Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


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    Oct 06, 2019

    The 17th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 17:5-10

    Preacher: The Rev. Nathan M. Finnin

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost


    Increase our faith!

    That is how the reading from Luke begins this morning.

    With the apostles crying out to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”

    Now, we are not told what has led up to this.

    But obviously, it must be in response to something pretty serious.

    Perhaps they were just asked to sell of their possessions, and follow Jesus.

    Or perhaps they were just told the parable of the rich man,

    and realized how hard it is to pass through the eye of a needle.

    Or, maybe Jesus just told them to feed the five thousand,

    with the tiny amount of food they had.


    It must have been something serious, right?

    And I was so curious, that I thought I’d take a look.

    And here is what led to the disciples to cry out,

    “Lord, increase our faith.”


    This is from Luke chapter 17, verses 3 through 4,

    right where our reading today picks up:

    Jesus says,

    “If your brother sins, you must admonish them, and if they change their heart, you forgive them. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I change my heart” you shall forgive them.”


    THAT is the bombshell Jesus drops that elicits the cry “Increase our faith!”

    We’re going to have to forgive people.

    AND, we’re going to have to seek a certain type of forgiveness.

    But it’s much more than just that.


    And that’s what I want to talk about a little bit this morning.

    Because it’s something that I’ve found myself struggling with.

    Not in a particular relationship,

    but as a theological concept.

    You see, a couple of weekends ago,

    I was away at the Addiction and Faith conference in Minneapolis Minnesota.

    And the keynote speaker, Brian McClaren, said something that I can’t get out of my head.

    It was in response to a question someone asked about the differences between 12 step communities, and church.

    And McClaren said this,

    the main difference between 12 step programs and the church,

    is that the church has created a system where you can be forgiven without being set free.

    We have created a system where you can be forgiven without being set free.


    That has haunted me for a couple of weeks now.

    Largely because I think he’s right.


    What I think he means,

    is that we have created a system where we get to come here on Sunday,

    and acknowledge the things we have done wrong,

    in thought word or deed,

    are reminded of God’ forgiveness

    and then we go on about our lives out “there.”


    Far too often,

    I am afraid that we confuse being forgiven,

    with being set free.

    We confuse being forgiven,

    with being set free.

    Because being set free is something altogether different.


    Being forgiven is to wipe the slate clean,

    but holding on to the slate.


    But being set free is about changing the way we live,

    and not being bogged down by fear and sin and guilt and shame,

    and not having to walk around carrying that slate.


    Are you following me this morning?

    Being forgiven is about feeling better about ourselves for doing crummy things.

    But being set free is about liberation…

    liberation from living a kind of life in which we continually do those same crummy things

    over and over again.


    Being set free is about dying to old ways that don’t work.

    Ways of living and being that hold us and others back.

    Ways of living that make it impossible to live into God’s invitation

    To become who we truly are.


    So when I hear the disciples cry out to Jesus, Lord “increase our faith,”

    I hear the cry of a group of people who are struggling to be free.

    They have committed themselves to following the way of Jesus,

    and they are realizing just how hard it is to do that.

    They are realizing just how much is being asked of them,

    if they want to follow Jesus and be set free.

    They are realizing that following Jesus isn’t just about asking and granting forgiveness.

    It’s about a change of paradigm.

    It’s about being willing to view yourself, others, and the world in a new way.


    So here’s my question for you this morning:

    Do you want to be forgiven,

    or do you want to be set free?


    Because if you just want to be forgiven,

    there are all kinds of churches and institutions that will tell you that you are.

    And you are.

    But that’s not what Jesus’ ministry is about.

    Jesus’ ministry is about setting people free.


    The next logical question, of course is

    “Free from what?”

    Free from the bondage of self and sin.

    Jesus’ ministry is about setting people free from the bondage of self and sin.

    And the disciples are picking up on this!

    Since the 9th chapter of this Gospel,

    when Jesus turns and sets his face to go to Jerusalem,

    he has been showing them the way to this freedom.

    In the parable of the Good Samaritan where he tells the lawyer who his neighbor is…

    When he visits Mary and Martha,

    When he teaches them how to pray..

    When he casts out demons,

    When he explains why we can’t serve two masters…

    And when he tells them we must forgive and be forgiven..

    Jesus has been showing them the way to freedom.


    But the disciples are struggling.

    They are struggling to believe that they can do these things.

    And so they cry out….”Lord, increase our faith.”

    Jesus is calling them to see the world differently,

    to see their reality in a new way.

    To accept the invitation to be free.

    And they don’t know how to do it.

    So they cry out, “Lord, increase our faith!”

    Bishop Porter Taylor, who will actually be preaching here this month,

    writes this:

    Since they don't know how to see their reality in a new way, Jesus gives them an answer, but it's not the one they expect. He tells them, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you." The disciples want a diagram for getting from point A to point B, but they don't get one. Faith isn't a game plan for solving our problems, nor is faith understanding why things are the way they are. At the end of the day, faith isn't about answers.

    Faith is about the love of God through Jesus Christ. Faith is about being grasped by Jesus so that you know in your heart and bones that your life and his life and the life of the world are mixed together. Once that happens, you see yourself and your neighbor and your world completely new. Once that happens, you know that the only thing that matters is that love and that the only reality is grace.”[1]


    That’s the way to freedom.

    Love and grace.

    The knowledge that your life, and God’s life, and the life of the world are interconnected.


    And it’s terrifying.

    It’s so terrifying that when we’re confronted with that reality,

    our natural response, like the disciple’s,

    is to assume we’re not equipped

    and to cry out for more faith.


    Because the truth is, that’s what we need

    when we realize it’s not simply about being forgiven,

    or about forgiving.

    It’s about seeing yourself, and the world around you in a completely new way.

    It’s about taking on a new posture,

    whereby you exist in the world differently.


    There’s a feel-good news story going around this week,

    which many of you may have seen.

    This past Wednesday,

    a former Dallas Police Officer was sentenced to prison

    for murdering Botham Jean, a young black man.


    SHE walked into HIS apartment,

    and shot him,

    claiming she thought it was her own apartment.


    After she was sentenced to 10 years for her crime,

    the victim’s brother used his impact statement to say the following:

    “I love you as a person, and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”

    He then asked the judge if he could step off the witness stand and give the killer a hug.


    It’s a lovely story.

    And when I first heard it,

    I thought to myself,

    what a wonderful icon of Christ-like behavior it was.

    But the more I thought about it, the more I struggled with it.

    I struggled with it because I keep coming back to Brian McClaren’s comment about the church.

    “We have created a system where you can be forgiven without being set free.”

    And I think the missing link is that we often don’t examine the systems that exist,

    which make certain types of forgiveness necessary.


    Roxanne Gay, a professor and best selling author writes this:

    “The call for forgiveness is a painfully familiar refrain when black people suffer.

    White people embrace narratives about forgiveness

    so they can pretend the world is a fairer place than it actually is,

    and that racism is merely a vestige of a painful past

    instead of this indelible part of our present.


    Black people forgive because we need to survive.

    We have to forgive time and time again

    while racism or white silence in the face of racism continues to thrive.

    We have had to forgive slavery, segregation, Jim Crow laws, lynching,

    inequity in every realm, mass incarceration, voter disenfranchisement,

    inadequate representation in popular culture, microaggressions and more.

    We forgive and forgive and forgive

    and those who trespass against us continue to trespass against us.”[2]


    I want you to hear me this morning

    when I say that forgiveness is absolutely a vital practice in our spiritual lives.

    I want you to hear me when I say that asking for forgiveness is a necessary and holy thing.


    But it’s not enough.

    Lord, increase our faith.

    See, I don’t just want to be forgiven.

    I want to be set free.

    I want to be set free from a system that benefits me at the expense of others.

    Lord, increase our faith.

    I want to be set free of racist thoughts and actions that I consciously and unconsciously have.

    Lord, increase our faith.

    I want to be set free from a type of forgiveness

    that is often weaponized by the church to maintain oppressive social structures and dynamics.

    Lord, increase our faith.


    I want to be set free from patterns of living that are harmful to myself,

    and harmful to others.

    I want to be set free from ego, and fear, and apathy.

    I want to be set free from the belief that the world as it is

    is the only way it can be.

    Lord, increase our faith.


    I want to be grasped by Jesus,

    so that I know in my heart and bones that my life,

    and his life,

    and the life of the world are mixed together.

    I want to see myself, my neighbor, and the world,

    in a completely new way.

    Because That’s the difference between being forgiving,

    and being set free.

    Lord, increase our faith. Amen


    [1] http://day1.org/809-opening_up_to_faith

    [2] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/opinion/why-i-cant-forgive-dylann-roof.html