The opening of the letter from Paul to his young protégé Timothy is instructive. Paul leaves no doubt in Timothy’s mind that Paul has a high regard & affection for him. This can be a reminder that each of us and all of us needs to receive affirmation – especially within this body of faith we call the church. Far too often we neglect to affirm the work and ministry of others and primarily speak to share concerns & criticism.
Paul too had his concerns and he reminds Timothy to reach for the resources of God’s grace that is already within him, though not of his creation or of his own doing. That grace is a gift from God. Paul speaks to his timidity (and to ours) when he next says God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power, of love and self discipline. We contemporary Christians seem to be timid in seizing the gifts we have been given in order to make a difference in the world and community around us. We are also quite timid in sharing our story of faith with others. Paul speaks through the centuries to remind us that we have been imbued with power to make a difference in the live of others. To do that we need to be disciplined in our use of that power in order to make certain we use it as intended for the common good.
Paul also speaks of the treasure we have been given thru the Christian faith. We have to recognize and to correctly utilize this treasure that has been entrusted to us. In truth Paul knows we cannot hope to do this all by ourselves – we need to rely on the Holy Spirit and receive support from the faith community.
In the Gospel of Luke someone has asked Jesus to increase the size/amount of their faith. The implication of this question is that size matters. If you have 8oz of faith you can only do a fraction of what you can do if you had the quart or gallon size faith. JESUS PUTS THAT NOTION TO REST.
My temptation in answering may well have been to suggest a few books to read, perhaps some spiritual practices to engage in or allocating time for meditation, prayer or scripture reading. These are not bad suggestions but advocating them in response to this particular request is buying into the stereotype that our goal as a Christian is to do faith body-building exercises to get our faith into shape for some sort of measurable faith competition. According to Jesus our primary goals are a right relationship with God, and to reach out to others – sharing the faith and the gifts we have right now.
Jesus sounds exasperated by this question. He responds – If you only have a small dot of faith you can do great things.
Part of our confusion is that we think of faith as belief. An intellectual assent to the tenets of belief. Perhaps even of being able to pass a theological quiz or religious test of some sort. Faith as Jesus presents it was trust and confidence in God and God’s promises. So Jesus is saying if we have even a minuscule amount of trust and confidence in God and the promises of God, we will be able to do great & wonderful things for other people. This is because we are not depending on ourselves, but trusting and depending on the power of God to work through us. If we have a small bit of trust that God can and will work through us we will be amazed at what can happen.
In the 1980’s I was in a parish in Buffalo. The parish had discerned the need for housing for disabled elders. There was a Federal Program – HUD 202 Housing. A competitive application process requiring the approval and support of the Senator. Our senior Senator was D’Amato – republican senator. Ours was a Democratic district of Buffalo. We prepared an over 200 page application each year for 4 years. Those in the know KNEW we would never get the funding. We only knew it was a needed facility and being too ignorant to give up, we kept at it – and we got the funding. We later found out it was through the request of a member of the Senator’s local staff who was impressed by our yearly efforts and who wanted to get this done… and the facility has celebrated more than 25 years of providing safe & affordable housing for the disabled.
We trusted in the leadings of a power beyond ourselves, If we had trusted in the local political pundits we would have never attempted it, or would have quit after 1 or 2 applications. If we had relied on our power to persuade a senator of the opposite political party as the district – those apartments still would not have been built.
When we put our trust in God’s leading and trustingly try to tap into the resources God gives us – we do things greater than we can imagine. When we encourage one another as members of the body of Christ and work together to make our communities more as God would have them to be important things begin to happen.
St. Paul’s is a smaller congregation. Since 2011 St Paul’s has been focused on doing what we can, for as many as we are able. The results may be seen in our continuing support of the CLM Food Pantry, Haven House and Exit 0. It is seen in the development of CLARK COUNTY CARES as a grassroots organization working to support those in recovery and those dealing with addiction. Through our members and clergy we provide leadership for Clark County CARES, CLM, and Haven House. Our benefit concerts support the work of essential community service organizations. As a small congregation, through our partnerships, we help get a lot done. More than we could have imagined 5 years ago.
Like Timothy, we may, at times get discouraged and need to encourage one another to persevere; and to value and share treasure we have been given.
We need to nurture our faith – our trust in God. To trust that the Holy Spirit is with us and will enable us to do even more things that God would have us do in this part of God’s world where we are called to be Christ’s hands and voice and heart serving God’s people.
Note also that we should not be overly prideful in doing what the Gospel commends and commands – since that is what God asks of us to do in response for the gift of love, and life, of grace and forgiveness. And in gratitude for the indwelling of the Spirit that upholds and guides us into newness of life.