Sermon: “The Faithful God” (Luke 17:5-10)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Faithful God” 
October 2, 2016
Philip Ryan

I want you to picture a day like yesterday; clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, no humidity, and warm but not hot. Now, picture a young girl playing in her front yard her parents watching her with pure delight. She climbs the big oak tree in their front yard being careful not to slip. After a good climb up she looks out and sees her house, her front yard, and her parents. A sudden panic passes over her as she realizes how far she is from her parents, how great of an effort it will take to get to them, and how on earth is she going to get down!

She calls out, “Daddy! Daddy, I can’t come down. You’ve got to get me down!”
Her Father responds, “You can jump and I’ll catch you.”
“You’ll catch me?” She’s not repeating back what he said but clarifying, “You are going to catch me.”
He stretches out his arms and says, “I’ll catch you.”
With a big gulp she whispers, “He’ll catch me” before leaping off the tree branch and into the air.

Our gospel reading today is one of those moments where we see the apostles trying really hard. Their request is completely genuine. Having heard Jesus articulate the cost of forgiveness he expects of his followers, forgiving people generously, they recognize how far they are from Him, from His kingdom, from one another. They correctly admit something that would bother many today, a lack of faith.

Most of us have a non-biblical understanding of faith or belief. Belief or faith is viewed as intellectual assent to statements, creeds, or facts. Biblically, faith is most often used to describe a disposition not a possession. Abraham is told to walk “faithfully before the Lord,” the spies tell Rahab that they will deal with her “kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.” When the friends of the paralytic man lower him through the roof so they could get him to Jesus, Luke says, “When the Lord saw their faith…” In the Bible faith describes a relationship of trust and love. The apostles demand for more faith is not a bad request but it is wrong. They think they need something extra, they need to do something more, they need great Faith. Jesus’ non-response, since the whole verse about the mustard seed and mulberry tree is an odd way to respond, tells them – “You don’t need great faith, you need faith in a great God.” Do you have enough faith to admit you don’t have enough faith? When life gets hard, when parents get sick, children make poor decisions, a spouse lets you down, do you have the faith to say, “Jesus I don’t have the faith to carry on, but you can carry on for me.”

If you have enough faith to admit you don’t have enough faith, may I be so bold as to recommend something I’ve experienced in my own Christian walk. During seminary we were broke, newlyweds, had a baby, and in constant need of great faith. But there were so many times when I was stranded up the large tree of unbelief and exhaustion. I had no more faith left to give God. One of the great truths I learned was that the Bible recounts God’s great faithfulness to His people. This is seen most clearly and eloquently in the Exodus narrative. Having come out of Egypt and on Mount Sinai, the Lord descends to speak with Moses proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6). A young nation recently freed from a superpower, uncertain of their future, and given a great task think they need great faith and God says, you need me the one who is faithful to His promises. Paul will encourage Timothy, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful” (2 Tim 2:13). During those beautiful, hard, I would change nothing years of seminary, when everything appeared to fall apart, I would recount God’s faithfulness in my life. I would begin at the cross, which is the greatest reminder of God’s faithfulness and retrace the steps of my life stopping in the hard places and searching for the God who was always present. I don’t need great faith, but I desperately need a great God.

As the little girl is floating through the air her faith to jump wasn’t reached by thinking through the laws of gravity, or the physics behind how far she needs to jump out in order to not hit another branch or miss her daddy. She jumped because she trusts the person she is jumping to. She loves him; she knows he won’t drop her. She knows that if something were to go wrong on her way down that he would do whatever it takes even sacrifice himself to save her. She has faith not that she can make the jump, but that her father can catch her. Amen.