(Creative Commons image by Wendell on Flickr)
Dear Working Preacher,
There will probably be a lot of people sitting in your pews this Sunday who feel just like the disciples -- which is good for us to remember, as it’s easy to dismiss the disciples’ request for more faith as shallow or self-serving.
At first glance, it seems like the disciples just don’t get it -- they think faith is something they can quantify and they just want more of it. But keep in mind that just earlier Jesus had not only warned them about making others stumble but also instructed them that they must forgive those who wrong them … again and again and again. No wonder they ask for more faith -- they wonder who in the world can live up to Jesus’ expectations.
It’s in this sense, then, that many of our people may feel a lot like these disciples: Overwhelmed by the demands they feel placed on them to be “good Christians,” not sure they are up to the task, and wondering what they signed on for. No wonder, then, that some of our folks feel like being a disciple is beyond them.
And so it’s our job to remind them that faith doesn’t have to be heroic.
Faith, as Jesus describes it, is just doing your job, just doing your duty, not because of any sense of reward but simply because it needs doing. Faith, in other words, is doing what needs to be done right in front of you and this, Jesus says, the disciples can already do. Folks who feel daunted by discipleship need to hear that sometimes faith can be pretty ordinary. That’s what Jesus means, I think, by saying that if they had the faith even of a mustard seed, they could uproot and move a mulberry tree -- that it really doesn’t take all that much faith to be, well, faithful.
Even the simplest things done in faith can have a huge impact.
At the same time, there are a whole lot of people in our congregation who may feel absolutely nothing like the disciples. It’s not that they’re overwhelmed by the tasks of Christian discipleship, it’s more that they don’t even think about it. For them, going to church and perhaps generally being a good person is pretty much what it means to be a Christian. It would never occur to them that being a good friend, or working at jobs to keep food on the table or keep the world running, or paying your taxes and voting for people who spend those taxes well, or any of the other ordinary stuff we do every day has anything to do with the Christian faith. It just doesn’t occur to them.
And so it’s our job to remind them that even the simplest things done in faith can have a huge impact:
- Imagine, for a moment, if you were to take stock of all the good your people did in the past week in their roles as employers and employees, students, parents, citizens, volunteers and more. It would add up very quickly into a mountain of good works.
- Imagine what the previous week would have been like if all those things hadn’t gotten done. If we subtracted them from the planet over the last week the world would be a grimmer place today.
- Then imagine what the world would look like next week if our people, granted a sense that even their ordinary acts are being used by God to care for God’s world, felt empowered and commissioned to do even more. Folks who don’t think what they do matters much to God need to hear that sometimes even ordinary faith can be pretty extraordinary.
Faith, Working Preacher, isn’t an idea, it’s a muscle. And the more we use that muscle, the stronger it gets.
And so Jesus tells his disciples -- both then and now -- that we’ve got all that we need to be faithful, and that being faithful, finally, is about recognizing all the God-given opportunities just to show up and do what needs to be done:
- doing our work
- caring for those in need
- protecting the vulnerable
- reaching out to the lonely
- befriending the friendless
- keeping the world going
- contributing to the common good.
It’s all the ordinary stuff we do all the time and, taken together and blessed by God, it’s pretty darn extraordinary.
But faith is not only a muscle, it’s also an adventure. Faith is putting one foot in front of the other and walking toward a future we do see yet but trust God is fashioning. Faith is heading out the door each day looking for opportunities to be God’s partner and co-worker in the world. Faith is imagining that the various challenges put in front of us -- whether solving a problem at work or forgiving someone who wronged us -- are actually opportunities that invite us to grow as disciples and witness to God’s presence and goodness in the world.
This is everyday faith, Working Preacher -- the ordinary, extraordinary faith that we’re invited to practice day in and day out. It’s not heroic, but it is essential. And so maybe, after hearing all these things about faith, what our people really need is to reminded, à la Nike, to Just Do It!
Speaking of which, thanks for all that you do, Working Preacher, week in and week out. It takes courage to share your faith through your preaching and I’m grateful for your labor.
Yours in Christ,
PS: Jenee Woodard, host of The Text This Week and extraordinary friend of preachers everywhere :), sent me a link to a video that I think lifts up the kind of everyday acdtivities that we're invited to call faithful. I put it on my blog this week and invited folks to share their own stories of everyday faith.