October 2, 2022

17th Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, October 2, 2022

Texts: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.

Increase our faith. I wonder how many of us have uttered this prayer recently. Maybe we didn’t use those words exactly, but the sentiment definitely feels timely.

Oh, I know there are people whose are so confident of God’s providence, they ask Jesus to help them choose which pair of socks to wear in the morning. But most of us admit that we’re not that sure. Our tepid commitments feel pretty insignificant in a time like this. Those pictures of hurricane destruction are horrifying. But even without them – worries about the economy, street violence, war in Ukraine, rampant anxiety, unchecked depression, climate change and racial injustice, can pretty much just do us in.

If we look at our computers or phones, we’re offered two options:  some kind of marketing schemes with gimmicks to make our lives more beautiful, or divisive messages about how things are blowing up and we’d better get furious about it or our lives are meaningless. Ugh.

I believe that most of us want to be informed and make a difference in the world, but we’re so tired of being dragged into despair and animosity, that we just can’t find any place to rest, and we don’t think we have enough faith to hope for change.

So maybe we come to church, hoping for a bit of good news, or a chance to see a familiar face, or at least sing something beautiful, but deep underneath it, I wonder if the spirit is wishing for more. Can’t God help us fight this battle that rages around us?

It’s not a new struggle. Six hundred years before Jesus lived, Habakkuk lamented in words that sounds remarkably timely for today. “How long will we cry to you for help, O God? How long will we cry ‘Violence,’ and you will not save? Destruction is before us, strife and contention arise, the law becomes slack, and justice never prevails[i].” Sound familiar?

God’s people continued to struggle through the ages. Forty years after Jesus, Paul writes to discouraged friends from his prison cell, reassuring them to remain hopeful despite how dire things looked[ii].

Is it any different today? I wonder how congregations in or around Fort Myers are managing church this morning, with so many of their members trying to find loved ones, sweeping through what’s left of their homes, or finding a place to stay. Will they even try to rebuild?  Did Hurricane Ian simply finish off the slow decline in their rolls that COVID had tried to wipe out?

Is there a future for the church in a world so broken?

Lord, increase our faith. If it’s an old lament, then there must also be some ancient means of facing it all. After all, we’re still reading these ancient scriptures all these years later. We still gather here each week because someone somehow listened to those messages, scraped together whatever resources and hopes they could find in the debris of their storms or imprisonments, and patched together enough of a faith to pass down, even to us.

Jesus’ response to the disciples may not seem very encouraging to us[iii]. He uses a description of servitude that feels so problematic we’re not sure we want to teach it to our children. First of all, this text is not a reason to believe God approves of slavery, or that it’s okay to follow unjust customs if that’s the world you find yourselves in. Luke’s gospel uses examples from the ordinary life of his readers, examples that help paint familiar pictures, not moral justifications.

What Jesus is saying is that just as an enslaved person wouldn’t get a say in their conditions or expect reciprocal care, so people of faith don’t get to describe what would make things easier for us. Rather, we are called to do the work that God has called us to from the beginning: to resist violence, to care for those in trouble, to include those on the margin, to celebrate forgiveness, feed the hungry and lift those cast down. It comes down to living according to God’s radical graciousness, or as Habakkuk summarized: to live by faith.

We want Jesus to increase our faith, as if it could be measured quantitatively, and if we had more of it, the struggle would somehow be easier. But Jesus isn’t describing an intellectual ability to choose to follow him. He’s calling us into a relationship that can’t be computed, one built on God’s steadfast love for the world, and the outrageous claim on us that calls us all worthy.

When we open ourselves to that love, we may do even the tiniest gesture, and it could move mountains.

I doubt that the people on the Gulf Coast of Florida sweeping through their ransacked neighborhoods, are expecting to find intact homes or perfectly preserved landscapes. I suspect they’re searching instead with a ridiculous hope of spotting just one wayward object, maybe finding one lost coin, some little remnant from their home, or even something as tiny as a single mustard seed among the ruins, which could offer them a lifeline toward connection and possibility.

When Timothy was despairing that his friend was imprisoned, and their lives were in jeopardy, when the gospel seemed inconsequential compared to the violence and despotism of the Roman Empire, Paul encouraged him to blow on the embers left among the ashes, to rekindle the faith that had been passed down to him from generations before, and to rely on the power of God.

See, I told you Lois was a biblical name!  Our parents and grandparents faced atrocities and times of doubt and despair, too, but just like Timothy’s, they longed for us not to carry a spirit of cowardice, but of passion, commitment, and a willingness to change the world even with efforts that seem too small to make a difference.

How do we resist racism and turn back centuries of abuse to the native people who once lived on this land? Maybe we start with planting tiny seeds of reparation in our budgets. How do we turn back the destructive forces of climate change? Maybe we plant a tiny raingarden, or buy local produce, or work on reducing our own carbon footprint. How do we respond to the violence and anxiety and despair facing our neighbors? Maybe we work to make the church a welcoming voice of acceptance and inclusion for a new generation. Maybe we learn to sing a new song to remind ourselves of an old truth – that goodness has always been stronger than evil.

The disciples cried out for more faith, but Jesus reminded them a mustard-seed-sized faith was enough. We won’t save the world by intellectually deciding it needs to be fixed, but by falling in love with God’s people, God’s creation, God’s hopes, and little by little,  finding our will to make a difference has grown beyond our imagination.

Maybe what we need is not more faith, but renewed recognition that God is here, offering us opportunity to reforest the planet with hope, seed by seed, step by step, song by song.

When 20th century theologian and mystic Howard Thurman felt as if his childhood faith no longer spoke to the demands of his reality, when the “old song” of his spirit had wearied itself out, he pledged to “sing a new song… capable of meeting the new need[iv]

“I will sing a new song….  As difficult as it is, I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God….”

“Teach me…., that I might learn with the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried morrow. Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding[v].”

I can’t help but believe that God is still encouraging us to live by faith, no matter how weak or small that faith might seem. I can’t help but trust that God joins us as we smile at the growing number of families who are trying to help their children make worship work again. I can’t help but dream that every time we plant a seed of kindness, every time we smile at a stranger or run a favor for a neighbor, every time we seek forgiveness for even one offence, every time we confront injustice, or welcome a newcomer, our faith is strengthened enough to pick up a mulberry bush and plant it in the sea.

With the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, we are invited to sing of the spirit of power and of love that has been planted in us. Let’s start singing.


Thanks be to God. Amen

[i] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

[ii] 2 Timothy 1:1-14

[iii] Luke 17:5-10

[iv] Meditation 45: “I Will Sing a New Song;” Meditations of the Heart, Beacon Press, p. 206. https://books.google.com/books?id=YN6H6eaPcjUC&pg=PA206&lpg=PA206&dq=I+WILL+SING+A+NEW+SONG+hOWARD+tHURMAN&source=bl&ots=RH_CgNAHk_&sig=ACfU3U1UM7QGkbD-gzyCW7jsLPXk6V5N8Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi8utqjgb36AhVsrYkEHTEiC8AQ6AF6BAgaEAM#v=onepage&q=I%20WILL%20SING%20A%20NEW%20SONG%20hOWARD%20tHURMAN&f=false

[v] ibid