Sermon from Sunday, 2nd October 2016 - Reverend Canon Fred Tomlinson
Faith is not the same as mashed potatoes!
Some of you will know that last weekend I was away leading the pre-ordination retreat for ordinands from Edinburgh and Aberdeen dioceses, including Oliver. I was greatly honoured to be asked to do this – the first St Peter’s rector since Fergus Harris to undertake this.
Over the Friday, Saturday and Sunday I offered a series of talks and services to encourage those about to be ordained as they took this momentous step after three years of training. In between times I met with them individually and listened to their hopes and their anxieties about what this new life would mean for them.
What I said over the entire three days could be summed up in these words…. Faith is not the same as mashed potatoes!
When the disciples ask Jesus today to “increase our faith”, they are treating it like mashed potatoes. “In order to follow you and minister like you, we need to have bigger portions please!”
When they say that we recognise that, somewhere deep inside, it’s probably true of us too, and also true of those waiting to be ordained last weekend. “Give us a bigger dollop of faith, and whatever is thrown at us, we’ll be fine!”
And Jesus says – it’s not about having more faith. You already have enough power to do all that God expects of you. Whether that be working in the field, taking care of the flock, serving at table – (three images we use to describe ministry) – whatever you are called to do, just get on and do it with the gift of God that is within you. My power is sufficient. It is all given. It is all there. You have faith enough to do anything I need you to do.
When we speak of faith, we’re talking about the deep, vibrant relationship with God which, if we allow it to happen, reaches down into the core of our very being. It is a relationship of generous love, complete trust centring on what God has done for us in the life, death and Resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. We say in our 1982 Liturgy that “There is no room for fear in love”, and so we approach God, yes always in need of his forgiveness, but sure of his acceptance and his longing that we should know him deeply and personally, even as he knows us.
A key element here is complete honesty with God.
Honesty of the kind that Habakkuk displays in our first lesson this morning. With complete forthrightness he accuses God of turning a deaf ear and a blind eye towards the violence and injustice which Habakkuk sees as endemic in the world around him. His lament is familiar to many today: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” With hurts large and small the world suffers. In countries on all quadrants of the globe Oppressive regimes kill the people they are empowered to serve; in cities and towns across continents, people go hungry while their neighbours overindulge.
In the countryside crops wither from drought or they choke in the mud from flooding rivers; in mansions and in mud huts, families struggle to hold themselves together in the face of illness, addiction, domestic violence or drug abuse. Habakkuk’s cry is our cry, “How long, O Lord, shall we cry for help?”
We’re not surprised to hear that this little passage was one to which many turned in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity in the US fifteen years ago.
So we ask what answer gives to Habakkuk and to us in response to this complaint; honesty has a central place in the life of faith, but is faith is to be more than just a cry of despair in the dark, what are we given?
Our answer lies in our Psalm this morning – Psalm 37.
The Psalms always offer us a rich treasury of encouragement and inspiration, but the Psalms we’ve enjoyed over these past few Sundays have been exceptionally good.
Today we are urged to “wait patiently for God and do not fret over those who carry out evil devices”. The waiting encouraged by the Psalm is not a passive activity however, as it includes a number of commands: trust, take delight in the Lord, commit your way to the Lord. Be still. Wait patiently. Refrain from anger. This is active waiting, the kind that engages in relationship with God.
The promise we are given is that God will indeed act to vindicate the faithful and to bring about justice against the wicked, providing security and hope for the people who now live in distress.
This is the picture of faith – a quiet but sure confidence – that God gives us. It is not doled out like mashed potatoes in portions small or large, but is enough to set us out on the road each day.
A last image – each day I see students set out from halls, heading towards the main campus or Kings Buildings, rucksack on their back with all they need for their studies that day.
Picture then your rucksack at the start of this new academic year, with all yopu need for Christian living. What’s in it?
• The faith of those who have gone before you or who walk with you, perhaps family, perhaps friends at church, Godparents, soul friends, an inspiring mentor, an inspirational speaker or writer
• The prayers of friends and congregation members.
• The gift of God that came from your Baptism and other public commitments of faith or re-affirmations made over the years
• The spirit of self-discipline; that obedient listening that has got you to this point; the giving up of other ways forward and the deliberate choosing of this difficult pathway with all the balancing and compromises and travelling that needs to be done to make it work.
• The gift of courage.
• The sound teaching that you have received along the way from sermons and conferences, Bible Studies and home groups, missions and Christian festivals
• Above all, the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus; the gift of salvation; the grace of God.
In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer Amen.