Increase our faith

A deeply devout Christian woman died. Her son had inherited none of her faith. In his grief, for the first time, he wanted the comfort and strength that only faith can provide. So, he took his mother's glasses, her prayer book and sat in her favorite chair. He opened the prayer book and tried to hear what she heard. He put on the glasses and tried to see what she saw. All to no avail.[1]

We may chuckle at that story, yet at least occasionally most of us wish that our spirituality was stronger, deeper. Similarly, Jesus' disciples approached him and implored, “Increase our faith.”[2]

The early history of Jesus’ teaching about the mustard seed highlights one way to increase our faith. Scholars believe that Mark’s gospel was the first gospel written. In Mark, Jesus teaches his disciples that faith is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds that grows into the largest of shrubs.[3] In Luke’s gospel, as we just heard, Jesus says that faith the size of a mustard seed can relocate a mulberry tree. And in Matthew’s gospel, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain.[4] Christians used hyperbole and similes to remember and to interpret Jesus’ teaching about the power of faith, comparing a tangible seed to power able to move trees and mountains. Imagination makes these figures of speech intelligible and memorable. Spiritual guide and Episcopal priest Morton Kelsey described imagination as “the key that unlocks the door to the inner life.”[5]

With art as a catalyst, our imagination may awaken us to God's presence by evoking a sense of awe, beauty and majesty. Illustratively, you may recall that the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, a monastery outside Castile, Spain, produced an unexpected best-selling CD in 1994, Chant.[6] The monks recorded chants sung in their monastery for a millennium. I listened to the CD as I prepared this sermon. The haunting quality of the chants quiets my spirit and evokes a feeling of the sacred. Perhaps you have had similar experiences listening to the music of Christmas, Handel’s Messiah, modern praise music or other music. Architecture and the visual arts sometimes have the same effect.

Imagination can also transform hope into reality. Possibility thinkers and self-help gurus have packaged and sold this message for a century.[7] Athletes, public speakers and countless others routinely use visualization techniques to help achieve their goals. The disciples’ plea to Jesus, increase our faith, expresses the hope of genuine desire. Jesus' response invited them to use their imaginations to transform nascent hope into reality. We walk in the disciples’ footsteps when we visualize ourselves and others in God's presence. Create imaginary scenarios in which you, your loved ones, and others seek to trust and to obey God more completely. Such visualizations are hopes, prayers, God uses to transform hope into reality. Without hope, faith stagnates and slowly dies.[8]

Additionally, imagination can function as an ear with which to hear God speak.[9] Apocalyptic literature, including the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, exemplify a genre of literature through which God has spoken to the imagination of many. Likewise, a birth in a manger, walking on water, crucifixion, and resurrection are all images our imagination can use to listen for God to speak.

When you feel tense, over stressed or bereft of inspiration, learn to relax in God's loving embrace. Read the Bible or another book, listen to music or simply sit and daydream. Allow images, words, people and feelings to become vehicles through which God occasionally speaks.

The second part of today’s gospel read may appear unrelated to the disciples’ request for Jesus to increase their faith. Imagination is a key aspect of the interior path to an increased faith. The reading’s second part emphasizes the external path to an increased faith. This exterior path is the way of love, serving Jesus with our time, talent and treasure. Both in this passage and elsewhere, Jesus identified his disciples as God's servants.

Hopefully, your attendance at Holy Nativity facilitates your interior journey. Concurrently, participation here also involves treading the external path of love by which you increase your faith. This fall’s stewardship campaign invites your support of Holy Nativity’s mission to be a place in which people of all ages and backgrounds experience God, a place where the needs of the hungry and other persons are met and the spiritually homeless discover a welcoming community. Priests alone cannot achieve this mission. Holy Nativity can achieve its mission only through your collective and generous gifts of time (whether to the altar guild or the outreach committee), talent (whether to the choir or the vestry) or treasure (money). Give not because Holy Nativity needs your time, talent and treasure. Give because in giving God draws you close and your faith increases.

Sermon preached the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 6, 2019
Church of the Holy Nativity, Honolulu, HI

[1] Pulpit Resource, Vol. 14, No. 4 (1997), 4.
[2] Luke 17:5-10.
[3] Mark 4:31-32.
[4] Matthew 17:20/
[5] Morton T. Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence (New York: Paulist, 1976), p. 178.
[6] The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, “Chant,” Angel Records, 1994.
[7] Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking (Pawling, New York: Foundation for Christian Living, 1978) and Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991).
[8] David J. Bryant, “Imago Dei, Imagination, and Ecological Responsibility,” Theology Today, April 2000, pp. 36-40.
[9] H. Richard Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (New York: Macmillan, 1941), pp. 67-79.


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