TEXTS: Lamentations 1:1-6; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Faith in God is hard. While faith in God is the only way to live, its necessity does not make it easy. Faith in God requires a total commitment.
Two significant challenges the preacher this week. First, the texts are not easy, requiring thoughtful unpacking for contemporary congregations. Second, it is Worldwide Communion Sunday and there is a temptation to force the texts to speak about communion.
The passages this week tell us that faith in God is hard. Faith in God is the only way to live, but that does not make it easy. Faith in God requires a total commitment. “Faith” is one of those words that is a challenge to define, and the passages this week provide us with at least three different ways of talking about faith:
Faith as a loyalty commitment to God made known to us in Jesus Christ;
Faith as holding on to God by one’s fingertips, “Lord, I believe, help my
Faith lived in service to God and the people of God.
While talking about all three definitions of faith in one sermon may be tempting, it might be wiser for the preacher to choose one aspect of faith to focus on, allowing their hearers to think deeper into the chosen at definition. The preacher can challenge themselves and their congregations by preaching a definition of faith that will sound new, unexpected to the congregation.
2 Timothy 1:1-14 outlines Timothy’s spiritual story. Timothy had a “sincere faith”, a heritage of his mother and grandmother which he had made his own. Timothy had been commissioned (ordained?), set apart by the laying on of hands, receiving “a spirit of power and of love”. Timothy grew up in the church and the community of faith, and yet Paul says: “do not be ashamed” of the gospel; “hold to the standard of sound teaching”; and “guard the good treasure entrusted to you.” Strong words outlining an important and difficult task: to be faithful in the face of suffering and potential embarrassment. It is not hard to apply these words to the generation coming after us (every generation has done this, thinking the next was not faithful enough), but embedded in this challenge is a word of hope. Vs. 12 highlights Paul’s confidence that even though the faith journey is hard God can be trusted.
In this context communion becomes a reminder of Jesus’ loyalty to us, and an opportunity for us to affirm anew our loyalty to him. That we will not be ashamed.
In so many words, Habakkuk asks, “Why is the life of faith so hard? Why is there so little evidence that God is being victorious?” Certainly the passage from Lamentations 1 describing a world where God seems to be absent, even fighting against God’s people, fits well with the world Habakkuk sees. Even though Habakkuk has demands to lay at God’s feet, he is still seeing answers from God. Habakkuk knows that God alone is able to do something about his complaint; he has nowhere else to go. Habakkuk has a difficult faith relationship with God.
God’s answer does not deal directly with Habakkuk’s concern, instead God affirms God will act bringing about the reign of God – “wait for it; it will surely come.” Waiting will require faith that God will act, that God’s word will accomplish the task he purposed for it. And so “the righteous will live by their faith.” Faith in a God who will act, faith in a God who seems slow, or maybe even absent.
Habakkuk has faith, but his faith does not lead to a comfortable life or material prosperity. Habakkuk’s faith holds on despite the lack concrete evidence that such faith is being rewarded.
In this context communion points with faith ahead to what God will do, it is a Word spoken in hope of the banquet in the kingdom of God. Even if faith is difficult, that we are present indicates a tiny bit of faith is still left – maybe it is holding on to us, more than we are holding on to it.
Luke 17:5-10 comes immediately after Jesus extraordinary words about how his followers are to offer forgiveness to each other. To which the disciples respond “Increase our faith!” As N.T. Wright helpful notes (see quote below) Jesus’ suggests that the disciples do not need more faith, what they require is nothing larger than a pin hole through which to see God and that will be all they need to be able to live the pattern of life Jesus lays out.
Jesus goes on to challenge any feeling in his followers that living by Jesus’ pattern is worthy of special commendation or reward, it is simply the way to live life. It is what is expected of the followers of Jesus as the ordinary life. The life of faith is what we are expected to live, serving the awesome God of majesty who we have glimpsed through the pin-hole the size of a grain of mustard seed.
This passage should make those followers of Jesus who feel they have earned special treatment from God uncomfortable. Our service is simply what we are expected to do, no more and no less. The twist here for Worldwide Communion Sunday is that Jesus invites us to the banquet table that God has prepared for us. We are invited even though we are unworthy. The invitation is the result of God’s grace – that is the reason we can share in the meal.
“It was to God that the true Israelite took his complaint, acknowledging thereby that whether he helped or whether he refrained from helping, apart from him assuredly there was no help.” – J. H. Eaton
“God has dispatched into the midst of society a creative, active word which pants with breathless eagerness towards its full realization. Hidden in its depth it carries a mighty work of God. Habakkuk did not profess to know when the hidden power would be manifest. But he knew it would not fail nor tarry beyond the time appointed by God, a time which he would call ‘the End’ since it would consummate God’s work.” – J.H. Eaton
“The parable of the master and slave is a warning against the book-keeping mentality, which thinks it can run up a credit balance with God. The slave’s labor belongs to their master, and a full day’s work is no more than their duty.” – G. B. Caird
“Perhaps not surprisingly, the disciples realize in verse 5 that all this [offering forgiveness – vs. 1-4] will require more faith than they think they have. Jesus is quick to respond. It’s not great faith you need; it is faith in a great God. Faith is like a window through which you can see something. What matters is not whether the window is six inches or six feet high; what matters is the God that your faith is looking out on. If it’s the creator God, the God active in Jesus and the Spirit, then the tiniest little peep-hole of a window will give you access to power like you never dreamed of. Of course, this cannot be used for your own whim or pleasure; as soon as you tried, it would show that you’d forgotten, once more, who this God really was. Humility once again.” – N. T. Wright
“At the great banquet the Master himself will serve us. Does not that inspire us to grasp every opportunity of serving him first?” – David Gooding
A number of years ago I visited a woman who had cancer in her arm. The medical solution was to amputate the arm. While the woman was somewhat worried about the operation, she was far more concerned about the failure of God. She put it bluntly, “I worked hard for God and the church, and now I have cancer. How can that be? Other people have done less for God and they don’t have cancer.” God was failing to live up to his part of the bargain. She was unable to grasp that God’s blessing was not related to how well she served God.
“How can I say thanks for the things” (Crouch)
“O for a faith that will not shrink”
“People draw near to God in their distress”
“I am not ashamed to own my Lord”
“I know not why God’s wondrous grace”
have mercy on us, your unworthy servants,
and make our faith stronger,
so that we serve you obediently
throughout our lives.
We ask this through your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
we thank you for serving us at your Table
against all convention. Amen.