It’s that time of year again…
when evil lurks around every corner... when slimy, loathsome, ghoulish,
creatures appear at your door…
and they all want something from
Actually, the people demanding our vote no longer come door-to-door as they used to.
Nowadays, they make their way into our homes through the television screen—slinging mud at their opponents, and threatening us with all kinds of dire predictions if we don’t give them what they want.
It’s really been scary this year!
As a result, most of us will just be glad when it’s all over, and the political ads go away for a while.
Which is sad—since we all agree on the need to elect fair, honest, and committed leaders.
That’s all I have to say about politics—except to ask you to pray and vote on November 8th.
The main character in this morning’s gospel is a person we would be even more frightened to find at our door than a politician:
It’s the tax-man!
It happened in a town called Jericho.
A tourist visiting Israel usually wants to go to Jericho.
Besides being home to perhaps the most famous short tax collector in history,
it’s where “Joshua fit the battle…and the walls came a tumbling down.”
But it isn’t that easy to visit Jericho, as Elizabeth and I discovered on our trip to the Holy Land.
Much as we wanted to see it, we couldn’t go there.
Jericho is under Palestinian control, and is closed to tourists.
So we missed seeing the sycamore tree in today’s Gospel—all because of politics!
(I said I wasn’t going to mention politics again—but as you know, that’s easier said than done!)
Let’s get back to the tax collector.
He’s someone most of us met a long time ago in Sunday school—and I trust he’s
still a familiar figure there!
Children tend to love him.
After all every child knows what it’s like to be short!
His name is Zacchaeus.
What we learned about him in Sunday school can be summarized in a song that some of you may remember:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man,
A wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree,
The Savior for to see.
Zacchaeus may be loved by Sunday school children, but he was not loved in Jericho.
He had at least three things going against him:
First of all, he was a tax collector—the chief tax collector.
He had a prestigious title—but not one that won him friends!
Zacchaeus wasn’t working for the IRS.
It was even worse than that.
He was collecting taxes for Imperial Rome—and that made him a traitor.
Tax collectors were so despised that they were not allowed to hold public office, to give testimony in Jewish courts, or even to attend worship services in the synagogue.
He had a fancy title, and he was successful.
But Zacchaeus was a lonely man—a man without a country.
The second thing Zacchaeus had going against him was that he was rich.
It wasn’t just that he was rich.
It was how he got his money—and how he treated his neighbors to get it.
Zacchaeus was rich because, as the tax man, he was free to collect as much as he liked.
He could add on a little more—or a lot more—for his troubles.
And if anyone complained, or refused to pay, Zacchaeus’ gang of “insurance adjustors” would be sure to pay them a visit!
So he wasn’t only a traitor—he was also a crook.
The third thing going against Zacchaeus was that he was short in stature.
He was short!
Let’s admit it: There’s a prejudice in our society against short people.
I’ve been told that the tallest candidate almost always wins an election—although it’s not likely to happen this year. (Oops! Politics again!)
Some of us know what it’s like to be short.
I’ve gone through my entire adult life saying that I’m “5 foot six-and-a-half inches tall.”
Tall people don’t count the half-inches!
When I was at the Citadel, they put us in companies according to height.
My company was the shortest:
We always marched last.
They called us the “Duck-butts!”
Short people agree with Rodney Dangerfield: We “don’t get no respect.”
And neither did Zacchaeus!
It was these three things—his title, his wealth and his stature—that drove Zacchaeus up a tree—and that’s where Jesus found him.
The children’s song tells what happened next:
And when the Savior passed that way,
He looked up in the tree,
He said, “Zacchaeus, you come down;
For it’s you I’ve come to see.”
When Jesus called the little man by name, I imagine he almost fell out of his tree!
Jesus was actually looking for him!
The Savior had come to stay at his house!
No wonder he scrambled down!
Zacchaeus knew he was a sinner—and he knew his need for God.
He knew he needed to turn his life around—and Jesus was just the man to help him do it.
So it is with all who receive Jesus as Savior.
As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, the Good News of Jesus Christ is only “good news” for those who know they are sinners.
It has nothing to offer those who believe they are righteous!
Notice how the “good people” of Jericho reacted.
They grumbled that Jesus would even speak to a sinner like Zacchaeus—let alone enter his home as a guest.
So Jesus explained his actions—He had come to “seek out and save the lost!”
He didn’t come to congratulate the good.
He had come looking for the one who needed Him most.
And whether we know it or not, that “one” is not just Zacchaeus—but you and me!
From that day on, Zacchaeus was a changed man!
As the song says,
Zacchaeus came down from that tree, And he said, “A better man I’ll be.”
“I’ll give my money to help the poor,
What a better man I’ll be.”
From that day on, Zacchaeus stopped taking and started giving.
He gave out of gratitude, because of what Jesus had given him.
He had found what was missing from his life—because Jesus had found him!
The truth is that we are all seekers—the short, the tall, the rich, the poor, the famous and not.
Underneath the surface, we are all the same.
We are all looking for what Jesus offers.
“Salvation” is the theological word for it.
But simply put, we are all seeking a personal relationship with the God who made us.
And in Jesus—who calls us each by name, and would not have any one of us perish—we find what we seek.
We are able to find Him because He first came to find us!
He came to “seek out and save the lost.”
And whether we know it or not, that means you and me!
“Where in the world did that first reading come from?”
Some of you may be asking yourselves that very question!
What is this mysterious book called “Sirach?”
“Sirach” is not one of the 39 canonical books of the Old Testament—nor one of the 27 books of the New Testament.
So—where did it come from?—and why are we reading it as if it were Scripture?
The full name of the book in question is “Ecclesiasticus—or The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sirach.”
It is one of those writings that we call the “Apocrypha.”
The Apocryphal books form what might be considered an “appendix” to the Old Testament.
They were written later than the canonical books—and written in Greek rather than Hebrew.
Episcopalians don’t give the Apocrypha the same authority as the other books—but it has always been included in our Lectionary.
The Prayer Book says the Apocrypha may be read for “example of life and instruction in manners”—but not to “establish any doctrine.”
This means that we cannot use today’s reading from Sirach to “establish any doctrine.”
But we can—and should—use it for “example” and “instruction.”
So let us consider what “wisdom” Jesus Ben Sirach has to offer.
Sirach’s topic in chapter 35 is Giving.
He is keen to explain both why we should give—and how we should give.
First the why—and then the how.
“Give to the Most High as he has given to you”—Sirach says.
The basic idea here—and throughout the rest of the Scriptures—is this:
We give—because God has first given to us.
God is a generous giver—and has provided for us abundantly.
All that we have—and all that we are—is a gift from God.
Everything we have is from God.
That is why we give.
The Creation Story in Genesis tells us that God created human beings “in his image.”
In the image of God he created us—both male and female.
God is a generous giver--and he created us to be like himself.
So it is part of our human nature to be generous—and to give.
When it comes to giving to the Church—we must not fall into thinking that we give merely to cover the expenses—or to maintain the building—or to pay the priest.
It’s not for anything so mundane as that!
We give for something far far more important.
We give to the Church--in order to return directly to God a portion of what he has given us.
As the wise and wealthy King Soloman said:
“All things come of Thee, O LORD—and of thine own have we given Thee.”
We give to the Church—knowing that all we have is a gift from God.
We give because we were created “in God’s image.”
We give—because God has first given to us.
That is the why of giving—now for the how.
“Give as generously as you can afford”—Sirach says.
“For it is the LORD who repays, and he will repay you seven-fold.”
God is a generous giver—and we are to be generous givers as well.
We are not to hold back—nor to worry about how much we give away.
For God will repay us “seven-fold.”
As for what you can “afford” to give—that is between you and God—and every person’s situation is different.
Never the less—there is a “standard” of giving in the Scriptures.
The “standard” is the “tithe.”
A tithe means “one tenth”--ten per cent of what we have.
Deuteronomy chapter 14 commends the tithe to all God’s people—as a way of measuring our generosity.
It should not be regarded as a legalistic requirement—but as a helpful “yardstick.”
The tithe is a “yardstick” to help us decide how much we should give.
Sirach says that God will “repay” us for giving generously—but then he quickly takes a step back.
That is not the reason we give.
We do not give in order to receive a “payback” from God.
“Do not offer God a bribe”—Sirach says.
“For God will not accept it.”
This was part of the problem with the Pharisee in our Gospel story.
The “other Jesus”--Jesus of Nazareth—told a parable about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector—both of whom went into the Temple to pray.
The Tax Collector recognized that he was a sinner—and therefore unworthy before God.
But because of his humility—he found forgiveness and Grace.
The Pharisee, however, was proud.
Because he fasted according to the Law—and gave a tithe of all he had—he congratulated himself before God.
He believed his tithing and fasting made him worthy—or even special—in God’s eyes.
And he expected a reward.
But Jesus said the Pharisee’s prayer was empty—and he went home without God’s blessing.
Don’t use your giving as an attempt to manipulate God—or extract a special blessing from God.
If your gift is really a “bribe”—it won’t work!
God will not accept it.
God only honors gifts that are freely given.
St. Paul sums it up perfectly in Second Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 7:
“Each one of you must do as you have made up your mind--not reluctantly or under compulsion—for God loves a cheerful giver.”
“Give to the Most High as he has given to you—and give as generously as you can afford.
“For the Lord is the one who repays—and he will repay you seven-fold.
“Do not offer God a bribe—for he will not accept it.”
Those are Sirach’s “instructions” today.
That is the “example” for us to follow.
That is the “wisdom” he has to offer.
God has blessed each one of us so generously.
So make up your mind to give generously in return.
Give a tithe if you can.
But whatever you decide to give—be a cheerful giver.
For that is what God loves!
Have you ever felt that God isn’t listening to you?
Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers?
Have you ever suspected that God may be too busy dealing with more important matters—and doesn’t have time for your petty concerns?
If so--you are not alone!
In today’s Gospel reading—Jesus tells a story about a widow who was seeking justice.
Someone was trying to trample on her rights—a common occurrence in Jesus’ day.
The widow took her case to court—but the judge wouldn’t listen to her.
Apparently this widow didn’t have a TV.
Or else she wasn’t a fan of Judge Judy.
If she were, she would have known to call George Sink at “all nines”—or contact the Dick James Law Firm at one of their convenient locations in Galilee.
As it was—she had no one to plead her case.
In any event—a widow (in those days) wouldn’t have had the means to afford an attorney—even if she could have found one willing to represent her.
But the widow didn’t give up.
She wouldn’t back down—and she wouldn’t shut up.
She kept coming back to court—and badgering the judge—until he finally agreed to hear her case.
The widow’s persistence wore the judge down—until he finally granted her request!
Jesus held the “Persistent Widow” up as an example to his followers.
Like her--we must not give up.
We must be persistent in prayer.
We must pray always—and not lose heart.
How well Jesus knew his disciples.
And how well he knows us.
How easily we tend to become discouraged.
How quick we are to give up on prayer—and give up on God!
St. Paul, too, admonishes us to be persistent.
In today’s reading from Second Timothy he says:
“Be persistent—with the utmost patience—and carry out your ministry fully.”
In other words--don’t get discouraged when the going gets rough.
Don’t give up on God!
And don’t give up on the work God has given you to do.
Unfortunately—fewer and fewer of us seem to be listening!
Recent surveys show that America’s faith in God may be slipping.
This is particularly true among young adults.
According to one survey—the number of Americans under 30 years of age who say they “doubt the existence of God” has doubled in the last few years—and now stands at 33 per cent—nearly one-in-three.
Various explanations have been given for this trend.
Some blame fundamentalism and right-wing politics.
Others cite the erosion of traditional beliefs.
Still others point to attacks on religion by the courts and the liberal media.
Whatever the reason—it seems to be true.
Young adults (as a group) are drifting away from God.
Most Americans still believe—but increasingly, they find it difficult to defend their faith.
The question Jesus asks at the end of today’s Gospel reading still begs an answer:
“When the Son of Man returns--will he find faith on the Earth?”
A few years ago—a distraught person wrote a letter to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The letter described a number of difficult personal problems—and then concluded with this statement:
“I’m about to give up on God.
“I’ve prayed and prayed for God to take away my problems—but nothing has changed.
“Why doesn’t God do something?
“I thought God was supposed to care about us.”
Billy Graham himself answered the letter.
To his credit—he didn’t judge—or even pretend to have a comprehensive answer.
Instead—he sympathized with the writer’s concerns.
He said that we can never know why God acts—or fails to act—as he does.
Still—we need to hold onto our faith—and be persistent in prayer.
God may not “take away” our problems—as we often hope that he will.
But he can give us the strength we need to face them.
Dr. Graham gave essentially the same advice that Jesus and St. Paul did:
Don’t be discouraged.
Pray always—and don’t lose heart.
Don’t give up on God.
And don’t give up on the work God has given you to do.
That is good advice.
However—it’s not easy advice.
It’s not easy to hold on to one’s faith.
Easier—(we would like to think)—for someone like Mother Teresa—or Billy Graham—than for you and me!
Today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis is one of my favorites—and it may provide some insight here.
It’s one of those Bible stories many of us heard as children.
I remember it as “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.”
Actually the story is part of a larger saga.
You may remember that—as a young man—Jacob tricked his brother Esau into giving up his “birthright” as the eldest son—and then cheated him out of his father’s “blessing” as well.
Esau was furious when he discovered the trickery—and he vowed to kill Jacob.
So Jacob fled into the wilderness to escape his brother’s wrath.
Over the years God blessed Jacob—in spite of his crooked character—and gave him wives and children and flocks and herds.
It seemed that life was good.
But then—Jacob received word that Esau was coming to pay him an unexpected visit—along with 300 armed men!
Jacob quickly gathered up his wives and children and flocks and herds—and sent them across the Jabbok River to safety.
Then he lay down to a troubled sleep—knowing that he would have to face Esau the next day.
This is where today’s reading picks up.
In his sleep—Jacob “wrestles” with a strong man—all night long.
As day is breaking—the mysterious stranger departs—but not before doing something important.
He gives Jacob a blessing—and a new name.
From now on—Jacob will be known as “Israel.”
The new name--“Israel”—means “The one who wrestles with God.”
For Jacob had “striven with God and with humans—and had prevailed.”
“The one who wrestles with God!”
Jacob literally “wrestled” with God.
He wrestled with God—both physically and spiritually.
And he wouldn’t give up.
That’s the important part.
He wouldn’t let go.
And because he persisted—he eventually “prevailed.”
This story teaches us what it’s like to believe in God.
Sometimes it’s a wrestling match!
Sometimes it’s a struggle to hold on to our faith.
To keep on believing may take every ounce of strength we have—both physically and spiritually.
But if we hang on to our faith—and refuse to let go—then eventually we will be blessed.
We will prevail!
In the Bible—God’s Chosen People adopted their forefather’s new name.
They were called Israel—and that’s who they were.
Throughout their history they wrestled with God—and with their human neighbors.
Their story was one big wrestling match!
But because they refused to give up--they eventually “prevailed.”
Now it’s our turn.
Now we are Israel.
Each of us must continue to wrestle with God—and with our fellow humans.
Not least of all—we must wrestle with ourselves.
So be persistent.
Hang on to your faith—and don’t let go.
Pray always—and don’t lose heart.
Don’t give up on God.
And don’t give up on the work God has given you to do.
If we “persevere with steadfast faith”—then eventually we will be blessed.
Eventually--we will prevail!
Some of you may remember a film released sixteen years ago—called “The Perfect Storm”—starring George Clooney.
The movie was based on a non-fiction book of the same title—which tells the story of the Andrea Gail—a commercial fishing vessel that was lost at sea during the “Perfect Storm” of 1991.
When the small craft set sail—the sea was already getting rough—and within a few days the storm developed into a powerful hurricane.
The experienced captain—played by Clooney—tried every trick he knew to escape the wind and waves—but was unable to do so.
In spite of a desperate rescue attempt by the Coast Guard—the Andrea Gail was capsized by a huge tidal wave—and went down with all hands aboard.
The movie concludes with the captain’s widow giving a moving eulogy at the memorial service.
I thought about “The Perfect Storm” this week—while listening to the news reports about Hurricane Matthew.
For quite a while now—our world has been sailing through troubled waters.
In recent years we have been threatened by many man-made and natural disasters:
Floods, earthquakes, tidal waves, climate change, the economy, the stock market, jobs, housing, shootings, riots, terrorism, and political instability.
All are disturbing the peace—from Syria to Afghanistan to the Ukraine—and right here at home.
Tensions between the police and the African American community are at an all-time high.
And we are discovering that we haven’t made nearly as much progress as we had hoped—in achieving reconciliation between the races—and establishing Liberty, Justice, and Equal Rights for all.
Then—there is the current divisive presidential campaign.
And on top of it all—another destructive hurricane!
In a way—the movie is a metaphor for the human condition in the first two decades of the 21st Century.
All these troubles seem to be converging upon us at once—coming together to form “The Perfect Storm!”
We can only hope that the International Ship of State will not suffer the fate of the Andrea Gail—and go down with all hands on board!
Right away I think of two Biblical stories that are relevant.
First of all—there is Noah and the Ark.
According to the Book of Genesis—God created a peaceful world—where everyone lived in harmony.
But starting with Adam and Eve—and continuing with their sons Cain and Abel—that harmony was shattered.
Things got worse with every generation—until God resolved to destroy it all with a Great Flood.
Only Noah and his family—and the animals he brought aboard the Ark—were saved.
God protected them—and kept them from being overwhelmed by the wind and waves.
So the human race was given a new start—a new opportunity to live in peace!
The other Biblical story that comes to mind is Jesus Calming the Storm.
You will recall that Jesus and the Disciples set out to cross the Sea of Galilee in a small boat.
A storm blew up unexpectedly—and threatened to swamp the boat.
The Disciples thought all was lost—and began to cry out to Jesus—who was sleeping on a pillow in the stern.
Jesus awakened—and said to the wind and waves: “Peace—Be still!”
And immediately—the storm was stilled.
Afterwards—Jesus’ only comment was:
“Why were you afraid?—oh ye of little faith!”
In both of these stories, God’s people are threatened by “The Perfect Storm.”
But God is still in control.
God hasn’t forgotten about the human beings he created.
God has not abandoned the ones he loves.
And by God’s power—the danger is overcome—and the Storm is stilled.
Perhaps we need to remember these stories—as we face “The Perfect Storm” that threatens our world!
There are some who would look at the world’s troubles—and the grave dangers we face today—and attempt to lay blame.
“God is punishing us for our sins”—they would say.
“If only we would repent—and return to God”—they say—“things would get better.”
It is certainly true that humanity has sinned.
And it is reasonable to think that—if we were more faithful to God’s Commandments—things would get better.
But I disagree that God is punishing us.
That is not the God I know.
That is not the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ—who so loves the world that he gave his Only-Begotten Son!
God is always reaching out to us with his forgiveness—and trying to save us by his Grace.
God would not try to destroy us—by deliberately bringing upon us “The Perfect Storm.”
Rather—God has done everything in his power to rescue and redeem the human race!
But that is not to say that God has nothing to do with the Storm.
God allows the Storm to threaten us.
God allows us to face the fury of the wind and the waves.
Not in order to punish us—but (perhaps) to force us to respond.
To force us to put aside our differences—and settle our disputes—and work together for the good of all.
Through the Storm—God is calling men and women everywhere—of all races and nations and cultures—to stand together—and solve our common problems.
God is also calling us to have Faith—to put our Trust in Him.
Only by Loving God—and Loving one another—can we restore the world to the harmony that God intended.
Only by helping one another—and serving one another—can God’s original dream for humanity come true!
What God asks of us is not difficult to understand.
The prophet Micah said it long ago:
“God has shown you, oh mortal, what is good.
“And what is it that the Lord requires of you?
“To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
To act justly—to love mercy—and to walk humbly with our God.
That is what God requires of us.
That is how we are to face the Storm.
That is how harmony and peace will be restored.
When the warnings were going out over radio and TV about Hurricane Mathew—someone posted a video online of Bob Dylan singing his song “It’s a Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”
Perhaps you remember that song as I do—from 1963.
“O where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
“And where have you been, my darling young one?
“I saw a newborn baby—with wild wolves all around it.
“I saw a highway of diamonds—with nobody on it.
“I saw a black branch—with blood that kept dripping.
“I saw a white ladder—all covered with water.
“I saw guns and sharp swords—in the hands of young children.
“I saw a white man—who walked a black dog.
“I heard the sound of a thunder—that roared out a warning.
“I heard the roar of a wave—that would drown the whole world.
Then comes the chorus:
“It’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard—it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall!”
Bob Dylan was a prophet in his own right—and a master of metaphor—who still speaks eloquently to the troubles we face.
“The Perfect Storm” of poverty and hatred and injustice and violence is indeed a “hard rain” that’s “gonna fall.”
In fact—the rain is already falling on us now—threatening to “drown the whole world.”
But God has not abandoned us.
God has not given up on us.
In the midst of the Storm—God is calling us to come together.
God is calling us to put aside our differences—and work together for the good of all.
Above the roar of the wind and waves, we can hear the voice of Our Savior saying:
Then he turns to us and says:
“Why are you afraid?—oh ye of little faith!
“Act justly—love mercy—and walk humbly with your God.”
Some years ago, the Communist Party held a great public rally—in what was then called the Soviet Union.
The party leader spoke for about 90 minutes on behalf of atheism—attempting to persuade the crowd to give up religion.
When he was finished—a young Russian Orthodox priest approached the platform and asked if he could speak.
The party leader agreed—but only gave him five minutes.
“I won’t need that much time,” the priest replied.
He then mounted the platform and cried out in a clear voice: “Alleluia, Christ is risen!”
An immediate response came back from the crowd: “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!”
“That is all I have to say,” the priest said to the party leader.
“Nothing else is needed!”
During our recent visit to Russia—Elizabeth and I were surprised by the resurgence of religion in the post-soviet era.
Churches that had been closed, damaged, or destroyed by the communists are being repaired and rebuilt.
Beautiful new basilicas and cathedrals are going up everywhere.
Crowds of worshippers—young as well as old—men as well as women—are filling the churches to hear the Gospel and attend mass.
And they are bringing their children to be baptized.
We were told that 90% of Russians now identify themselves as Russian Orthodox Christians.
Eighty years of hardship and persecution has failed to kill the faith of the Russian people!
Today’s Scripture readings all address the question of faith.
In the Old Testament reading—the prophet Habakkuk speaks about a time when Israel was afflicted by danger abroad—and violence at home.
It seemed that the Law no longer enforced Righteousness—and the courts had ceased to uphold Justice.
The nation seemed to have lost its Moral Compass—and their leaders were without Vision.
Government was no longer effective in serving the needs of the people.
Forgive me for observing that it sounds a lot like the situation today!
Into this chaotic mess—the prophet Habakkuk spoke some encouraging words.
To the common people—who were struggling to maintain their families and their way of life—he made this bold statement:
“The righteous shall live by their faith.”
“The righteous shall live by their faith.”
In other words--faith is what will sustain good people in such times.
Faith is what will see God’s people through the crisis—and bring them to a better place.
As the writer of Psalm 37 says:
“Put your trust in the LORD—and do good.
“Commit your way to the LORD—and he will bring it to pass.”
Likewise—St. Paul speaks about faith in our Epistle reading from Second Timothy.
“I am reminded of your sincere faith”—he writes to his young friend Timothy:
“That same faith lived in your grandmother Lois—and your mother Eunice—and now, I am sure, it lives in you.”
Both Paul and Timothy are facing challenging times—and Paul concludes by exhorting Timothy to hold onto his faith.
Like the ancient Israelites—and like Paul and Timothy--we depend on our faith to get us through the hard times.
We know that our faith can sustain us—even when things get really bad—even when nothing else can.
But what if we have no faith—or don’t have enough faith?
That’s where the Apostles found themselves in today’s Gospel reading.
And so they came to Jesus—and made this rather sheepish appeal:
“Lord, increase our faith!”
Let us acknowledge—first of all—that the Apostles’ instincts were right.
They came to the right place.
Jesus is the one to come to when we are lacking in faith.
Faith is not something we can conjure up from within ourselves.
We can’t make ourselves have faith.
We can’t make ourselves have more faith.
Faith is a gift from God—and true faith can only come from God.
One of my favorite Scriptures says as much.
Ephesians 2, verse 8, says:
“For by Grace are you saved—through faith—and that not of yourselves;
“It is the Gift of God.”
This tells us that we cannot save ourselves—any more than we can make ourselves have faith.
Salvation comes through faith--and faith comes as a gift from God!
So the Apostles were right in coming to Jesus with their problem.
But at first, he doesn’t seem to help them.
“If you only had faith the size of a mustard seed”—Jesus says—“you could perform miracles.”
A mustard seed is very small.
And so—(Jesus is saying)—is the Apostles’ faith!
But then he says something helpful.
Jesus reminds them that we don’t deserve special thanks for being obedient to God.
We shouldn’t expect praise when we have done everything God has commanded.
After all—we are only doing our duty!
If we are faithful servants—we will always be doing what our Master commands.
The point is this:
Doing what God commands will increase our faith.
Acting on the faith we have will cause our faith to grow.
Exercising our faith will make it stronger.
The mustard seed will grow—and become much larger--if we will only put the faith we have into practice!
Perhaps that’s one reason our faith is so small—because we don’t practice it as we should.
If we don’t act on our faith—it won’t grow.
If we don’t exercise our faith—it won’t get any stronger.
If we want God to increase our faith—then perhaps we should try acting on the faith we have!
And stewardship is a good place to start.
Stewardship is really about exercising our faith when it comes to the subject of money.
Stewardship is about putting our faith into practice when it comes to money and material possessions.
It stands to reason, then—that practicing good stewardship will increase our faith.
But first—we have to get past the word itself—and the feelings it stirs up!
Have you ever noticed the three words that are hidden in the word “stewardship?”
First—there’s the word “stew.”
That’s what a congregation gets into—after the Rector preaches a sermon on stewardship.
That’s what breaks out whenever money is discussed.
And finally—there’s “ship.”
That’s what gets rocked when the waves of criticism hit it.
And—like the Titanic—that’s what will sink if financial support drains away!
What the word actually means is exercising our faith--doing what Our Lord commands—when it comes to money and material possessions.
If you want God to increase your faith—then try taking a risk.
Try giving more to the church this year.
Try giving more—even if your income hasn’t gone up.
That will mean trusting God to provide.
And your faith will grow!
Try making a commitment to “tithe.”
That means giving 10% of your income directly to God’s work.
Even if you don’t think you can “tithe” right now—make a commitment to move towards it.
Try giving 1% more this year—and each succeeding year—until you reach a tithe.
That will mean trusting your financial future to God—and your faith will grow!
Try thinking about your money as a gift from God—not something you struggled to acquire by your own efforts.
And try thinking about stewardship as a joy and a privilege—rather than an obligation.
Stewardship is actually an opportunity—an opportunity to do something good and lasting with your life.
It’s the chance to use your time, talent, and treasure for God’s purposes.
And in the final analysis--that’s the only thing that really matters!
If you want God to increase your faith—then try taking a risk.
Try putting the faith you have into practice—and acting on it.
This year--try stepping out in faith—especially in your stewardship of money and material possessions.
Start acting boldly on the faith you have—to do what Our Lord commands--and your faith will grow!