“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.”
I appreciate St. Luke’s modestly. In the gospels of Sts. Matthew and Mark Jesus says that with faith we can move mountains. I don’t know about you, but I’d be happy with moving a mulberry tree.
What does that mean, faith, to have faith? As the prophet Habakkuk puts it, it is seeing the destruction and violence of the world, pleading to God and hearing silence, and yet he will “…station himself on the rampart… keep watch and see what he will say to me…” and the Lord answered, “for there is still a vision for the appointed time… If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”
The psalmist tells of faith, “Put your trust in the Lord and do good…” It isn’t always good, there are evil doers abroad, but we should not fret about them. Twice we are told not to fret. In 2nd Timothy, Paul is confident that he is not suffering in vain. “But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”
And then there is Luke’s gospel, and Jesus tells us that a mustard seed sized grain of faith could more mulberry trees. (“Move mountains” does sound more impressive). And then He tells the parable of the slaves, and how we expect them to serve us when we are tired; that is what is expected. Then He reverses the roles, and puts us in the role of the slave, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” He is getting to the idea that we have obligations, that things are expected of us and we ought to do them simply because we ought to do them, we are expected to fulfil our role in the Commonwealth of God.
Even in the face of hardship, of evil doers, of suffering and imprisonment, even in the face of being like slaves, creatures doing what we are expected to do simply because it is expected of us, we are told over and over again in our Holy Scriptures, epitomized in our readings today, that we are to have faith, to trust, to seek refuge in God. Having faith is trusting, even with evidence to the contrary, that it will be as it will be, and that there is meaning, if not purpose, to all that is. Faith is dispensing with certainty and resting in the loving arms of a God that we cannot see or hear or taste, not directly, that we can only fleetingly feel, that we know by our moral and spiritual senses alone. Faith, having faith is foolishness, divine foolishness in its highest form. Faith is hard.
We have a couple of things converging today with these readings exhorting us to have faith: Blessing of the Animals which coincides with the Feast of St. Francis which was Friday, and the launch of our annual giving campaign. Faith. Puppies. Annual Giving Campaign. Now there is a holy convergence that we can sink our teeth into.
St. Francis was born in the late 12th century to into a wealthy mercantile family. His terrible experiences of war opened his heart to the plight of the impoverished and the lepers that lived in his city. This opening led him down a rabbit hole of ascetic practice. His family and boyhood friends were scandalized. When asked if he was considering marriage, his answer was “Yes, a fairer bride than any of you have ever seen.” This bride? Lady Poverty.
He wandered in the arms of Lady Poverty, living in caves, witnessing the call of Christ to serve the least of these, surviving on the charity of others by begging on the streets and through the country side. His faith that God would provide not only provided for him, but drew others to him, disciples who came to be know as the poverellos. Francis’ dedication eventually led to a papal endorsement and the foundation of one of the worlds great monastic movements, the Franciscans with their Order of Franciscan Minor, the Poor Clares, and the Third Order, secular or lay adherents who do not take vows or live in community, but live under a rule of life crafted by the good saint.
The puppies? Francis preached the goodness of creation and the need for all of creation to praise God. His hagiography includes stories such has him convincing a ravaging wolf to stop his rampage and lay at his feet. He also, in 1223 arranged for the first ever live nativity scene.
Central to everything Francis did, and this brings us back to today, is that this all, the world, the creation, God’s creation, is good, and it matters. It matters to us, to all of God’s creatures, because we matter. It matters because how we interact with the creation, with things and beings here, matters to our relationship with God. The material world is a site of practice, practice living in harmony with God and everything on one hand, and the practice of worshiping God on the other. From the prayers and the hymns, incense and music, the activity of the actual and eternal encounter with God in the sacraments, and the opportunity to make sacrifices, to relate to our transcendent God through how we relate to the creation of that God. St. Francis had a line on it: on God and us.
And that brings us to our annual giving campaign. This is, I think, the 54th annual giving campaign of the church of the Resurrection. This is how we raise virtually all of the money we need to operate the church: asking you to pledge yoru support to the work of Resurrection. We are responsible for that, for the financing of this parish. And by we I mean me too. Windy and I have been working towards tithe, the traditional 10%, we’re not there yet, but we are getting closer each year. We’ll be pledging $600 per month from the very generous salary you pay me of $83,000. That is 8.5%, up from 7% last year. I say that just to give context.
There are all sorts of ways to discern what to give. The proportional giving stuff is a tool for that. Look at your income, then look at the percentage you give. Is the importance of this place in your life reflected in the .25% of your wages you donate? Or the 7%? It is not the amount that matters, it is the proportion. Giving more money doesn’t mean you are more faithful, but giving a higher proportion of what you have, that the lesson of the widow’s mite. And it is true.
Maybe you give because you support the mission of the church, it aligns with your values and you want to invest in your community in this way, you want to help us do the good work we are doing. Maybe you give simply out of habit. You click on the auto pay on your bank website and never think about it again. Why you give is up to you. No matter how you discern what you will give, any gift is a concrete signs of the importance of this place, of your religious life in your priorities.
That’s the Francis tie in. What Francis saw (backed up by how he lived) is that our relationship to the material world matters. It matters first and foremost because the goodness of the creation matters to God. But, as I said above, it also matters because it is a concrete place of practice. We can have all sorts of ideas, all sorts of priorities and feelings about things, but until we do something about it, bring it out of the noosphere, the spiritual realm, to here and now, things can stay so abstract. Doing something real, like making a sacrifice as a practice of making a sacrifice, brings our religious life into the very real light of day. And in our culture, it doesn’t get more concrete, more personal and intimate than than how we handle our money. What a perfect opportunity for practice.
I’m not talking about casting off your fine purple robes for Franciscan sack cloth. You know how good paying off a bill feels. You know how satisfying it feels to fulfill a commitment, the bigger the commitment the better the feeling. Making a sacrifice, giving of the first fruits, does it feel good? It feels distinctive. The act of intentional and costly generosity is a religious act with distinctive spiritual sensations. Pleasurable sensations? Maybe. Rewarding ones, for sure, but pleasurable? Maybe like mile 19 in a marathon pleasurable. (But then again, that is one of the best feelings I have ever had).
So over the next weeks as you consider the place that this place has in your heart and how that place is reflected in your budget, I ask you to consider giving until you feel it. That is not just how we pay for a priest and keep the lights on, but that is where the spiritual benefit is found.
And that brings us back to our readings and the idea of faith. All of this is so fleeting. The world, our place in it, our very lives… perishing, passing by before our eyes and we have so little say. So when we do have a say, like how we use our time we have or how we use the material resources at our disposal, to intentionally let go of one of those few things, that is an act of faith. The benefits are fleeting at best, and even more so, we don’t do them for our own benefit, but for the benefit of God and God’s church and the life giving, soul saving work in this place by you, the people of Resurrection. That is faith with boots on. “Put your trust in the Lord and do good.” AMEN