Lectionary 27 C
Prayer of the Day
Benevolent, merciful God: When we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Wicked surround the righteous; wait for the Lord
2 Timothy 1:1-14 Guard the treasure entrusted to you: faith and love in Christ
Luke 17:5-10 Faith the size of a mustard seed
Sermon: Come and Dine
Have you ever come to the end of telling a really great story, a cherished story, only to be met with blank faces of no response? Ever tell your favorite joke, one that gets you laughing just thinking about it, only to be met with confused looks and absolutely no laughter, not even a smile? Ever tell some really exciting, jump up and down good news, only to be met with empty responses of “Oh, that’s nice, dear” and then the subject is changed? Have you ever cooked a meal, only to have it gobbled down with no appreciation, or created a work of art or handiwork just to have it passed over with little or no notice?
Take all those occasions, lump all the frustration and the disappointment together and we can begin to imagine Jesus’ frustration at the disciples’ request “Increase our faith.”
Now, I know, on the surface, taken at face value, this seems like an appropriate appeal. Perhaps we could even see it as admirable. Of course we are wise to seek growth in the faith, right? So why does it seem like I am about to give those doppy disciples a hard time, and throw a little mockery at them like I do so often when they are not getting it and saying dumb things? Because I am about to give them a hard time, for once again they are not getting it. But I will confess, I see clearly their “not getting it” because I also see it in myself. And the compassionate Jesus sees us all not getting it; so, rather than giving up on them or us, he speaks words of comfort, peace, and hope.
So, let’s go back and see why Jesus might be just a little, if not very, frustrated at the disciples’ most righteous request to “increase our faith” that has so colossally missed the point. (Think of this as the “previously on” recap.) If you have heard or read the gospel lessons over the past four weeks, you have been taking in what I am now calling the Sermon at the Table. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapters 5- 7 and that includes the lovely passage we call the Beatitudes. And perhaps you Biblical scholars have heard of the similar Sermon on the Plain which is found early in Luke’s gospel. Then there is the lesser defined Bread of Heaven sermon found in John’s gospel. (The gospel of Mark is fast moving and focused on action, so he does not include any long preaching passages.) But this Sermon at the Table has really caught my attention these past four weeks. It began back on September 11th when we read that Jesus was welcoming sinners and tax collectors. Because of which, Pharisees and scribes were grumbling that he not only welcomed these unworthy ones, but he was eating with them as well. This grumbling launched the table-talk telling of the lost sheep and lost coin parables. And for the next two and half chapters, it appears from Luke’s narrative that Jesus could still be at the table. But more importantly, the table remains a central image through much of what he is saying and the stories he is telling. There the banqueting tables to celebrate the lost ones (sheep, coin, and son) being found, there is an accounting table at which debts are reduced, last week this was a table of abundance and there is punishment when it is not shared, and this week, there is a table to which even the servants and slaves are invited.
Sitting at the table, sharing a meal with those who are judged harshly by the world and especially by the religious leaders and their laws, Jesus has been displaying and speaking of God’s welcome, God’s searching, God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness of debt, God’s abundance in the face of earth’s need. The nourishment to the soul has been filling to overflowing, and I’m sure the food was pretty good, too. And having feasted on all this good news, all this satisfying assurance, all these nourishing promises, all the disciples can say is: Increase our faith. You almost expect Jesus to say: What do I have to do for you to get it, die for you? But that bad joke certainly would have fallen even flatter than the two chapters of good news stories did.
Jesus had even just spoken of ongoing forgiveness and understanding – “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come,” he tells them. Having just eaten a divine meal, don’t get up expecting you or the world to be perfect. It’s okay if there is some stumbling. Jesus assures us. Just don’t cause anyone else to stumble, he warns. Don’t put rocks in the path of anyone who is doing their best to walk by faith.
Perhaps it is the next thing that Jesus says that causes the disciples to lose all that wonderful table talk and images of God’s abundance previously poured out for us like a feast. Jesus tells them they must forgive when someone asks for it, even if they are walking all over you like a doormat seven times a day. You must forgive, Jesus says. Maybe the cry to “Increase our faith” was in response to that weighty order. And if that is the case, then maybe we can cut the disciples some slack. Forgiveness is hard.
Today we begin a series of acknowledgements as we were make our way to All Saints Day on Nov. 1. We are calling it Saints Among Us. And we are lifting up and celebrating the work of those in our neighborhood (who are not members of our congregation) and who are doing work that is worthy of a public thank you. Today, we welcome Anthony to be present with us. For years, Anthony has been taking broom and dustpan in hand and going around the neighborhood sweeping the streets and sidewalks of the West Village. What a great metaphor of forgiveness. People throw down their litter, way more than seven times a day, and Anthony is there to quietly pick it up and throw it away. Okay, they may not be asking for forgiveness, but his actions show us the importance of keeping up on clearing away the garbage in our lives. When we leave hurt and anger lying there, it accumulates and it diminishes us. We are wise to stay on it and clear it away. Perhaps you have learned like I have, forgiveness we employ usually ends up helping us much more than the person we are forgiving.
Even if we are panicking along with those disciples at Jesus’s call that we must forgive, and feel we don’t have the measure of faith to measure up to the task, look at what Jesus says – he brings us back to the table. Not because we deserve it or have qualified for it. For we are the servants and slaves who at any worldly table would never be found. No, he invites us to the other-world table, the table of God’s kingdom to which God’s mercy and grace, forgiveness and love finds us, invites us, and feeds us.
Come to the table you who are lost and who have been found, you who carry debt and guilt,, shame and regret, you who hunger for mercy and meaning. Come to the table you who stumble, who find it hard to forgive, you who feel your faith is lacking. Come to the table, for it is God’s table, the meal is set by our Lord Jesus, and we take part through the work of the Holy Spirit. Come to the table, and feast on all that God has made known through Jesus, for in his words and his actions the seeds of faith are planted in us. In our life together as Christ’s body, those seeds of faith grow. And then take Paul’s advice and guard that good treasure that is entrusted to us, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
A favorite grace says it well: Come and dine, the Master calleth, come and dine, there is plenty at God’s table all the time, he who fed the multitudes, turned the water into wine, to the hunger calleth now, come and dine.
The Rev. Mark Erson, Pastor