Bearing Good Fruit

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I have been very preoccupied this week with the news coming out of South Dakota of the Standing Rock protest. Those of you who are not on my Facebook feed or who have not seen it in the news, the Standing Rock protest is the largest group of Native Americans who have gathered in the history of the United States and they have gathered to protest the placement of an oil pipeline through their lands and to protect the waters of the Missouri which provides clean drinking water to thousands of people.

 

I have been aching to do something, to give, to participate to be a part of and support the brave men and women who are fighting for the health of our nation. I believe that those who call themselves water protectors are fighting for the spiritual health of our nation just as much as they are fighting for our physical health, our environmental health so it is no accident that the tools they are using are song and prayer, and it is no accident that they are confronting worldly powers, powers which threaten them with physical harm, with shame and humiliation, which seeks to break their spirit with unwarranted strip searches and physical violence.

 

I want to stand beside them and acknowledge that I, like the rest of America, am addicted to oil and gas and I know it isn’t good for me, it isn’t good for us. Our dealers, those big oil CEO’s and big oil companies might punish us for supporting Standing Rock and raise the price of gas, but in my heart of hearts I feel called, impelled to give to Standing Rock, to support them in any way I can. I want to send them warm blankets and cold weather gear because I know the cold of winter they will face in their tents and tipis. ,I want to visit and stand with them if only for a few days. I want to purchase water filters so they will always have access to clean drinking water, and when those who serve and protect big oil come at them with weapons and mace, I want to stand in front of them.

 

I am a little fired up and impassioned about this. So it is no accident that I feel called to give and to be in action. The fruit I long to see ripen in my lifetime is one of justice and equality. It is one which will lead a cultural shift away from consumerism and our addictive lifestyle to a life of purpose and meaning. Recently at a Madison’s pastors gathering I listened as one pastor expressed a longing to bring community to all of those young professionals living in their high rise condos who struggle with finding any meaning or purpose in their lives beyond consumerism. I could hear how fired up and passionate he was about reaching those people, how called he felt to give of himself, his time, his energy and resources. The fruit he was longing for was healing, was meaning and purpose in shared community.

 

The fruit we want to ripen in our life, what we want for our life, can’t be bought in a store, no matter how often consumerism promises us it can. We are a very addicted society and our addictions tell us that we don’t have to give anything up or work hard to get what we want, that there are quick fixes out there, but in our heart of hearts, we know better. In our heart of hearts we know that we must dig deep and prepare the soil, we must plant the seeds and tend them with loving care, we must nurture the crop through all the seasons if we want the fruit. We don’t get to jump ahead and forgo the work, and still get the fruit. It just doesn’t work that way, not that we don’t tend to try. We cannot reap what we do not sow, no matter how much we might want it.

 

The question I want to ask you today, is what fruit is your soul longing for, burning for, calling out for? What injustice, pain, lack of connection, poverty, loss, is pulling at your heart, pulling you into action and into outrageous acts of love and giving? Is it nearby? Very close even, perhaps in the loneliness of elders at nursing homes, those who are feeling forgotten and who so need a visitor, who so need to know that they are loved even when they can’t do anything for you? Is it the youth who we keep so preoccupied with one activity after another who you long to see find purpose and meaning in their lives? Who you long to see grow spiritually? Are you called by those who have little opportunity, who live in poverty or who lack schools, such as the young people of the Yucatan? Or the young people in Kokomo? What fruit is your soul longing for? Is it justice? Is it peace? Is it community?

 

God will not leave us alone, but continues to extend these invitations to our heart’s longing. We are not forced to give of ourselves, we are not required to give, but we are not free from the consequences of not giving. We are not free from the bitterness and hardness that results when we close ourselves off and God wants so much more for us! God urges us to be generous not because God wants something from us, but because God wants something for us. God takes even the smallest gift we give and uses it to transform our lives. God calls us into deeper, fuller, richer lives, resplendent with healthy relationships and freedom from fear and addiction.

 

I hope that you aren’t hearing me say that I am not as involved in systems of addiction and consumerism as anyone else. Every time I contemplate my giving I have to face how much I want to be comfortable, how much I want the next newest thing, and I love, I really love my truck! I love hopping in it and being able to go anywhere I want at any given moment. I love being able to haul what I need from point a to point b and sometimes it makes me feel that I am able to contribute more so I tend to justify having a truck and driving myself instead of carpooling.

 

I know that standing with the people of Standing Rock might impact my driving around and the freedom I feel in being able to do that relatively cheaply. If I really want change, if I want spiritual fruits to bloom in my life, I must see how I am implicated in the very systems that would prevent it. I must see how I am captured by sinful systems, systems of addiction and consumerism, systems that promise me comfort if I would only, please, not challenge them. “Bow before me and I will grant all your wishes,” This is the invitation Satan gave Jesus and which is still proffered to us.

 

I, like everyone else, will reap what I sow. And I, like everyone else, am a total mixed bag of good and bad and I wish I could be better and I’m really trying to work up the effort and courage to do so. Please understand that a significant part of my stewardship process myself is becoming aware of what a grasping, frightened person I can be and discovering that healthy, good stewardship is a journey of increasing freedom as I go. I’m not there yet, but I’m on the path, just like all of you.

 

What fruit do you want to see in your life? What seeds are you planting? The good news is that God takes even our meager gifts, our messy efforts and makes great things happen through them.

 

Being freed from the flesh, from worldly concerns, frees us to recognize the connection we share with one another, it frees us to live for God and live lives of love and freely giving of ourselves and our things without regard for what the world thinks, without regard for our social standing and our keeping up with the Joneses.

 

We don’t have to accomplish this freedom from fear all by ourselves. We don’t have to transform and can’t, by ourselves, but God will work with us, to the extent that we are able to step forward in faith, God moves us further than our own efforts can.

 

God does not force us, but does extend an invitation, an invitation to a broader, richer, fuller life than we can possibly imagine! It is God who turns the tiniest seed planted in the largesse of trees which give shelter to birds and animals, which bear fruit in abundance.

 

If we live our lives in fear and in grasping for ourselves we come to see others as rivals for limited resources, hence the grasping and biting, the fighting one another off, the getting while the getting is good. But we are called to so much more! We are called to a greater freedom!

 

We are called to be freed from a center of gravity around our needs, wants, desires, freed for community. Our text today is not about a personal salvation, a solitary, individual sense of salvation, but about a community. It is about who we are together and how we can live out lives of love and promise right here, right now!

 

The vices and virtues that Paul lists in this letter are those that impact the community. It is not about the self but about us. This is about God’s Spirit that creates community, that is pentecostal. We were created in relationship for relationship. We belong to one another, and trusting in this we are moved body and spirit, our hearts are pulled, and we give because we long for the fruit of the spirit.

 

In our text today flesh is our insecurity through which we are led astray. It is our anxiety and our indulgence. It is our tendency to go through life half asleep and unseeing. What is our ultimate good? Imagine a different kind of living out of a freedom to love and serve others for the good of the whole body of Christ

Those whose way of life is characterized by these the vices Paul lists are inherently separated from the way of God. They are not evil, they are separated from love, from community, from God. And to a certain extent all of us feel this separation ourselves and it is for this reason that we are called to give of ourselves and all that we are. We give to be a blessing to others, in order to grow spiritually which is God’s delight.

 

This is not about flesh-spirit dualism, remember we have a faith that was brought to us by God being incarnated, God enfleshed. We do not have a God who hates the

flesh but one who lived into it. Flesh, in this instance, is that urge to self preservation, that urge to get mine even at the expense of your wellbeing.

 

What marvelous seeds we have been given to sow, and how sad it would be to see our future compromised by our caution. We have stories to tell, seeds to sow, stories of a God who has called us into this beloved community, that draws us into the lives of people all around the world, that fills our hearts to overflowing with love, with compassion! We have stories of a church which welcomes all people, which shares community and reaches out to others, which is an abundant expression of love.

 

If we do not plant seed, we will have no growth, but if we do plant the seed God has given us, it will grow, inch by inch—mustard seed becomes a tree.

 

Giving sparingly, whether out of fear or any other cause, results in spare growth. We are asked to give faithfully, trusting that God will use what we give. If we do not plant seed, there will be no growth, but if we sow what we have generously, it will grow and God will do great things with it.

 

We are freed from requirements of the law and I do not want to place any new requirements on you. God asks that we give not as a requirement that we be loved or be worthy, but that we can experience even greater freedom. Some of you might be thinking what more can I give? I’m tapped out!

 

But we can give, and we need to give! We need to give if this means dedicating 15 minutes a day to earnest prayer. We need to give if it means joining a committee and holding that committee to prayerfully fulfilling its purpose. We need to give if this means finding one person in this community or another community and supporting them with friendship, love, and compassion. We need to give because our soul needs it. God doesn’t need it and God won’t love us any less if we don’t give. We need it. We need it because we need to be freed from our addictions and our consumerism, from our anxieties and our fears.

 

God invites us to give of ourselves that we might know freedom, that we might be released from anxiety and fear, that we might be transformed and made new. God does not ask us to give for God’s sake, but for ours. We are freed to a new way of life, don’t pick up the old, imagine new, great possibilities, and live into them!

Pruning

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Sunday’s sermon was interrupted by a health problem and the audio contains the prayer regarding that.

 

I want to do something different today. I want to let the poetry of our scripture surround us, surround the message, let the poetry of scripture challenge us, change us, shape us. David Whyte once said that poetry is the language for which we have no defense. It permeates our souls, it soaks into our psyche. I suspect that Jesus spoke in parables, stories and poetic images because he knew that our intellect, of which we are so proud, can keep our hearts sheltered, armored, and untouched, but poetry transcends our intellect, it reaches into those places where we tremble to stand with God, into those spaces where we fear that if God really touches us, really shows up, everything will be changed and we both long for that and fear it.

 

So I am not going to give you some intellectual rationale behind vines and vineyards, instead, listen to the poetry of the heart, of God’s heart, of God’s love for you;

 

The Vine and the Branches

15 1-3 “I am the true Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

 

Ah, but the pruning hurts, doesn’t it? We cling to outmoded ways of being, we invest ourselves in a certain way of being, or growth and we don’t want to let it go, no matter what. We cling to it as if it were the only way, the only thing, we do not fear change as much as we fear loss, still the words whisper a deeper invitation

 

Live in me as I live in the Father. You were built for connection, for relationship, so don’t try to go it alone. Don’t injure your soul, letting it become dry and brittle. You were created for a full, rich, juicy life, one filled with sweat and blood, with tears and cries of joy and sorrow. Don’t withhold yourself from me, take the leap, jump into life with both feet and dare to dream great, big, incredible dreams. Don’t stay frozen on the sidelines, but join the game, dance the dance, and let your heart be broken open a hundred, a thousand times.

 

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

 

Make your home in God. Abide in God, dwell in God and let everything be colored and conditioned by this act,this choice. Let God touch your heart knowing it will change everything; that it may send you into the streets of Calcutta or Africa, into the streets of Philadelphia, Portland, or even those narrow streets close by, the ones we don’t look into too deeply, but rather avert our eyes as we pass on by. Make your home in God knowing that when God lives in you fear will be driven out and with that fear gone common sense may leave too! Know that when God lives in you, your heart will be torn apart with love of neighbors you don’t even know and you may find yourself walking into places you’ve not yet heard of with the simple message that God loves you and I know you just needed to hear that today.

 

You may find yourself sharing from your store of wealth, lifting others out of poverty, changing their lives, giving their children a chance, an opportunity, restoring to them the justice that they have cried out for in the dark of their night. And all of this might be scary, it might be frightening, but when God lives in you and you in God there aren’t any limits to what you might do or where you might go, so take heart and do it anyway.

 

5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

 

God, our source and our sustenance, feeding us from within, filling us with all good things and helping us raise our face toward the light. Intimate and organic, deep and personal, this relationship which lives in us, which feeds us as a mother feeds her child, organic and intimate. All that is cut off becomes dried and brittle,a false start, a wrong path, misguided growth that soon withers and falls, soon to be forgotten as blooms form and

 

Be grafted on to the true vine, sink your roots deep within and know that you are kept, sustained, and the harvest will be abundant and neither do you need to hold on to it. Just as a vine does not produce grapes for its own benefit, seeking to feed itself off itself, so we are not called to produce a harvest which we will store and keep for ourselves, but to feed the next generation, to plant seeds in good soil. Know that your sustenance comes from God and trust in that.

 

9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

 

Know that you are loved, wholly and completely and have faith in that; let that love drive out all fear and bring all that is within you to fruition. But keep to the way of Jesus, keep yourself rooted and grounded in love, in gratitude, in compassion. Do not withhold even the smallest part of yourself, but let yourself surrender wholly and completely to God. Let yourself, your life, be pruned so that there is gracious room for God to live within you. Do not let yourself be so overcome with details and cares of the day that you do not have time for God, cut away all that would distract you so that you may come home, at last, to God, come home again, and again, every day come home. Carve out that space in your busy, busy life,

 

11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 

Because you are loved, so deeply loved and God’s desire for you is joy, full, abundant, mature joy. The way to this joy is love, to abide in love, to commit to love, to love in difficult and good times. Stay with one another in love through the most difficult times. This will change you, this will draw out of you the deepest beauty, the most exquisite rapture. It won’t be easy, love is not that simple. But do it because God has become flesh, moved in beside you and called you to this love, because God insists on love. We are done with secrets but there is no end to the depths of God’s love, so let that mystery engage you.

 

Allow yourself and your life to be pruned and shaped not for some abstract idea of what is good or pure, but rather that joy and love might live in you, might flourish in you. All day long the stresses of life will pull you by the hand, drag you this way and that, saying this is important, this needs your attention, you must get this done and this and this…there is no joy and no love in being so overgrown and over scheduled and over occupied, carve yourself a space in which to dwell and abide in God.

 

We prune to create space, to keep the overgrown brush from killing out the more tender shoot, to allow space for something new to come, to allow the shape and beautiful form of what is growing to be revealed.

 

 

16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.

 

 

Abiding in God, resting in God, even a moment of being touched by God, knocked off your horse or lifted in a moment of glorious contact, changes everything. It’s dangerous it swells in your heart and your head and you might find yourself wandering through foreign lands preaching or healing. You might end up in Calcutta or Africa, you might find yourself in the downtown streets of Boston living with the homeless, or you might find yourself standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter or the Standing Rock Tribe as they oppose a pipeline being installed right through their sacred land. It might, in other words, disrupt your cozy life which is fine and beautiful and set you off on a crazy, scary, wild adventure. I think sometimes, that there is a part of us that wants to believe those days are over. The days of radical proselytizing and carrying the love of God into dangerous places and we can therefore reside in our cozy homes (I so love a cozy home!) especially in the fall when the air is crisp and I just want to sit by the fire with a cup of tea and a good book. and just know that everything is okay.

But we are rooted and grounded in love and with all things there are times when we are called to take a rest, we are called to Sabbath as well, but we are rooted and grounded in love and anything that deviates from it withers and dies. So be rooted and grounded in love, rest when you need to but know you are called to be out in the world, bringing good fruit, bringing all that you are. How incredible that God looked at the world and said it needs one of you, and you. How incredible. Be rooted and grounded in love. Grow from that. Let your life be fruitful, in all times and in all places.

 

Sowing Good Seed

 

Gracious God, give us the courage to plant good seed on all soil, not counting the cost and not waiting for a promise of a good harvest, but to plant on and on, in good faith.

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We want to know beforehand, that what we plant will grow to fruition. We want to know that we are not wasting our time or putting ourselves out there, just a touch too far. It’s in our nature to want to know, before we extend our effort and our seed, that the soil will receive it, will reward our effort.

 

How often do we typically try to decide for ourselves what is right, what is wrong, what we want or see as the good for us, rather than relying on God to separate the two. We are given to judging which seed is good, is right, is appropriate, and in our hurry to judge we fail to plant. We wait for the right moment, the right seed, the right ground to show up. We are all too driven to be certain that this is the right way, the right time, the right thing and the seed is never planted because we just can’t be certain.

 

Perhaps there were some overzealous “weeders” in Matthew’s congregation who wanted to purify the community by rooting out the bad seed. This seems to be a temptation for followers of Jesus in every age. We whip ourselves into a weeding frenzy, certain that we know the difference between weeds and wheat, and that we know how to deal with the weeds!

Jesus’ parable makes clear that any attempt to root out the weeds will only do more damage to the crop. This has played out far too many times in congregations and denominations, with some determined to root out anyone who does not agree with the “right” interpretation of Scripture, liturgical practice, or stand on a particular issue. There are also those who pronounce judgment on people outside the church — on people of other faiths, for instance — declaring them to be destined for eternal damnation. Whether judgment is focused within the church or without, it does serious damage to the church and its mission.

 

In order to plant we must accept ambiguity. We must admit that we don’t know exactly what will grow. Often we think we are planting one thing, tending it, watering it, and it turns out to be something else, something we never intended. How do we ensure that our intentions are really aligned with God’s will, how do we make sure that what is growing is the right thing?

 

But, the problem with evil? With sin? Is that it looks pretty darn good. So close to what seems right and virtuous. So close to our vision of what we imagine good should be. It makes me think of the Stepford Wives, everyone in lock step, as if we could find the right way to be and simply mandate it.

 

We are called to have the faith to do our very best and then let go of the results, to trust that God is in the mix and will help us align our best intentions with God’s own will. We, by ourselves, can never be certain that our best efforts are God’s will, are right and correct. So we are called to give our best efforts without that certainty. To plant the seed knowing that some tares will grow among the wheat and that God will sort it out in the end.

 

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.  Mother Theresa

 

 

Who loves perfectly? Only God. The rest of us must make do with imperfect love. We must drop seeds of forgiveness, of grace, of kindness and compassion as we move through the world never being quite sure if these seeds will grow, will stay true to our intent, or will perhaps lay dormant for years, waiting for just the right fire to bring them to life, or perhaps they will grow but all twisted and stunted, malformed and not true to the intent with which they were planted. Who loves perfectly? Only God.

 

“The master went forth and sowed good seed,” because that is what the master does. God sows good seed, true seed, seed which will, in time with good soil, grow true to form. We, on the other hand must make due with our imperfect seed mix. We prepare the soil, plant the seed, and sometimes we aren’t quite sure what we have planted until it comes up.

 

My prayer today is that we find the courage to sow seeds of kindness, love, compassion, and justice, and have the faith to release the resultant growth of that seed to God’s care. Do your best, let go of the result.

 

Like our children’s story today, we do our best and let go of the result, is it good? Is it bad? We don’t know. We trust God to make that decision.

 

We plant seeds of love, never knowing if they will bloom, never knowing if we will witness the bloom if it happens. We are not called to predict the future, but to plant in good faith, with good intention, the growth, the blooming, all of that is God’s work. We are only called to plant and to plant abundantly, to put forth that good Word, that Gospel Word and let it grow, trusting that at some point it will take root and it will grow and we don’t need to fuss over it.

 

So go forth today with the intention to plant seeds of love, seeds of kindness and compassion, go forth today with the intention to plant seeds of prosperity, equality, and justice for all, go forth today and plant those seeds of forgiveness, of release to prisoners, of new beginnings and plant those seeds everywhere!

 

Plant as if the harvest was overdue and hunger threatening at the door. Plant as if the world were desolate and in desperate need of flowers, bright colors and sweet scents. Plant as if you simply needed, in the depths of your heart and soul, to see something good grow. Plant without judgment. Plant without reservation. Plant without expectation of some eventual or even partial reward. Simply plant those seeds, water them with your love and care as long and as well as you can, and release all expectation of any particular result, trusting that God will use your efforts regardless of outward appearances.

 

Plant knowing that if what grows from this seed or that is a darnel, a poisonous noxious weed, that God has use for that too. Plant, though, with the intention that all you plant will be life-giving, will enhance the environment and the community, will give new opportunity and vision to those who are blinded by despair and poverty.

 

Plant seeds of love without expectation of fruition because the harvest isn’t part of our job description. Plant simply because you have been called to plant, and never mind the cost. Till the earth, all the mucky, messy bits, and find those places that are fertile, but plant too in those which are not. Plant on the stony path and in the midst of briars. Plant especially in the midst of briars, where love is needed most. Plant seeds of compassion and kindness where the sun rarely touches, because dark, cold places need it more than any. Plant knowing that if only a small percent of these seeds mature, it is worth it. Plant abundantly because only a few seeds will make it, will take root, with thrive, will grow, but only a few is plenty when we plant abundantly.

 

So often we are told that we are the darnel, the tare, the evil seed, and that we will burn..but I tell you that we are all holy children of God; loved eternally and with a thoroughness that we can barely grasp. We will burn, but we will burn with passion, with love so fierce it burns out anything within us that dares to be tepid and lukewarm. We will burn with a passion so fierce and so full of love for God and for neighbor that no dross will remain within us, and that we shall burn all the brighter for its removal. Plant and plant, my dear ones, with a love that is so fierce and so loyal that only death will stop us from planting seeds of love, so full of passion that we will only look back upon our deathbeds to see if any of them bloomed. Plant, always looking forward, knowing that the result of our planting is not in our hands, it is in God’s hands and so we simply run on and on, planting, strewing good seed, without doubt and without compulsion, trusting that the blooming, the growing, is in God’s good hands.

 

In this stewardship season, leave none of your seeds unplanted. Take the risk to say I love you first. Plant the seed of hope where it is least likely to bloom. Put the effort into unwise but holy aspirations, and never count the cost. For the end result is in God’s hands. It is not and never was in our hands. Don’t let those seeds go to waste waiting for the perfect moment, the right soil, the full moon, plant them now and then plant some more.

 

Don’t wait for the right time, the right moment. Don’t wait for certainty, because certainty eludes us even as the end is held within God’s own gracious hands. Today we placed small sticky seed shapes in your bulletin. Take them with you to remind you to plant good things and to notice and appreciate the good things all day long. Perhaps you will plant one in the midst of your dinner table, writing, I see God in our communion together, perhaps you will plant one in your child’s bedroom writing on it, I see God at work in your kindness. Perhaps you will leave one with a checker at a grocery store as a reminder that they are beloved children of God, but wherever you go, plant those seeds. Name those good things which are growing in your life, and keep on planting.

Mustard Seed Faith

 

 

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(I will try and get the audio uploaded tomorrow)

 

If only I had more faith, or if I were smarter, better looking, more capable, if I had more money, more power, if only, then I could really do something. We know how that works, don’t we? We’ve heard it before, we’ve probably said it before and so it’s no surprise to hear the disciples saying the same thing.

 

“Jesus, give us more faith, fill us up, so we might really be somebody! Just like you are somebody.” We get it. We know what it’s like to feel that you just aren’t enough or you don’t have enough to make it. And Jesus throws the ball right back into their court, “If you had faith even as great as a mustard seed, you could move mountains.” He knows that strength builds in increments, that any journey begins with a single step, that if you would conquer the mountain you’d better be ready to take many, many small steps.

 

Yet we wonder again, can I really do this. Am I enough to make a difference? Is my faith really transforming me, making me anew? We know that when our faith does not change us, does not transform who we are, justice does not, will not prevail.

 

So can I please have just a little more because I’m afraid I’m not going to make it. And there’s the rub. We are given to just this sort of doubt and fear. It’s common, it’s normal, I’m right there with you on any given day. I’d like to be more, to have more, of just about everything, more wisdom, more faith, more insight, more kindness, more love, more forgiveness, just more.

 

How can we not feel overwhelmed when the news today is filled with tragedy followed by injustice, over and over. To believe we can make a difference, that we are big enough, strong enough, good enough to make a difference is just too much. Who are we anyway, to believe we can change things? But then, who are we not to believe it?

 

One of my favorite quotes comes from Marianne Williamson. She says,

 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

 

Who are we not to shine? Who are we that we ought to play it small? We are the children of God, we are the beloved of God.

 

But we do not ignore the struggle the disciples were going through. Considering that they were nearing that shift when all faces would be turned toward Jerusalem, how can we not cry out with them, increase my faith, make me stronger for the days to come, because while they did not yet know all that was to come, we can hardly read their words without the cross foreshadowing death and loss. Katherine Hepburn has this wonderful quote, “Life is hard, it kills you,” reminding us all that no one gets out alive. So yes, increase my faith because really, really hard things are going to happen.

 

We all know those times, those times when our doubts seem stronger than our faith. One of the most poignant prayers I’ve ever heard uttered in church was an anonymous prayer that simply said, ‘ I want to believe, please help me believe, I want to believe again,’ and if we are honest most of us have been there at one time or another.

 

A pastor friend of mine shared that when she told her brother, who was a pastor, that she too was feeling called to ministry he cried out, “No! Don’t do it! The church won’t support you if you have doubts, if you feel your own failure, if you feel your own struggle too much!” Have you ever had that thought, “If people knew how much I questioned, how much I doubted, they wouldn’t think of me as a Christian.” But I want to suggest that the church is exactly the place we can embrace our doubts. By all means, bring your doubts and your questions and let’s talk about them, and I promise you I won’t have answers. Instead we will engage the mystery together, stand in awe of it. What wonderful and glorious conversations we would have! But we must have the courage to embrace our doubts, to hold our lack of certainty and our painful desire for it gently and with compassion. Certainty closes doors and ends conversations, but being in relationship means engaging in an ongoing conversation, one where we discover new and greater depths to each other, and who would we rather be in relationship with than God? Who has greater depths and more mystery for us to engage with than God? So let go your certainty before it ends the conversation!

 

If you came here hoping for a sermon that says everything you believe is right, well then, I apologize.

 

Doubt opens the door to mystery, to discovery. It encourages us to question, to seek, to find. Doubt introduces to the oceanic depths of our faith, those deep, dark places where it feels like we might drown under all that life pours onto us, and yet somehow, we don’t. Church and community hold us up, keeps our head above the swelling tide when it just gets to be too much, but only when we are able to acknowledge that the depths are there and we need each other.

 

It is because we are a community that allows that divine mystery to walk through the door and engage us, shake us up, disturb our certainties and ask really big questions, that we can admit we don’t always have it all together and we need each other, that we can admit we can’t go it alone.

 

The disciples cry out for assurance, for certainty and we live in a very uncertain world. We want to know the answers but perhaps we ought to love the questions more!

 

I suspect that it is more by embracing our doubts and our uncertainties and letting these really big questions live in us, that we are changed and transformed. Our desire to have more faith, to be more certain, is a tender request for this struggle to end, to rest from it for just a bit. Faith that doesn’t change us, that doesn’t transform us and make us new, is pretty poor faith, but the process of change is just so hard! Don’t ask the butterfly about change! Ask the caterpillar as it enters the chrysalis, because once we are through the process we tend to just move on and forget the hard stuff, the pain, and while this might be a good thing, it also stops us cold the next time change is asked of us. Give me more faith, give me an assurance that this time it will be easier and I can move from glory to glory and emotional high to emotional high, because I’m so tired of those low places, the hard places, the steep climbs up the mountain.

 

And if we would change this, then we must learn to love the struggle. We must learn to love grappling with doubt and fear and really big questions. We must learn to stand trembling before the mystery and risk letting it tear away our illusions. If the apocalypse is the shredding of the veil, can we learn to welcome that shredding instead of dreading it? Can we learn to love being disillusioned instead of clinging to our outworn beliefs and certainties? Oh, but we really don’t want to do that do we? So we too, along with the disciples pray for a stronger faith, not to engage the unknown but to embrace our certainties and for a moment, rest.

 

We long to rest and not, for just this moment, be transformed. Sometimes the path ahead just looks too hard, the way too strenuous and we want to turn away, find an easier path. We might stand with the prophet in Habakkuk on the wall crying out “Where are you? When are you going to come and make a difference? When is your justice going to rain down? We need you so badly!”

 

And God says, I’m already there, I’m there because you are there and we are never apart. So yes, go and make a difference, be my witness. You are enough, go on now, make a difference.

 

Jesus tells us to begin with even the smallest bit of faith within us, just find that and build on it, take it and go. Do you not know, that if you have just enough faith to trust the process, to enter in, that everything, all manner of things, shall be well?

 

I can worry about whether I am enough, or have enough and if I get anxious enough about that, I will never even try. I will let that doubt stop me cold. But, Jesus reminds us, strength builds in increments, the greatest journey begins with one step, take that small mustard seed of faith, that tiny increment and encourage it, use it, build on it, and watch it grow! Playing it small does not benefit anyone, go and do with the faith you have, stop saying I’m not enough, I don’t have enough, I can’t make a difference, go on and take that next step. Step out with your mustard seed size faith, and watch it grow…