Sermon: How Much Faith Does it Take? (Proper 22C)

How Much Faith Does It Take?

Lectionary Texts:  Luke 17: 5-10, Lamentations 1: 1-6

Proper 22C

First United Methodist Church, Wharton

Sunday, October 2, 2016




  1. Measurements

“Increase our faith, Lord…we don’t have enough…we can’t do it…it will never be enough.”  So, then, how much is enough?  When do you reach that point where you have “enough” faith?  The truth is we are a “measuring” society.  We measure salary and education; we have measures for the state of our economy (the Gross Domestic Product, the unemployment rate, and the Dow Jones average); we measure our fuel useage, our mileage, our heart rate, our caloric intake, our fat grams, and, on various social media platforms, we count our friends, our followers, our links, our favorites.  And in a little over a month, we will count our votes.  (Make sure you vote.  There…that’s a plug for us all to do our civic duty.)  Yes, we are a “measuring” society.  So how DO we measure faith?  When is the faith we have “enough”?

Several years ago there was a Pew Forum survey that measured its participants’ knowledge of religion?  It was a survey of 3,412 random people conducted over two months that posed thirty-two basic religious questions.  What they found was that agnostics and atheists answered, on average, 20.9 correctly; persons that proclaimed a Jewish faith got an average of 20.5 right; and Mormons averaged 20.3. On average, American Christians answered 16 of the 32 questions correctly.  Interestingly enough, people in the South, the so-called “Bible belt” tended to score the lowest.  “Increase our faith, Lord.”

Yes, to be honest, a measurement of religious knowledge is not a measurement of faith, but, really, what is it that we believe?  It’s an interesting question.


  1. How Can We Make it Through?

This passage, like most of the Gospel passages that we’ve read over the past several weeks, is not that easy to understand on the surface.  We almost need to look at what comes before it and what comes after it.  Last week’s Scripture reflected on the story of the rich man and Lazarus; and then in the first few verses of the seventeenth chapter of Luke, there are three teachings related to our concerns for the little ones in this world, for the ways we injure and sin against each other, and the call to forgive.  There are so many needs in the world.  There is so much conflict.  How can we make it through?  We begin to understand and identify with the disciples’ request: “Increase our faith.”  Help us get through this; give us strength; make it better; we know that you can make it better.  Help us do what is right!

The faith that is depicted here is one that aspires beyond where we are.  The expectation is that even a tiny faith can do great things with God.  But then the second part of the passage is a little confusing.  It even sounds a little cruel.  But remember, we are servants in the name of Jesus.  We kneel and we serve.  That is also the expectation.  Faith is about aspiring to be more but also being willing to serve others.


III. Increase our Faith?

The biggest problem here is that the disciples have made faith a commodity, something that can be measured.  We do it too.  And that doesn’t really work when it comes to faith.  Think about it.  Faith is faith.  If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, a tiny speck of a thing, you have faith.  And if you have faith enough to move mountains, to overcome anything, you have faith.  It’s all the same thing.

Maybe the question is not how much we have but what it is.  In our world today, we seem to be bombarded with a theology of certitude, sort of a “my faith’s bigger than your faith” mentality, as if living the right way and dressing the right way and thinking the right way and voting the right way makes us somehow more faithful than someone else.  We live as if being sure of what we know and what we believe means that we have more faith, means that we’re somehow better or more advanced than those who doubt and continue to search.  But, again, what is faith?  I think it is trust in something so much bigger than we are that we cannot imagine it.  I think it is accepting a certainty in the existence of something of which we are a little (or maybe a whole lot) uncertain.  And I think it is, finally, realizing that we are not in full control of our lives, or our world, or our destiny, and that what we do is only a small piece of this veritable tapestry that is our world.

We hear all the time that we live in a world of decreased faith.  People are scared and scarred.  Like the disciples, we pray, “Dear Lord, increase our faith.”  What else is there to say?

And, yet, we think having faith means being convinced that God exists in the same way we are convinced that one of these pews on which you are sitting exist.  People who cannot be completely convinced of God’s existence think faith is impossible for them because that is what they are often told.  But we need to realize that faith is something that we do rather than something that we have.  Faith cannot be measured.  That’s sort of the point that the disciples missed.  In fact, faith is one of those things that thrives not in the face of increasing certainty but in the face of ever-mounting and always-present doubt.  Theodore Rubin said that “there are two ways to slide easily through life:  to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.”


  1. Why Faith?

We tend to define faith as “finding God”, making God small and tidy and controllable and safe, as understanding who God is.  But God is already here, inviting us to be enormous and messy and out-of-control and just downright dangerous when it comes to the ways that this world lives.   So, do we have faith enough to respond to that call, to be more than this world expects, to truly “do” faith, to live it as part of our lives, and not limit ourselves to talking about how much faith we have?  Faith is not about what we know; it is our journey, our way of life, our response to God’s call.  Maybe faith is not what we are trying to find but rather what is carrying us to God.

And it is there that God enters.  When one is searching, when one is questioning, when one is praying, “Lord, increase my faith”, God enters.  Oh, God was always there.  But, as I said before, faith is about searching, not certitude.  And it is in our searching that we will be found.  Barbara J. Winter said that “When you come to the edge of all the light you know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen:  There will be something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.



  1. Renew our Faith

So how much faith is enough?  We, of course, never get there.  That place doesn’t exist.  Faith is about widening our view, opening up to new experiences and new ways of knowing God.  That is faith.  And that is what we do together.  Did you notice that the question that the disciples asked was not “increase my faith”?  It was “increase OUR faith”.  They had this understanding that they were in this together, that they were bound together as one in the name of Jesus.  It was part of who they were.  It was what renewed them, what fed them, what helped them remember.  And as their faith grew, their numbers grew.  The Way of Jesus began to move beyond Jerusalem and out into the Roman Empire and then beyond that.

That is what we do every time we come to this table.  We remember.  We remember the way that God breathed the world into being. We remember the way God loved the world enough to come and dwell with us, showing us what the Kingdom of God would look like.  It is the place where we renew our faith, even our tiny speck of a faith.  And after feasting together, we are sent forth to be the laborers in this vineyard, we are sent forth to be the Body of Christ, to grow beyond ourselves.

Today is World Communion.  That always holds such a powerful image for me.  Today the world, the whole of Creation, is at Communion.  As the time zones click through the orbit of the earth, there is table seating after table seating after table seating as all of us sit down together, sit down as one, aware of our diversity, empowered by our unity, and bound by our faith.

For me, that image of all of us together is shaped by one of the most memorable Communion meals that I ever shared.  It was sixteen years ago when I spent one Sunday morning in the Moscow airport with the choir in which I sang.  We were on our way to Warsaw and the flight was leaving that morning.  So, being a Sunday morning, we had church.  The service itself was short and we wrapped it up with Holy Communion.  (It was probably illegal, come to think of it, but we got nothing more than some glares from the guards.)

But as you can probably guess, a Russian airport at 8:00 in the morning is not the most ideal place to find typical Communion elements.  We bought what we could from the only vendor that was open and set up our table with elements of sweet rolls and Chardonnay.  And we remembered and feasted together.  As we started serving the elements, an American couple came and asked if they could join us.  We welcomed them in.  Then, upon seeing that it was OK, some Korean tourists did the same thing.  The line got longer and longer…more Asians, Russians, persons from every part of Europe, Norwegians, Australians, Africans.  We went back to the vendor and bought more sweet rolls and Chardonnay.  It seemed like they just kept coming.  The last two served were two of the Russian guards.  This was it.  It was for this that we were formed.  This was the world in Communion.  This is the way we live out our faith—together.

Abraham Heschel writes that “eternal life does not grow away from us; it is “planted within us,” growing beyond us…That is faith.  And it cannot be measured.  It must be lived into.  And that involves stepping beyond where we are.  It means having new eyes and new ways of seeing.  It means realizing that we’re all in this together, that we learn from each other and, together, we renew our faith.

“Increase our faith”.  You already have all that you need.  But you have to let it carry you to God and not try to control or even define what it is.  Living our faith is about letting go of what we think the world should be and joining with others that we might truly be the world at Communion.

You’ve probably heard of the notion of “tripping the light”, as in “tripping the light fantastic”.  The term came from Chaucer, from Milton, various movies, and has developed over time.  It has nothing to do with stumbling.  It means to dance in an imaginative and nimble way together.  That is what our faith journey calls us to do—to get out of our own walls and begin to see things differently.  So, look around.  Imagine the world at Communion.  Imagine the world walking in faith together.  Imagine the whole world tripping the light, dancing in an imaginative and nimble way together.



If all the days that come to pass are behind these walls,

I’ll be left at the end of things in a world kept small.

Travel far from what I know and I’ll be swept away.

I need to know I can be lost and not afraid.


We’re gonna trip the light; we’re gonna break the night.

And we’ll see with new eyes when we trip the light.


Remember we’re lost together; remember we’re the same

We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts; we hold the flame.


We’re gonna trip the light; we’re gonna break the night.

And we’ll see with new eyes when we trip the light.


I’ll find my way home on the Western wind

To a place that was once my world back from where I’ve been.

And in the morning light I’ll remember as the sun will rise

We are all the glowing embers of a distant fire.


We’re gonna trip the light; we’re gonna break the night.

And we’ll see with new eyes when we trip the light.


Come and trip the light, we’re gonna break the night

And we’ll see with new eyes, we’re gonna trip the light.


We’re gonna trip the light; we’re gonna break the night.

And we’ll see with new eyes when we trip the light.