Tag Archives: faith

Increase (?) our faith (Ordinary Sunday 27, Year C)

Reading
Luke 17.5–10

The disciples say to Jesus,

Increase our faith!

The scriptures don’t mention their state of mind, but I can’t resist speculating. I suspect they were
anxious,
bewildered,
confused,
and shamed.

You see, Jesus had just said some things that showed that it’s very difficult sometimes to be his disciple. Things like this:

Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their necks than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin.

What’s that about? What are the ‘things that cause people to trip and fall into sin’? Jesus explains what he means: it’s all about not forgiving other people. Surprised? Listen:

Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.

That’s when the disciples say, ‘Increase our faith!’

The disciples are saying, You want us to forgive someone who keeps doing the wrong thing day after day after day? You’re asking the impossible! Increase our faith!

And what do they mean, ‘Increase our faith’? It is absolutely crucial to understand Jesus’ reply. He tells them the size of their faith doesn’t matter. It only needs to be the size of a mustard seed.

If size doesn’t matter, what does matter? Continue reading

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Faith looks forward

Ordinary Time 20C; Pentecost 13C; Proper 15C

Readings
Isaiah 5.1–7
Hebrews 11.29—12.2
Luke 12.49–56

Today and last Sunday, the lectionary has directed our thoughts to Hebrews 11, the great ‘Faith Chapter’. Key Old Testament figures of faith are remembered in this chapter: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Samuel, David, and others. Of course, if we were writing this list today we may have included Sarah with Abraham, and named more women than Rahab. Women like Hagar, Ruth, Deborah and Judith would really round the chapter out for many of us.

The stories of people of faith can be a great encouragement to us. The people of faith we ourselves know can also encourage us.

I want to tell you about a time when I wondered if I really was a person of faith after all. A time when I thought my faith may just evaporate.

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Standing on the ground of grace (Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, 18 March 2012)

Standing on the ground of grace

Readings
Ephesians 2.1-10
John 3.14-21

Grace.

It’s a word we hear in church often. We hear it outside of church too—we speak of a dancer who dances with a certain grace, a certain beauty and delicacy. People say grace before a meal. If someone offends another, they may have the grace to apologise. You may receive a year’s grace before you must pay a debt—but if you don’t pay, you’ll fall from grace. And if Kate Middleton were ever to come here, she’d want you to call her ‘Your Grace’. It’s a very positive word!

Yet grace has another kind of positive meaning when St Paul says,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…

Here, the word ‘grace’ means something greater and grander than any of the other ways we use it.

Grace is a great word, one of the greatest in the whole of the scriptures. We read in John’s Gospel chapter one that ‘grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’:

the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

And Paul says in Romans,

since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…

Jesus Christ has brought us grace upon grace; grace is the very ground on which we stand.

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The faith of outsiders (20th Sunday, Year A 14 August 2011)

Readings
Romans 11.1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15.10-28 

Make no mistake: the story of the encounter of Jesus with the Canaanite woman is one of the most troubling in all the Gospels—and yet it’s one of the most rewarding.

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus meets a woman and implies that because she is a Canaanite person, she can be called a dog. It’s what we would call these days a ‘racial slur’; the Canaanites were ancient and bitter enemies of Israel, whose ancestors had led Israel away to worship idols. If this were the only story of Jesus that we knew, would he be an attractive figure?

This story is an embarrassment, it always has been. People have tried to get around it in various ways. They note that Jesus said ‘puppy’, not ‘dog’; but puppies are just as religiously ‘unclean’ as grown-up dogs.

They say that Jesus was testing the faith of this woman who was only trying to get help for her daughter. They are trying to ‘protect’ Jesus, but they are unconvincing. Again, think: if this were the only story about Jesus we had, what opinion would you have of him? Actually, I hope you’d still end up with a pretty good opinion of Jesus. I’d hope that if this was all we knew about Jesus, we’d think highly of him.

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“It is your Father’s good pleasure 
to give you the kingdom”

Devotions: Bremer Brisbane Presbytery meeting

Readings
Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16
Luke 12.32-40

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12.32

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11.1

Faith is ‘the conviction of things not seen’, the gift of God that enables the believer to stand firm in the midst of difficulties and trials. Or at least, faith reminds the believer where to go to find help in the midst of those difficulties and trials.

Faith is ‘the assurance of things hoped for’, the means by which we lean into a hope-filled future—not because we’re optimists by nature, but because it is God’s future.

Hebrews 11, the great faith Chapter, gives us examples of those who lived by faith in Old Testament times: Abel, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Rahab and others. It tells of those who

through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.

More than that though, it tells of those who

were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two (according to tradition, the prophet Isaiah met his death by being sawn in two by a wooden sword), they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

All of these, whether so-called ‘winners’ and so-called ‘losers’, had faith—they had conviction that gave them the power to conquer or endure; they had assurance that there was a promised future in God’s good time.

We too live by faith. Yet unlike these Old Testament heroes, we see the promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ; but like them, we see it by faith.

But there is one further dimension to our faith. It is built on Jesus himself, upon God’s taking flesh and living our life. It is built upon God’s humility in dying our death. And it is built on God’s authority over death.

We see more clearly than our ancestors that God is a seeking God, a finding God, that God is looking for partners in bringing about the new creation. We have the word of Jesus:

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Isn’t that wonderful? It is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, little flock though we may be. It is the Father’s pleasure for us to work with him in revealing the nature and the contours of that kingdom in our own day. It is the Father’s pleasure for us to live faithfully, whether the ‘results’ of our work look like ‘success’ or ‘failure’ to us.

There’s a sense to me at least that Hebrews 11 describes a heroic quest for the promises. I’ve already used the word ‘heroes’. Yet for me, faith isn’t heroic. Really, faith is all we have. Whether we are ‘successes’ or ‘failures’, whether life is going well or badly, whether we ‘escape the sword’ or are ‘sawn in two’.

And we have faith because in and through Christ, it is God’s good pleasure.

Now, today, it is our turn to live this life of faith. To live with conviction about the present and assurance for the future. To receive the kingdom, and to be generous in sharing it with others. It’s God’s good pleasure. Amen.

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Yet more on faith — “the turn to the personal”

Today’s Eureka St has an interesting article on Irish poet Seamus Heaney called “Non-believer drawn by the sacred”, which says:

…the language of his Catholic past has found new power now. In the poem ‘Out of This World’, he traces the journey from his childhood immersion in ritual to the present, saying of his mature understanding:

And yet I cannot
disavow words like ‘thanksgiving’ or ‘host’
or ‘communion bread’. They have an undying
tremor and draw, like well water far down.

What to make of Heaney’s spiritual journey? It could easily be seen as a casualty of the so-called secularising effect of the ’60s and ’70s; as a loss of religious faith followed by the emergence of a more syncretistic spirituality.

But such a judgement misses the major transition. Heaney describes a shift from faith understood primarily as external adherence to ritual, to faith or the spiritual quest as having profound personal resonance. Even though he no longer sees himself as a believer, sacred words now ‘have an undying/tremor and draw’. They have the capacity to shake the soul and beckon it forth. (Not that I wouldn’t love Heaney to discover the full joy of Christian faith: I would, if he so discovered it.)

Read the whole thing here.

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More on Faith

I preached on faith last Sunday, so it was good to see what Simon Barrow has written about faith in a very cleverly-named article, “The God elusion”. Like everything of his I’ve read, it’s worth spending serious time on:

‘Faith’, therefore, is not about submission to proposition, the refusal of reason or clinging blindly to dogma. It is the opposite of these things – it is a letting-go which goes on trusting beyond the ‘full-stop’ of certain kinds of rationalism, because it does not (and cannot) claim the power to impose limits on the love it encounters.

Faith is continual ‘reasoning with a mystery’, without allowing yourself to be deceived into thinking that you can have an adequate handle on either reason or mystery, or that you can abandon one for the other – the temptation of both the ideologically religious and the ideologically non-religious.

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