Faith is a Verb

LECTIONARY READINGS

Lamentations 1:1-6

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.

Lamentations 3:19-26

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!

My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

On the willows there we hung up our harps.

For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!

Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, “Te210ar it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!”

O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

…I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

Luke 17:5-10

17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

17:6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

Opening prayer:  a handmade liturgical prayer, with this repeated response:  “We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

On a bright, beautiful day, with sharpness in the air and leaves turning on the trees, we are grateful for this wide world. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

During these frightening times, with an uncertain future ahead, and chaos seemingly increasing all around, 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

You are faithful to us, God, walking with us through triumphs and troubles, bearing our burdens and sharing our joys.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are grateful for these sisters and brothers with whom we gather, relying on their wisdom, humor, and friendship to guide our lives. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

At the same time, we are losing friends, to ordinary departures but also to death.  We grieve, we carry the burden of remembering, and it is difficult.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are losing this community, and it’s frustrating and confusing and complicated and embarrassing and very sad.  We know we will miss one another, and at the same time we feel ourselves pulling away already. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are afraid, of so many different things that we aren’t even sure what is scaring us anymore, or exactly why we are so anxious. Please help us to be free of fear. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We are open, we are filled with your love, we deeply desire to support, love, and encourage one another this morning.  

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

We come together today, ready to be honest and to listen to your stories and instructions, Lord.  We pray that you will support us and show us your way forward. 

“We lift our hearts to you; lift up our hearts, o Lord”

Amen. 

Sermon/Interaction:

I had coffee with Erin on Friday, and we talked about how we are and aren’t processing the quickly approaching end of CT.  I have days when I can hardly get off the couch, where I don’t want to be outside or in public, and I eventually work through that and feel much better.  But even as I’m celebrating the movement through grief, I’m aware that there is a lot more for me to deal with in the future.  It’s a little ominous, to be honest.  

In that light, the Lectionary for today looms large, scary and daunting and dark.  

It’s tempting to see the first reading– heck, the first WORD!– and pick another topic, or pour yourself another beverage.  It is difficult, to be sure.  

But it has a happy ending, I promise.  Hang in there!  There’s some good Gospel at the end. 

Lamentations— transcribing my dreams…Why does the love of God (hesed) seem so distant during our lamentations?  Are we drowning him out with our cries? 

Ps. 137, Hab. 1, 2.    Forsakeness, loneliness, alienation.  Can you think of a time in your life when you felt something similar to this sense of forsakenness? 

Luke: 

This sounds a bit harsh.  Like Jesus’ friends are asking him for something really good, really commendable, and he is rebuffing them.  He’s correcting the team member who is trying the hardest.  Like he’s intentionally scaring off an earnest student.  

The disciples: “Lord, increase our faith!”

Jesus:  “do what is expected of you!”  

Seems super harsh.  But really it is Gospel.  Good news.  It really is an easy burden, and a light load.  

The key to understanding this passage properly is in understanding what the disciples are asking for.  They want faith, but what is faith? 

They are asking for a new, elevated state of being.  “Help us to be as enlightened and gifted as you are, Jesus!”  He is offering them something entirely different. 

Doug Pagitt’s new book ‘Outdoing Jesus’ is a great, engaging book.  But at its heart it’s really about grammar.  

He explains that in the New Testament, ‘faith’ is referred to in several ways.  The Greek word is ‘pistis’, which is translated as ‘belief’ or ‘faith’.  The interesting thing is that this word can be a verb or a noun.  The verb ‘pisteuo’ is translated ‘believe’, and the noun ‘pistis’ is often translated ‘belief’.  

The noun is like a state of being; a belief.  It’s having faith; having a set of beliefs.  The verb is an action; making a choice, like believing something.  It’s acting on your beliefs.  

I can believe that the chair I built is solid, but I’ll bet you will want me to sit in it before you do.  You’ll have faith in the chair when I *show* you that it works! 

Pagitt’s point is that in John (gospel and the letters) ‘belief’ is *always* about the verb.  It’s about doing something, not seeking some higher form of understanding.  Faith is taking action. 

That’s what is happening in this passage in Luke.  Jesus has laid out some really challenging teaching about forgiveness and about avoiding evil.

And right on cue, the bewildered disciples say, “Please increase our faith!” 

ie., ‘We want to be like you!  We want to believe everything you’re saying, Jesus!  So give us a supernatural injection of belief!  Help us to raise our faith to a new level.  Help us to be as amazing as you! ‘

His response is fantastic.  He totally flips the script, showing them they’ve been seeing it wrong all along. It’s way easier than they thought!

17:6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

17:7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’?

17:8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’?

17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'”

Faith is not a state of being!  Belief is not a fixed, quantifiable thing that can be measured.  Belief is not a noun; it’s a verb.  

You show your faith and grow your faith and develop your faith like you build a muscle:  by using it.  It’s not one big bolus of magic medicine, but small sips of ordinary water.  It’s not a destination, but a journey.  You don’t need any more than you have— no more than a mustard seed–  you just need to act on what you have.  

It’s a switch from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control.

These followers of Jesus are earnest, and smart, and doing their best to keep up.  Better than I would have done!  But they have a fundamental misunderstanding of the life of faith.  We follow Jesus not by getting something from Jesus, but by taking what we’ve already gotten from Jesus and putting it into action.  We follow Jesus by… wait for it… following Jesus.  One step at a time.  

It’s simple, but it’s not easy.  ‘Belief’ is a verb, not a noun.  As Brian McLaren has said, “we make the road by walking”.  

This week I was working on a challenging project.  At a big, expensive house in Alexandria for a retired couple I’d not previously met.  I was working as a subcontractor for a friend who’s just too busy to take care of all of his clients.  So a month ago he invited me to look at this job, and give him an estimate.  The job is tuning up about 15 interior doors that aren’t working right.  The people who installed them weren’t careful, so the doors don’t close, hang crooked, get stuck, or other issues.  The job is to finesse them as they are, tweak them in tiny ways in various directions, then hide your work and paint them to perfection.  

I haven’t bid on many jobs, so I was nervous about that.  I didn’t want to bid too high and lose the work, and I didn’t want to bid too low and work for minimum wage, either.  I got the job, though, so that was good.  Now I just needed to hope that I bid it well, and that I could get it done in the time I allotted. 

But that wasn’t the end of my anxiety.  

I felt like I was working for two bosses– the homeowners, of course, but it also felt like an audition for me in front of my friend.  We’ve talked shop, but he hasn’t seen any of my work.  I wanted to impress both of them.  

I was also anxious because the work was challenging.  It’s the kind of work where you can’t hurry, but need to force yourself to slow down and really think through things… because once you make a change, it’s extremely difficult to change it back.  So I was being very methodical every step along the way, and also being careful to protect the floors from scratches and paint and to not drop my tools.  And to be sure to clean up after myself.  And of course to be sure my cuts were straight and my chisel work was careful and my hammer never missed. 

…it was also dicey because these were the kind of people who have FOX News on all    day    long.    Very nice people, very smart people, but I was very aware that it would be foolish of me to bring up certain topics of discussion.  Or to tell them that I’m friends with Emmaline Taylor.  

Sorry for the long story.  My point is that every morning I didn’t want to go.  I was nervous the whole way over there, drinking coffee not to wake up but to help me calm down.  

And yet every day I learned that I just needed to address one door at a time.  Learn about it, make some small changes, see how that improved it, and so on.  Door by door by door.  I couldn’t take on the whole thing at once, couldn’t fix the next door before I fixed the one right in front of me.  Door by door by door.

Friends: faith is an action.  Belief is an action.  It’s a moving, living thing. 

I don’t know what the future holds.  I don’t know what will happen to Common Table.  I love you, though, and I believe in what Jesus is teaching us here– this is our chance to do again what we’ve done before:  to take action.  To do your duty. To do what you can.  We will do that, and then someday we will look back and say,  

17:10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” 

You’ve done well, CT.  

You tried your best.  

You believed the best.  

You worked really hard. 

You stayed until the end.  

You sat through all of the discernment, and disagreement, and depression.  

You faithfully denied reality until you couldn’t any more.  

And before that, you did all of the other things that made you CT.  

You deconstructed what it meant to be ‘church’, and made a new way.  A life-giving way that was a beacon of freedom and Jesusy goodness to hundreds of people!  People you’ve never met.  

You helped others, even those who were strangers.  Sometimes by giving a bottle of water, and other times by helping people who live a thousand miles away with an insight or inspiration or a new way of doing things.  

You knocked down walls, you freed the imprisoned.  

You took in the weak, the sick, the oppressed.  People who stunk up the place (literally and metaphorically), and people whose toxicity was contagious.  You made space for them in their fear and anger and acting out and you loved them.  

You grieved with those who were grieving, holding them up and understanding that remembering those we’ve lost is simultaneously miserable and wonderful.

You showed by your words and actions that God is for *everyone*, that God accepts *everyone*. 

You gave your time and your lives to bring justice, and equal access for all persons.  

You were actually honest about what you really thought, in a place that is normally built on avoidance and disinformation.  

You actually *listened* to one another, and apologized to them, and you let yourself be changed by them, and in so doing you changed all of us.  

You learned, and then taught, that community is the core of church, not doctrine or creeds. We are formed by community. We’ve each been formed by community.

So what’s next?  I don’t know exactly.  But I know how we’ll find out:  one step, then another, then another.  Step by step by step.  That’s faith.  It’s not a noun; it’s a verb.    

mikestavlund

Mike is a solid, stand-up guy that enjoys writing poetry and prose, hanging out with family and friends, and long walks around a Weber kettle grill.

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