Sunday, October 6, 2019

You have plenty of faith

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Katy, Tx 77450

October 6, 2019

I often wonder how many people read this gospel passage in a negative sense? Honestly, how many of you jumped to the, yeah I don’t have enough faith way of thinking. I’m guilty or at least I used to be. In part I believe that this is because we have been beat up a little too often by the church. So many people seem to feel they aren’t good enough and do not have enough faith because they cannot make a tree move by somehow exercising their faith. I often cringe at some of the words in our hymns that promote that way of thinking. On the whole organized religion seems to have a default of we are not worthy.

First of all, please remember that a characteristic of Jesus’ parables is hyperbole. He exaggerates to make a point. He does not literally expect the disciples to command a tree to go and be thrown into the water. Please don’t ever take a parable of Jesus literally. He never intended in fact nobody intends a parable to be taken literally, they are metaphoric and symbolic.

Then the translation makes a difference. The Message translation makes this a little easier. “But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.” The tone of voice we use in our heads when we read a passage also makes a difference. Try reading a passage with several different emotions in the reading.

In the passages before and after the disciples are in a very trying time and need reassurance. That is what Jesus is giving them, but we tend to impose our own issues on his words. He is telling them that they do in fact have “enough” faith.

In our passage from Timothy the author is praising them for the faith that they have and reminding them that they only need to rekindle that faith, that spirit. So if we pair these two statements the problem is not that we don’t have enough faith, we just need to make use of the faith we have, to rekindle the faith that we have. In other words we have enough or as my CPE supervisor once told a group of us, “You are enough. God knows it and you should to.”

The story goes like this. CPE is Clinical Pastoral Education, which all priests and deacons in training do usually between their first and second year of seminary. We serve as a chaplain in a hospital or in my case at a retirement center. I did mine in Gaithersburg, Maryland at a huge retirement village. This was a time to gain experience in pastoral care and to learn what pushed our buttons in dealing with other people’s issues.

This was our first day and after having a tour of the facility, a TB test and a few other orientation meetings Ray the supervisor gave us our assignments for the next 10 weeks. We each had one of the apartment buildings (there were 6) and a floor of one of the medical facilities either assisted living or nursing. Then he told us he would see us the next afternoon at 2:00 to debrief.  We all looked confused and said, “What are we doing for the morning.” He replied, “Getting out on the floors and meeting the residents.” With a rather panicked look in our eyes we said, “But aren’t you going to teach us what to do first?” He smiled and he said, “You are all enough. God knows you are enough, the people that sent you to seminary know that you are enough, now you need to prove to yourselves that you are enough.”

What Ray was telling us is that we all had the resources, the strength, the faith to do great things. All of us are already blessed with an abundance of resources including faith, we just needed to use them. We however had our doubts.

Off we went the next morning and one of our young seminarians started on the 3rd floor of the medical center. As he walked off the elevator promptly at 9:00 a nurse ran up to him and said, “Are you the new chaplain.” And before he could answer she said, “Come with me Mrs. Smith is dying and the family is gathered around her bed.” Now this young man had been out of college for all of a year I think he was 23. To his credit he didn’t pass out but went right in. He sat with the family, they prayed he pulled his prayer book out of his pocket and did the Liturgy at the Time of Death. About 11:30 several of the family decided to go to lunch. One daughter stayed behind and after the family left she looked at the young chaplain and said, “You’ve never done this before have you?” He replied, “Is it that obvious?” She said, “Of course but you’re doing great. I don’t know how we would have gotten through the morning without you.”

You see he had the kernel of faith, that knowledge that he was enough just as he was, to be the vehicle of God’s grace for that family that morning.

Now let’s move into the idea of our parish as a place with that much needed faith. I have faith that we are on the edge of something spectacular, something special here in Katy. Over the next year I believe that God will open some doors for us and we are called to use that faith to walk through those doors. Now this may and probably will mean doing some things that may be new, only God knows what is ahead.

Now these thoughts about the future really begin to come into focus as we begin our Fall Stewardship Campaign. Now I may be a little more direct than you are used to when it comes to money, it’s the Yankee in me showing. However, I have the faith that you will all respond generously this fall so that we have the financial base that will allow us to walk through some of those doors that God will open.

Just one example of opportunities. I am excited about the future of our music program with our new Director of Music Dr. Jason Oby. We have an opportunity to really grow this vital part of our worship with his leadership. He is a real gift with his extensive experience in choral and church music besides his incredible voice which I’m looking forward to hearing on occasion. He hopes to expand our scholarship singer program and will be adding a third scholarship singer over the next few weeks. We were able to structure that into the budget, but what if we could add one more to that? I will let Dr. Oby tell you about those plans over the coming weeks, but it is an interesting opportunity for a ministry we had never considered. That is also without saying good music is critical to a growing, vital church like ours.

There is one thing that I have learned as both a teacher and a priest that is true of about any organization and is especially true for churches. You never stay at a given level. Churches are always either growing and expanding their work and mission or they are going in the other direction. Your change in leadership actually comes at a perfect time. Fr. Chris helped you grow into a strong healthy parish poised to move on to great things. We have the opportunity and are primed to build on that firm foundation to make a move into even bigger and better mission and worship. There are many things that make this happen, people, time, talent but with your treasure, your pledges, the road is so much easier and our work more effective.

With the faith of a mustard seed we are ready to grow and spread the gospel, just as the mustard seed grows into a great plant.

Pastor Steve Garner-Holmes wrote this week

Faith is no superpower;
it isn’t a substance with quantity.
Faith is trust in God,
openness to the power inherent in what is.

Faith is being in the grip of the gravity
of God’s grace.
It’s the gravity that does all the work,
and no one is without it.

Faith is a tiny, weak finger
willing to flip the light switch of God.

Faith is allowing light to shine,
lungs to breathe, God to love.[1]

We are called to flip that light switch, to let our light shine even brighter to show God’s love to even more people in 2020. I have faith in God and I have faith in all of you!