their handicap. He wrote: “If I am physically disabled and dependent upon someone else’s support, I have a special need to feel what is being done for me is not out of a sense of duty, or still worse pity, but purely because I am me.” 1
Leonard Cheshire was correct; faith helps us see beyond handicaps, beyond duty, beyond pity, into the real person, beyond barriers and differences; one who is a brother or a sister, ultimately, just like you and me. That, of course, is what the ministry and life of Jesus was all about—inviting and including people from every walk of life into his kingdom. Paul too endeavoured to follow Christ’s example, in his missionary journeys and preaching of the gospel, he offered people, no matter who they were, an all-embracing, inclusive faith. Such a faith as both Jesus and Paul demonstrated, is worth living and dying for.
So today the Good News is that even the tiniest of faith, like the tiniest of mustard seeds, can make the impossible possible. Such a faith is a priceless treasure and can only blossom and mature through the ups and downs of life. So, we too can affirm what poet William H. Bathurst said: “O for a faith that will not shrink,/Though pressed by every foe,/That will not tremble on the brink/Of any earthly woe.” 2
1 Cited from: F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1988, meditation for January 30th.
2 Cited from: Rueben P. Job & Norman Shawchuck, editors, A Guide To Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983), p. 275.