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Our texts this week comes from 2 Timothy 1 and Luke 17.
In Timothy, Paul is praising Timothy’s ancestors, his grandmother and mother, for passing along the faith to him.
In Luke, we have the “increase our faith”… “well if you had faith even the size of a mustard seed” text tied with a text about ‘would you praise a slave for doing the work you commanded the slave to do’ and the obvious response is no.
As I struggled with these texts this week, I came to a realization. I hate these texts, not simply that these texts are ah, but that I HATE these tests. And there is a reason, because they both speak to a problem within our religiosity and spirituality.
First, the mustard seed. It is a beloved text that many know, and love, and can quote without a problem but how often have you heard somebody say:
‘well if you had faith even the size of a mustard seed’;
‘if you had more faith’;
‘if you had more trust in God’
‘if you prayed hard enough about a, b, and c then x, y, and z will happen’.
What happens when that doesn’t happen? The person’s faith is destroyed and there are two options (1) to either leave it in its shambles and walk away or (2) to reconstruct it with a new image and new theology of God due to that experience.
And then, our ancestors of faith.
I am a Lutheran pastor. Lutherans tend to be German or Scandinavian and if you look at my skin and my hair, I am easily mistaken as one. But, I was never expected to defend my Lutheran faith off of my ancestry until I went to Seminary.
I was working with a pastor and she asked what my ancestry was, I said Scottish, Irish, English, French, [and] Cherokee. She had a really confused look on her face, so I asked ‘what?’.
‘Where is the German?’
‘To the best of my knowledge, I don’t have any.’
‘Where did the Lutheran come it?’
And then in class, we were talking about out ancestors of faith, which may or may not be the same as genetic ancestors. And my colleagues were going around talking about how their families were newly, relatively newly, immigrated to the United States within the last few generations and/or that they were the second, third, fourth, etc. generation of Lutheran pastors, or that they were one of multiples in their own generation that are Lutheran pastors.
They got to me and the best that I could say was [that] my family came over on the Mayflower. My (step) grandfather introduced my grandmother and my mother to the Lutheran church. They embraced the theology of the Lutheran church. And when it came time for us to find a church when I was young, my mom went looking for a Lutheran church. And that is how I brought up into the Lutheran faith.
What both of these concepts do is create what I am going to call ‘Spiritual Elitism’. This notion that the size of our faith puts us on a higher point of a spiritual ladder, a spiritual hierarchy. If we have a certain ancestry within a particular faith tradition, that puts us higher up on that ladder. And if we have a long line of professional ministry in our family, that puts us higher up on this hierarchy.
The reality is THAT LADDER DOES NOT EXIST. It is a figment of our imagination.
Martin Luther, himself, wrote the Two Kinds of Righteouseness. He described the alien righteousness, that which comes from outside of ourselves. That which we can not obtain or achieve, God’s grace, is installed in us and we get more and more of it as we grow, as we develop, as we are shaped and transformed into the people that God had called each one of us to be. It enacts in us the proper righteousness, that is our good works, our good words, the Fruit of the Spirit. The things we tend to think makes us a good person. The things that we look at and we allow it to build up our own reputation or our own ego, or the praise of ourself because ‘look at me I am such a good, spiritual person’.
The reality is that we have all been commanded to love and to serve. [And] When we love and serve one another we don’t deserve the praise, but rather the attention, the praise, the glory should be to God and God’s will on this earth.
I pray that we embrace and nurish our faith, that we embrace and nurish those Fruit of the Spirit, in order to participate in God’s grace, mercy, love, and vision for our world. Amen.
The scriptures were 2 Timothy 1: 1-14 and Luke 17: 5-10.
The sermon was originally preached on 02 October 2016.