Seventeeth Sunday After Pentecost: October 6, 2019
Click here for a video recording of the Bishop's sermon at St. Catherine's.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” What a heartfelt prayer offered by Jesus’ inner circle of friends as they faced opposition, challenging circumstances and an unknown future. And here we are! They desire an ever-deepening trust in the goodness and grace of God as shown forth in Jesus, a grace that restores and renews in the face of trying times.
“Increase our faith” might be our prayer here at St. Catherine’s as well as you continue to face trying circumstances and as yet an unknown future. You’ve continued to hang in and be faithful people representing the Episcopal Church and our diocese in this part of God’s vineyard. But you and others are tired. The way is not always easy. I wonder if you heard Habakkuk’s words as they might apply to your reality? I thought they were quite striking.
To give some context, Habakkuk the prophet is writing in a time of the decline of the threat of Assyria and the eventual fall of Jerusalem. Israel is dealing with the breakdown of justice and order (some things just don’t change). Habakkuk’s message is to bring assurance of the power of God in human history, even when it appears God is silent, affirming God’s purpose is being worked out in history despite evidence to the contrary in any given moment. Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Listen to Habakkuk’s words again with me and think of our diocesan context as well as yours here at St. Catherine’s:
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen...Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble...So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails…Then the Lord answered me and said: …for there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
Fascinating yes!? It seems to describe so well parts of our present context. Although Habakkuk is speaking of nations and the survival of Israel and we are talking about parishes and a diocese, we do so for the same reason, which is, in order to be a voice of God’s justice, beauty and hope, the liberating Good News that sets God’s people free—every single one.
It was the mission of Jesus and therefore it is our mission to be a people who embody ever more fully and radiate ever more clearly that pure and unbounded love, who is God. Yet we often don’t get it just as the apostles often did not get it. We’re no different than they. We often struggle with what it means to be faithful. We pray for an increase, a deepening of faith and trust in the One who is the ground of our being in order to, among other things, resist the destructive and oppositional forces swirling all around them and us. Jesus uses the image of a mulberry tree that I’m told has an incredibly extensive root system and therefore would be nearly impossible to uproot much less replant in deep water. The point being: genuine faith can bring about quite unexpected things. What we cannot do is presume upon God’s graciousness as if we deserve it. It is all gift. Then out of the pure joy that comes from a grateful heart, we put our faith into action.
When you at St. Catherine’s committed yourself to being a faithful remnant of Episcopalians, you did not know fully what lay before you. You and all of us hoped it would be for the relatively short term. It has not turned out that way. It has been costly in all kinds of ways. But isn’t that the way of the Cross? Of course faithfulness is costly. This journey, your journey, is about more than property. It is about the integrity of the Gospel itself as we have received it.
Study after study of American religion is telling us that the time for casual Christianity is over. A recent report of The Pew Research Center says: “casual Christianity, the kind that is not lived deeply as a pattern of life, is losing legitimacy among young people because many Christians only speak the truth and fail to DO the truth.” “Increase our faith” can be our cry along with Jesus’ apostles.
Perhaps we need to metaphorically be uprooting some mulberry trees as bold ambassadors of Jesus. As a community of faith, we are called by God because we have a mission to celebrate and a love to share. Every Eucharistic celebration reminds us that our life is not primarily about the maintenance of an institution, nor about the management of an organization. It is about the challenging transformation of God’s people into the mystery of divine love in order to change the world. It is to be a part of the “Jesus movement” as our Presiding Bishop calls it.
Hear again St. Paul’s admonition in II Timothy today, to “rekindle the gift of God that is within you…for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self discipline.” Paul’s letter reminds that early Christian community of the faith handed down to them from Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice. You too are here because of folks who have handed down the faith to you.
As tired as we may be, the faith communities in Habakkuk, II Timothy and Luke, are being called to persevere. It is the way of the Cross. It is not easy. Yet we stay rooted in the hope of resurrection to come for again from II Timothy, we “know the one in whom I (we) have put our trust…Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” Lord, “Increase our faith.”
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.