Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost  /  Oct. 7, 2007  /  Resurrection Lutheran Church

Text:  Luke 17: 5 – 10  /  Message by: Pastor Carol Kniseley  /  Title: Increase Our Faith

Have you ever walked in on what appeared to be a “private conversation” and felt like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time?    That’s how it felt to me the first time I read today’s Gospel lesson.    It seems that Jesus was in the middle of talking to his disciples about a pretty touchy subject…one that wasn’t meant for “public ears” to hear.    In order to make any sense out of where today’s lesson picks up on the conversation…we’re going to have to back up a few verses and listen in on what has already been said.      Backing up to verses 1 – 4, we read:

(1)           Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!    (2) It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and your were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.   (3) Be on your guard!  If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.    (4) And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”

Is it any wonder, then, that the disciples reply to Jesus:  “Increase our faith!”    Jesus goes on to apparently add insult to injury by imply that if they only had faith the size of a mustard seed…they would be able to do miraculous things.   But the truth is…it’s not about the amount of faith that one has, as if “more” were indeed better.    Jesus knows…that in the end…it all comes down to “trust”.   

God asks us to do things every day that we may find difficult to do.   Straight from today’s lesson: forgive a person who has wronged us…not just once…but as many as seven times, which really means an infinite number.     What if we can’t find it within ourselves to do such a gracious act?   To wipe the slate clean and call it a brand new day?    According to Jesus, the choice is not ours to make.  

If we claim to be his disciples, then there is only one solution.    Instead of relying on ourselves to “muster up enough faith”…we do the only thing that we can do: we put our trust in God.     We trust…that God will sustain us and give us the courage to face each day as it comes.     We trust…that God will lead us to do the right thing…even in times of extreme doubt and uncertainty.    We trust…that in the end…God will make a way.  Which leads me to the true story of a saint…named Agnes B.   

Agnes B. had wanted to serve God all of her life.    From the time she was twelve years old, she knew that she wanted to be a missionary to the poor.   At age 36, her wish came true.    Already a nun, she claimed that Jesus had spoken to her and called her to abandon her teaching career and work instead in the slums of the city, dealing with the “poorest of the poor”…the sick, the dying, the beggars and street children.      It wasn’t until two years later that she was finally granted permission to start the Missionaries of Charity…and to begin ministering in the slums of Calcutta, India.

It is then that she claims, something totally unforeseen took place.   Instead of feeling empowered  and rejuvenated with the presence of God in her “new call”, Agnes began to feel as if God had abandoned her…as if Jesus had simply taken himself away.     Over the next fifty years, Agnes began to reveal through a series of very personal letters that even the so called “saints” among us have their moments of crisis when it comes to faith in God.

She writes…and I quote from Time magazine ( Sept. 7, 2007):

“But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see.   Listen…and do not hear.   The tongue moves in prayer…but does not speak.   I want you to pray for me that I let Him have a free hand.”

And in another correspondence:

“I call, I cling, I want…and there in no One to answer.    No One to whom I can cling…no, No One.   Alone…where is my Faith…even deep down…right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness.     My God…how painful is this unknown pain.   I have no Faith.    I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart and make me suffer untold agony.”

Agnes B., now known around the world as Mother Teresa, wrestled with a very real and very personal crisis of faith, or seemingly lack thereof.    And yet…when we think of Mother Teresa…do we not think of the wonderful ministry that she and the Missionaries of Charity brought not only to light in India but throughout the rest of the world?    

When we hear those words, ‘the poorest of the poor’…do we not equate her with our supreme example of one serving in Jesus name?    People from all walks of life…with all kinds of religious beliefs…came pouring out of the woodwork to do nothing but serve as she had served in like ministry all over the world.    All because this one woman…this one servant who refused to give in to her own feelings of inadequacy…refused to turn her back on Jesus’ request.    For over fifty years, she continued to say “yes”…and God used her…even when it meant that she could no longer hear his voice or feel his guiding presence in her life.    

In the end…when there was no faith to muster up of her own…she did what all of us are called to do.     Mother Teresa…whole-heartedly put her trust in God.       And that is why she got up at 4:30 AM every single morning for Jesus…and still wrote to him until the very day she died, saying,

Your happiness…is all I want.’  

May we be so blessed to not only say the same, but to now go and serve the Lord…with a servant’s heart…in no need of thanks.    To which we all can reply: thanks be to God…in whom we place our trust!