Sunday, October 6, 2019 “How Much Faith is Enough?”
The message for Sunday, October 6, 2019, “How Much Faith is Enough?” by Pastor Erik Goehner heard during the 8:00, 9:30 and 11:00 AM Worship service.
How Much Faith is Enough? Luke 17:1-6
There was once a hiker who was on a trail which took him up near a steep cliff. The higher he went, the less he could see because there was a thick fog that was rolling in around him. Coming around a sharp corner the man tripped over a gray rock he had not seen protruding from the gray dirt of the trail. He had not realized he was so close to the cliff and his fall took him over the edge. Frantic, he reached out desperately and managed to grab hold of a narrow ledge. Catching his breath, the man realized he did not know how far he had fallen or how far he was from the ground. He looked back up towards the trail and began calling for help.
“Is anyone up there? Is anyone up there?” Not long after, a thin rope dropped down, not far from where he was clinging to the ledge. The man’s heart skipped a beat as his hope began to rise. Then suddenly a booming voice said, “Yes. I am up here. This is God. Let go of the ledge. Grab hold of the rope and I will pull you up.”
The hiker looked up towards the trail. The fog was so thick he still couldn’t see anything. He thought about it for a second then called out, “Is anyone else up there?”
Can we blame the hiker for having his doubts about who was really up there? Isn’t it hard to trust something we can’t see? Isn’t it difficult to sometimes believe there is a God without all the tangible evidence we might like to have especially when times get tough? When we encounter difficult situations, when we encounter challenging circumstances we can want to cry out to God, “O Lord, increase our faith! We don’t have enough! Give us more!”
In the text from Luke this Sunday Jesus is asking his disciples to do something hard and perhaps a little scary. He is saying that they need to be able to confront people who have sinned and then be prepared to forgive them if they repent not just once but seventy-seven times! In response to this difficult spiritual and emotional challenge the disciples say, “Increase our faith!”
What Jesus is asking of them seems like a tall order and they are looking for more strength. Jesus replies and says, “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.
It could sound at first that Jesus is being critical of the disciples, like they do not even seem to have a tiny amount of faith. But what if Jesus is actually saying to them that they do not need to be so worried because even a little bit of faith goes a long way. The disciples want more, but what Jesus could be saying is that they already have enough. Like the disciples, we can often fall into the thinking that faith is about quantity. The more you have the more things you could do. The more you have the more God would love you and do good things for you. But what if faith is not a matter of quantity, but rather one of sufficiency? Jesus could be saying all you need is a mustard seed’s worth of faith and you will be able to do great things.
When we focus on faith as a matter of quantity rather than sufficiency it can lead down a dangerous road. It can lead us to compare ourselves to others where we can either look down upon them because we don’t think they have as much faith as we do, or we can look down upon ourselves because we think others have more faith than we do. When we focus on faith as a matter of quantity rather than sufficiency we can begin to blame ourselves for things that may really be beyond our control. Why didn’t my loved one get better like that person’s relative did? Why didn’t my illness go away like that person’s did? It must mean I didn’t have enough faith.—as if we could control the actions of God by how much faith we have or don’t have. This can lead us to giving up on our faith or perhaps feeling like God has given up on us.
What if, however, instead of having the feeling that we can never measure up to the quantity of faith, we instead had the mindset of the sufficiency of God’s grace? That it is not about trying to figure out how to get more, but rather trying to rest in the assurance of what we already have been given? Could this give us the courage to keep going on when life seems random and uncertain and we can’t comprehend why things are happening the way they are? Could this give us the courage to let go and trust that we will get enough glimpses of grace to remind us that God’s spirit is still walking with us?
The apostle Paul was one of the greatest missionaries of all time. He planted many churches and wrote most of what we now consider the New Testament. One could argue that without him we would not have the church that we have today. We consider him to be a great man of faith. Yet, Paul struggled with staying strong in the midst of all the adversity that he faced. His faith was a learning process where he came to realize that faith wasn’t about getting stronger, it was about learning to trust God in even challenging circumstances — it was about learning to admit his weakness and allowing God’s strength to take over.
At one point, in his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul shares about what sounds like some kind of physical or mental ailment that he has. He says that there was a thorn in his flesh seemingly like a messenger of Satan sent to torment him. This ailment is a very difficult thing to deal with and Paul says he appealed not once or twice, but three times to God it order that it would leave him. But Paul does not get healed in the way that he might have hoped for. Instead he says that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul had to learn to let go and trust that God had given him what he needed and God’s power would show up even when he felt weak and maybe especially when he felt weak.
When I was a kid I loved to be outside and I love to climb rocks. I loved to scramble up the rocky outcroppings around where we lived and get to high places and look out as far as I could see. So when I was in seminary and one of our teachers invited me to join a group of youth leaders to go rock climbing I said, “Yes, I want to go!” And that was true, I did want to go, but I was also unsure if I should go because I was nervous and a little scared. You see, I loved to scramble up rocks as a kid, but those rocks were not very high and not straight up. I loved wide open viewpoints, but I was still scared of heights. This was going to be real rock climbing . It involved going up a 30 to 40 foot cliff! To help calm our nerves before we left, the teacher assured us that this kind of climbing was safe. We would be tied to a rope and we would have a person belaying us which meant if we slipped or fell they could tighten the rope and we wouldn’t fall very far. He told us the rope was checked regularly to see if it was fraying at all and it was designed to hold a lot of weight. Then he showed us the rope. It didn’t even look an inch thick! That thin, little rope was going to hold us up?!? That skinny, weak-looking rope was supposed to keep us from falling?
I can’t say the teacher’s presentation of our equipment bolstered my faith too much, but the next day I went anyway, going over the facts about our climbing rope in my head and trying to convince myself they were true. I decided I would wait and go like third or fourth in line. This gave me a chance to watch the other climbers and see if the rope held them. It seemed to work fine and the teacher who was the one on belay could pull the rope tight and catch them if they slipped. I had facts about the rope, I had seen it hold other people with my own eyes, but when I got clipped into the harness I was still scared and nervous. Sure it had held the others up, but what if the rope was weaker now that it had been used? What if I was the one it would break on? I wanted more rope—a thicker rope—I wanted two or three ropes attached to me just to be sure. I determined in my mind that if I didn’t think that rope was enough, then the only sure way to do this was not to have to use it. I could just do the climb on my own strength. If I could do that, I could both prove the rope was unnecessary and get over my worry that it might not work.
I started up the rock face. I was doing pretty good at first. I was making progress. But about half way up, I began to slow down. I was getting tired and I wasn’t quite sure where the next hand hold was. The longer I clung to ledge the more stuck I began to feel. Nerves and physical exertion began to take their toll. My arm muscles started to cramp up and one of my legs began to shake in a way I couldn’t control. “I think I need some help!” I called out. “My arms are killing me and I’m not sure where to go next!”
Then I heard a voice behind me. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was the voice of the teacher. “Relax, Erik! I got you. Just let go and lay back! Trust the rope. It will hold you.” I thought about it for moment. From what I had learned and seen, I knew the rope could hold me, but now I had to believe it for myself. At that point I was feeling pretty weak so I wasn’t sure I really had a choice. Things were getting beyond my control. So, I began to release the tight grip my fingers had on the rock ledge and slowly lean back. My shaking foot slipped, and I felt everything give as I suddenly dropped. But I didn’t fall far. Within seconds my teacher on belay had tightened the rope and I was dangling in the air. The rope held! I was fine! I shook out my arms and legs and gave my muscles a rest.
“Do you want to keep going?” my teacher asked.
“Yes.” I responded.
Now that I knew the rope would hold, I wasn’t so scared to carry on.
Now that I knew that I could rest when I needed, I wasn’t so worried about trying again.
There was a new freedom and excitement in the challenge and with the help of a couple more breaks I made it to the top.
When difficulties in life come our way we can wish we had more faith. We can wonder if God is really out there when all we get is little glimpse of grace like a thin, little rope dangling beside us that doesn’t appear to be enough. We can cling to our worry and our fear not sure if we can let go. But then there comes the voice of the Teacher behind and above us—the voice of Jesus calling out today telling us, “I am here. My grace is sufficient for you. When you are weary from climbing you can let go and rest in my love. The faith I have given you is enough and it’s okay if sometimes you feel weak, because it is then that you can experience the strength of God.”
Pastor Erik Goehner