Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Parish of St. John the Baptist, North Sydney
6 October 2019
Lamentations 1:1-6; Psalm 137; II Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Collect of the Day
you have built your Church
on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.
Join us together in unity of spirit by their teaching,
that we may become a holy temple, acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The people lament.
It used to be thriving. It was a great city with a great Temple. It’s where people worshipped their great God. It was full of people of all ages, generations of families and friends all in one place. It had something for everyone. But, that’s all in the past. It will never be as good as it once was. Now, they thought, “It is dying.” Some said it was as good as dead. Some people left; others scattered to here or to there. It’s not hard to imagine some saying, “When I look around all I can see are the faces that used to be here.” Others asked, “Where are they now?” Some talked about quitting…giving it up altogether. “What’s the point?” they asked. Others remembered that “every spot was taken and there was overflow at meetings, even in the middle of the week, now there are just a handful.” Soon there won’t be anyone.
And, the people lament.
Many were killed. Some of the people were exiled. Still, others scattered; they fled …running away in every direction for their very lives. The Babylonians came and destroyed what they held dear, their beautiful city, their beautiful Temple, their way of life. When the army left, some were able to return. Others became refugees and hoped that they might find their way in other places.
And, in the aftermath the people lament.
The sanctuary has been desecrated. The streets that used to be full of pilgrims making their way to worship, pilgrims with hearts full of prayer…they were no longer there.
This is what it was like back in Jeremiah’s day. How lonely sits the city that was full of people…they fled without strength before their pursuer.
I imagine that many felt that God had abandoned them. Still, others cursed God, asking, “Why weren’t you here when the Babylonians came and destroyed what we hold dear?”
They forgot that God didn’t destroy them, but people did. Just think of it, it’s humanity at its worst.
This must be what it was like with the rise of anti-Semitism leading to the murder of millions during WWII, when cities were destroyed and neighbours became suspicious of neighbours, family members turned on other family members. People went missing overnight. Or, how about what it was like when Indigenous children were taken to residential schools, some never to return home…missing. Or, what it’s like today when folks turn up missing, only to become participants in the horrors of human trafficking. Or, those displaced by today’s wars around the globe… Or, those who contribute to the destruction of the world’s climate because it makes them richer, while most others are finding that they can’t keep up and must live on less and less… And, we are haunted by a rising suicide rate, drug trafficking in our streets…the list seems endless. But, God’s fault? I don’t think so. In the midst of all of this, God still pursues us. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…
Yet, we know that occasions for stumbling are bound to come…be on your guard…repent and be forgiven. This is the gist of what Jesus says at the start of Luke Chapter 17, just before the words from the Gospel that we hear today…that what we might think of us a small amount of faith, the apostles say to him, “Increase our faith…” It’s as if their afraid that they don’t have enough, that they won’t be anough. Then Jesus responds, “Faith, even an amount as small as a mustard seed, it is enough.” Jesus reminds us.
How can this be? We wonder.
There was once a woman in Norwich, England. She was known as Julian. She came to understand that Jesus is everything to us, like clothing, his love enwraps us, holds us, encloses us. His love is tender. It never leaves us. She marveled at this. How can it be? she asked.
God answered her by showing her a hazelnut. Understand that hazelnuts, while not as tiny as mustard seeds, are still quite small and they were quite common in Julian’s day. Julian writes: “I looked at the hazelnut with my understanding. It seemed that it could just sink into nothingness because it is so small.” The hazelnut is an image of faith for her. It is, to her, as if God loves it because God made it. And, God will keep it. If this is so for a hazelnut, or mustard seed; how much more is this so for us?
Julian’s hazelnut-faith is like Jesus’ mustard-seed-faith. Such faith reminds us that our spirits given to us by God are powerful, loving and self-controlled. This is the same God who saves us and calls us with a holy calling. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he places in our trust. That’s how Paul says it in his Second Letter to Timothy.
God knows that there are certainly times and occasions in life that we will lament over. Things we need to repent over and receive God’s forgiveness for…things we need to seek forgiveness for in others, too. We can live out our faith because God loves. God makes. God keeps all if we allow God to do so, come what may. We can do this because faith as small as a mustard seed is enough. Amen.