Putting Our Faith to Work

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 27
October 2, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Faith is an elusive, sought-after commodity of the Christian life. Putting our faith to work makes it stronger and makes the world a better place.

If you like to cook, you're always on the lookout for great recipes. And even if you don't like to cook, but you like to eat, you probably know a good cook and you're happy to pass along a great recipe to that person.

But there are recipes ... and there are recipes. Some recipes call for 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, 1/4 stick of butter and 1 cup of sugar, and so on, and the careful and precise list of ingredients is all-important for a great dish. But some recipes are passed along with more general instructions: A bit of this and a dash of that; salt to taste; use enough butter so it doesn't stick; about a cup of sugar - unless you want it sweeter or not so sweet - you be the judge. Both kinds of recipes work (or they don't), depending on how your mind works. (Some of us like detailed instructions and some of us are okay with just general directions, and some recipes can survive more general instructions while others cannot.)

Our scripture today talks about how much - how much faith we need. The apostles had just heard Jesus talk more than once about how they need to forgive. They had been warned of the consequences if they were to "cause a little one to stumble."1 No wonder they wondered about faith! How could anyone live up to Jesus' standards? How do we put our faith to work?

Increase our faith

Our text today consists of two sets of sayings on being a follower of Jesus. Verses 5 and 6 deal with faith, brought about because the apostles said to Jesus, "Increase our faith!"

Faith is an elusive concept that's dealt with in many ways throughout scripture and even throughout the gospels. In Luke, we often see unlikely people being lifted as examples of people of faith. When a woman poured ointment and kissed Jesus' feet, he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." And when Jesus' actions were questioned, he turned again to the woman and said, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."2 He said essentially the same thing to a blind beggar who receives his sight,3 to a Samaritan leper who came back to thank him,4 and to a woman healed of hemorrhages when she touched the hem of his garment.5 When he healed, from a distance, a trusted servant of a Roman centurion, Jesus said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."6

We should not be surprised that the apostles were scratching their heads about faith. When they were in a boat with Jesus, they became anxious when a storm arose, and Jesus asked them, "Where is your faith?"7 So now, perhaps thoroughly confused, they ask for an increase of faith. Jesus answers, "If you have 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." We'd be surprised if they had all responded, "Thank you. That clears everything up!" - which, obviously, it doesn't.

Was Jesus explaining faith to the apostles, or was he chastising them for their lack of faith? While there are scholars and theologians who fall on both sides of that question, one way to look at this is to remember that Jesus used the mustard seed as an example of something that began very small and grew to be a tree large enough for the birds to make nest in the branches.8 Perhaps faith, like the mustard seed, needs to be planted (i.e., used) to grow and be "enough" for each believer.

Doing only what we ought to have done

Jesus then seems to change the subject of what he's talking about. He moves from "faith" to "what a slave would do." Is today's scripture passage just a collection of Jesus' sayings, or do these two complement each other? Why did the disciples think they needed to increase their faith? Maybe it was because of the magnitude of all the miracles and preaching and confrontations (with the religious leaders) Jesus had done. Could they ever compete with him? Did they need to do that? Was there some other way?

Jesus addressed this when he moved to this new topic. Maybe Jesus sensed their uneasiness about doing great things with their faith and, to put their minds at ease, gave the example of a household servant. One commentator said it like this, "Faith, as Jesus describes it, is just doing your duty, not because of any sense of reward but simply because it needs doing. Faith, in other words, is doing what needs to be done right in front of you and this, Jesus says, the disciples can already do."9

People who think they have no faith, or very little faith, unless it is being manifested in big ways, need to hear Jesus' words: "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!'"

A word about being God's "slaves" is needed. For us today, stories about masters and slaves are problematic, because we don't accept the institution of slavery. But in the biblical world, a slave was not only part of the economic system, but also one wholly devoted to a master. For example, Simeon described himself as God's slave when he gave the baby Jesus a blessing.10

Putting our faith to work

In other words, putting our faith to work is often, maybe even most often, looking around and doing what needs to be done, not for reward or praise, but because God has placed that need in front of us. If we don't do it, who will? If we don't do it, and it doesn't get done, will someone suffer? If we don't do it, are we taking a step away from a life of faith?

Think about everything you've done in the last month. Think about your motives in doing those things. As you do this, realize how many of those things grew out of your faith. Did you visit your sick neighbor? Did you give to your church? Did you invite new neighbors over for dinner? Were you scrupulously honest in filling out your expense report at work? Did you apologize to someone even though they probably would never know it was you who needed to apologize? Did you prepare for and teach the youth class at church?

When you've thought about your list, multiply it by however many Christians you know. Now think how much poorer the world would be if we all stopped putting our faith to work! The millions of things done every day in the name of Christ, or because of the faith of his followers around the world, make the world a better place. Some of those things might be huge tasks, but most are simple acts, done by faithful people, because they need to be done. That's why our charge to live as faithful disciples is not spelled out in great detail. We are called to live our faith in ways that show our love for God and our love for others.

Of course, there were then, and there are today, people who don't give a second thought to faith. They simply go through life without ever thinking that being a good friend, or being a good worker, or a good parent, or spouse, or son or daughter has anything to do with the Christian life. It just doesn't occur to them. Maybe part of putting our faith to work is helping others see how much richer their lives can be when they see their own faith at work.

Greg Carey, professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, tells of a time when he was 12 years old. He was not a part of a church, even though he lived in the Bible Belt. He spent a week in the hospital with a hip injury. He said, "I received two visits, one from my aunt and uncle's part-time pastor and one from a church youth group .... Just a few years later, when I could embrace my faith, I remembered those visits. That's the kind of things Christians do ."11

Those are the kind of things Christians do, aren't they? Getting up each day, walking with Christ, doing the work God sets before us - not because we expect recognition but because it needs to be done. Living in the kingdom of God looks a lot like life outside God's kingdom, only far better.

The next time you are thinking about asking God to "increase your faith," take stock of the faith you already have in hand, ready to use. God has great, and small, things for you to do!


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