Saturday, October 5, 2013

Faith: Uprooting the Mulberry tree Proper 22C

This is a strange set of lessons.  The first lesson from Lamentations is a lament over Jerusalem after their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians in 597 BCE.  The city is left desolate, the cream of Judah have been led off in slavery to walk to Iran.  Psalm 137 is also a lament of those who have been displaced to Babylon.  They have been told to sing the songs of Judah, but the psalms are all in praise of the God of Jacob.  In those days it was not believed that the god of a nation could translate to another place.  So singing the songs of Zion—the name of the Mount of the Temple would remind them of the God who was powerless in Babylon.  But they were to find out that the God of Abraham was not powerless in Iran and would lead the people out of Babylon and back to Jerusalem.

The Epistle is from the 2nd letter to Timothy.  He speaks of faith handed down in families.  It is interesting that the writer of the letter (ostensibly Paul) is speaking to young Timothy as he takes on leadership in the nascent church.  But Paul speaks of
worship that was translated to him by his ancestors.  But wait!  Isn’t Paul of the first generation of Christians?  How can he have known faith in Jesus before?  First of all, Paul was not creating a new religion.  Paul was passing on a way of worshiping the One God as a Jew in the light of the new leadership of Christ Jesus.  It is through the revelation of Jesus Christ that ‘abolished death and brought immortality to light.’ 
But it is the Gospel in the Lukan form that makes us say, “Huh?”  We have heard this saying before in Matthew.  But this saying of Jesus has been combined with another saying that has to do with doing what one has been called to do without expecting reward.  I am not sure that these two verses really go together, but our post-abolitionist psyches sometimes give us a problem with understanding these stories.   

If we can put ourselves into the shoes of the first century slave, they are a bit more understandable.  Jesus is trying to help the people to understand their faith as being a relationship with the God who loves them more than life.

Faith is not something we can manufacture on our own any more than we can have friends that we never connect with.  Faith is a gift from God.  We cannot add to faith or detract from it because it is a relationship with the Holy One who has given us the capacity to embrace that which is so far beyond us that we can only imagine.  It sounds like Jesus is saying that you need to conjure up more faith and then you could move mountains.  I am not sure that is what he is saying.  I think he was saying that with the small faith the size of a mustard seed we have been given, we can do extraordinary things.  We can move mountains if we but have small faith.  And I think of the earth movers that have been changing the face of North Texas over the past few years.  Someone has had a vision about how we can travel for the future.  It is the hope and the vision that we are invited to in faith.

Last night I was watching something on Smithsonian channel about the pyramids.  Faith built those mountains—yes, there was slave labor and perhaps the Hebrew people were part of that, but it the willingness to ‘think outside the box’ is part of
faith.  Certainly the ancient pharaohs thought out of their box of desert and brought the mountains to the Nile to memorialize their lives.  

For those of us who have been gifted with faith we know that it is the relationship we have with the Holy that makes our lives worth living.  It makes our lives worth serving.  Because the Holy One of Israel who is manifested in the life of Jesus and spread abroad by the Spirit allows for a richness of life that cannot be obtained in any other way.  Faith is the gift of knowing God both ‘out there’ and ‘in here’.  The God, who is totally ‘Other’ and totally ‘Within’, constantly reveals how to embrace more of Creation.  

I understand why Plato came up with the ‘image’ of the perfect in his philosophy.  There is something within humanity that wants things to be better.  It is a drive that calls us to be more, want more.  In some cases it can be perverted into gluttony or avarice.  But more often it is the call to demand more of ourselves.  I believe that it is part of faith—this call to emulate the God that we know in that relationship of faith.  Part of the problem is that God has often been described as a god of no mercy, or a god of war in Scripture.  But also we hear the stories of those who had faith who told stories of the God of love, the God who called people to their best selves.  The God of the Burning
Bush that told Moses to lead his people even when he felt he didn’t have the ability; Jeremiah who thought that just because he was a boy he couldn’t proclaim God’s oracle to the people of Judah; or Esther who saved her people even though she was afraid.  

It is faith that makes our lives work.  When I taught in Roman Catholic schools I used to say that faith is a gift like a baseball glove.  If one puts it on a shelf and does not use it, it never provides the
giftee with the protection it was designed for.  And a baseball glove is almost useless if it is not used, broken in, oiled and practiced with.  Our faith must be practiced.  And I think that that is what Jesus is saying in his mustard seed analogy.  That if we do not think out of the box then our faith never really gets used.  We must be willing to trust that we can move mountains.  Granted, we must be willing to use the tools that God has given to make that happen.  We must be willing to work for the coming of the ‘kingdom’ or whatever we want to call a ‘better tomorrow.’    We need to do the work that we have been given to do whether it is within the ‘system’ or not.  Whether we get remunerated or praised for it.  We need to be willing to live our faith outside of the various constraints that we have often allowed to be placed upon it.  Faith isn’t just for church anymore (not that it ever was).  Faith is for the world to know and see.  

The mustard seed is not the smallest seed in creation, but the plant was ubiquitous in the Middle East.  Today, faith can be as ubiquitous if we but live it.  If we are willing to live within the God we know, our lives will be different.  Moving the mulberry tree is not hard when we have the help of faith.  It is the faith that gives us the vision.  And the work work we have before us is trying to live into the life that God has illumined for us in Jesus.  I may even be a miserable example, but at least I am constantly trying to make that the model.  I know that I would be totally vile if I didn’t have Christ ever before me in prayer, Scripture and the faith community.

Each of us lives into the life of Christ in different ways.  We can and do move
mulberry trees or mountains every day.  But it is not we who do it;  it is the faith in the Holy One that is working within us that allows us to be a part of that goodness.  I can’t think of anywhere else I would want to be.


Monica said...

Lots of food for thought here. I like the baseball glove analogy. Thanks for sharing!

Monica said...

Lots of food for thought here. I like the baseball glove analogy, though I know diddly squat about baseball. Thanks for sharing!

Crimson Rambler said...

YES! This is a very baseball-friendly gospel reading, I think -- faith is a gift, not a wrapped and ribboned accomplishment. A gift like the potential to hit a baseball better and harder than ordinary folks ... not much use until you step up to the plate~~where even if you're the best ever, i.e., Ted Williams, you will fail to make contact safely 6 times out of 10.