Bigging up Your Faith
Sermon for 10th Sunday after Trinity – 15 August 2020 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe
TEXT: Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15.21-28)
LISTEN TO: When You Believe – Prince of Egypt
God give you peace my sisters and brothers
On Valentine’s Day this year Lesley-Anne and I were given the gift of an all-expenses paid long weekend in London, during which, amongst many other lovely things, we went to see the Prince of Egypt in the West End.
The song we have just listened to is the theme tune from it, and its words are uplifting and encouraging.
You can do miracles… when you believe
(However the caveat seems to be that if you don’t believe you can’t work any miracles at all!)
Faith is a slippery thing and, if we are not careful it will either descend into wishful thinking which sees faith as our personal tool for twisting God’s arm or become a sort of sanctified cynicism which says, ‘God loves us and so long as we tug our forelock Godward once in a while we will get through the mess of this world and scrape into the life after life.’
It doesn’t help in describing faith that Jesus uses, apparently, language which suggests that there are different ‘sizes’ of faith.
There those with little faith – such as his closest disciples (who probably should do better).
And those with great faith – such as the brazen Canaanite Goy about whom we have just read (whom society always expected to fail).
Odd isn’t it? Those who have grown up in the faith, members of the Children of Israel, are belittled for their faith but this woman, who is rejected by the Jews, is told she has a great faith.
He doesn’t stop there either.
He goes on to praise the faithfulness of harlots and demoniacs,
Roman centurions and penniless widows.
Is Jesus using the terms ‘great’ and ‘little’ differently to the way we do?
Is he perhaps describing faith in terms of its ‘quality’ rather than its ‘quantity’.
After all when He speaks about how much faith is required to move a mountain he says it need only be as ‘small’ as a mustard seed…
The truth is that, much as I love the singing of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, these words;
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe somehow you will
You will when you believe
Are a lie!
No one’s faith helps them perform miracles.
Miracles are performed by the God in whom we have faith, and most often those miracles are seen by changes in the lives of the faithful themselves.
Faith is not miraculous, God is.
However it takes faith to enable us to see our miraculous God at work.
It takes faith to see things fall into place with perfect timing
It takes faith to rename ‘coincidences’ as ‘God-incidences.’
So then how do we become people of ‘great’ faith rather than ‘little’ faith’?
The first thing we need to learn is that whatever faith we possess, it is entire and complete. Whether we see it as ‘great’ or little’, God sees only faith.
James Fowler in his book Stages of Faith Development demonstrates that the child’s bedside prayer of ‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep’ is just as complete a faith as that of the Spiritual Giant who finds themselves to be in a place where they finally can see, as did Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s hand in everything.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Though a child’s faith may seem small it is complete.
Though a saint’s faith may shine brightly it gives them no extra privileges in miracle working.
Faith is complete wherever it is and however it is.
Ultimately there is no hierarchy of faith,
It simply that the more we use it the deeper it becomes.
Faith is similar to being pregnant.
It is difficult to be a ‘little bit pregnant’ – a mother is either with child or she is not. And although in the latter stages of a confinement we may describe a mother as being ‘great with child’ it is the same pregnancy as the one from months before when she was uncertain that she had even conceived and her body was wracked by Morning Sickness and weird dietary cravings
Our faith doesn’t become greater or smaller as we grow.
We are just given daily opportunities to be more faithful.
Like Mary of Nazareth faith give us the opportunity of seeing God grow within us.
We are given opportunities, borne out of our experience of God’s faithfulness to say ‘Yes!’ more easily and readily. Then joyfully, though others may seem them as foolish ‘leaps of faith’, opportunities come to give up on our own resources and fall into the arms of our Beloved.
How do we help our faith grow deeper?
We use it.
we pray more frequently – certain that God is listening.
We give ourselves and our goods away more often – secure in the knowledge of God’s provision for us.
We forgive freely – knowing that we are ourselves forgiven.
This ‘bigging up’ of our faith is not easy, but then neither is pregnancy.
Through all of our journey of faith God is there; calling, comforting, holding our hand, and whispering words of love, as we step out to realise that when we believe God does indeed do miracles.
[This blog ‘Bigging up Your Faith’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]