Luke 17:1-10, Acts 2:42-47: Faith

baptismal-font-4What is faith?  What is its source?  How does faith become yours?  Do you create it within yourself, or does someone give it to you?

How we answer changes the way we worship.  Our understanding of faith affects the how we tell others of Jesus and shapes the way we live.  Our understanding of faith changes how we choose to live our lives.  Doctrine matters.

The Gospel reading for today is all about faith, with our Lord’s disciples praying to Jesus to increase their faith!  So, Jesus goes straight to the core.  How?  By talking about temptation, sin, turning from sin, and forgiveness.

Consider a car.  A car contains many important parts, but some are essential.  Without the engine, who cares whether a sunroof or a satellite radio come with the car.  For without the engine, nothing else matters, for the car can’t take you anywhere.

Our faith-life with God includes many essential items, but the core of faith centers on God’s forgiveness for our sin.  No forgiveness?  Nothing else matters, for your life of faith won’t ever receive its life-giving breath.

Listen to Jesus:

“Stumbling blocks are sure to come, but how terrible for the one through whom they come!  He would be better off to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  Be careful!  If your brother sins, warn him to stop; if he repents, forgive him.” [Luke 17:1-3]

Can Jesus use stronger imagery?  “He would be better off to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.”  Try swimming with a 500-pound boulder tied to your neck.  How long would you float?  Here’s the point: The giant stone is the better alternative!

Sin kills; God’s forgiveness gives life.  The disciples pick up on this warning.  They realize, as teachers of the faith, Jesus wants them to live out and teach this truth.  A 500-pound rock if they mess up?  Help!  So, they panic: “Increase our faith!”

Did your heart ever pound with such anxiety?  I’m too weak.  My faith is anemic.  Lord, increase my faith!  How does Jesus respond?  “If your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can tell this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

The faith of a mustard seed?  A mustard seed is puny!  If only a smidgen of trust in God lives within you, you can command a tree.  “Leap into the sea!”  And it would.

Well, no faith must be living within me.  I told a tree to move, and it didn’t.  So, what gives?  Jesus is using picture language.  The smallest amount of faith is enough.

Still, our Lord’s words bring us back.  What is faith, its source, and how does it become ours?  How we answer those questions shapes our worship life, how we tell others of Jesus, and how we live.  Doctrine matters.

Do we create the faith within us or do we receive it?  Here’s the answer: faith is all gift!  Examine the disciples.  Jesus gave them their belief and trust in Him.  How can we be certain?  Consider how the disciples responded to Jesus.

The disciples went to Jesus.  The voice of prayer cried out within them: “Increase our faith!”  The disciples didn’t always figure out what Jesus wanted for them.  Not so here.  They understood the source of their faith.  So, in faith, they went back to the source, Jesus.  For they realized how weak their trust in Him was!

Like our Lord’s disciples, when we realize Jesus is the source of our faith, that truth changes how we worship.  Most people think worship is their work for God.  We turn our Lord’s words to remember the Sabbath day, which means “day of rest,” into another work.  Worship in not about what you do, but what Jesus does for you!

Faith is a gift God gives you, not something you produce in yourself.  The worship service is the place where God gives you His gifts of grace—where God gives you and increases faith.  Ah, so the day of rest for worship IS a day of rest.  God is doing the work; we are receiving.

Worship is about God increasing your faith through His gifts of grace—even if your feelings tell you otherwise.  Did you catch what the disciples asked Jesus?  “Increase our faith!”  They didn’t want Jesus to change their feelings.  They didn’t ask Him to change His teachings to what they wanted.  In desperation, feeling too weak for their tasks, this prayer bellowed from their being: “Increase our faith!”

Many in Christianity think belief in God is all about feelings, instead of believing.  What you won’t find in the Bible is a verse commanding you to “feel” faith for it to be real.  No, Scripture talks about a believing faith.

So, what happens when God’s wrath doesn’t fill you with fear?  What happens when you sin, and don’t care?  Is a sin still a sin no matter what emotions stir within you?  Yes!

What happens when Jesus’ love leaves you unmoved?  God can’t love me!  I’m such a failure.  What if your emotions whisper: “God doesn’t forgive you!”  Oh, He can forgive me for every sin—but not that one!

Jesus’ love for you doesn’t wax or wane based on your emotions.  So also with His forgiveness.  Oh, the dangers of making belief in God a matter of feelings!  Feelings arrive and leave like the whispers of the wind.  Faith, however, believes in Christ because faith believes He can be trusted!

Every week you come to the Divine Service for your sins to be forgiven, and for your faith to increase.  You come to receive God’s gifts of grace and, after that, respond in faith.  The shape of the worship service reflects and reveals this reality.

How does worship begin?  With the invocation, which calls on God to be present but also reminds you into whom you are baptized: God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God comes to you and you next act in faith by confessing your sins.  God responds in grace with His word of forgiveness, spoken to you through the mouth of the pastor.

What next?  You praise and give prayer to God—not because He needs you to—but because this is faith in action.  God also comes to you through the Word of Scripture.  He also comes to you through His preached Word—the sermon.  We respond by confessing Him as our living God.  We respond with offerings and prayers.

Jesus still has more.  So, He comes to you in His Supper, and we respond with thanks and praise.  At the last, God sends you on your way with His blessing.  Worship is all about God giving you His gifts of grace, forgiving your sins, and increasing your faith.

No matter what sensations stir within, whether you liked the music, or if you thought the sermon moved you or not—God still served you through His gifts of grace.  Worship is not about your feelings but your faith.  Yes, feelings do come into play—we are human after all—and the emotion of trust is a part of faith.  Like the disciples, we also need to go back to the source of our faith.  “Lord, increase our faith!”

How we understand faith shapes the way we worship.  For faith and the Divine Service are the centerpieces of our Lord’s Church.  Drink in our reading from Acts for today.

The believers gathered for “fellowship,” immersing their lives in the Word of God, which they called “the Apostles’ teaching.”  They also had the Sacraments: “baptism” and “the breaking of bread,” the Lord’s Supper, all within “the prayers.”  “The prayers” was a Jewish expression referring to the worship service.

God came to them with His gifts of grace, and they responded with faith and devotion.  From the start of the New-Covenant Church, the worship service revolved around receiving God’s forgiveness, life, and salvation.

But we also find something else about Christian worship in the early Church.  Worship was a place and time when unbelievers could also gather, and the Holy Spirit brought them into the faith.  Acts 2:47 tells us so: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  The worship service had a dual focus: outreach to unbelievers while also being a “fellowship” of, and for, believers.

Who or what added to those who were being saved?  Did emotional preaching, moving music, and the PowerPoint screens make someone believe?  Oh, wait a minute: they didn’t have PowerPoint in those days.  My, how did anyone become a Christian?

“The Lord added to their number.”  The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent, brought them to faith by “the Apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers.”

The faith God gives us through Word and Sacrament is the engine of our life with God.  Worship, where God gives us faith and strengthens the faith within us, then becomes the wheel that empowers us.  He emboldens us to leave this place with faith pumping in our hearts.  We go into the world, confessing Jesus to others, inviting them to Church, and serving them in our daily vocations.

Jesus gives you His gifts of faith and forgiveness.  You take these graces of God into your everyday life, where you share them throughout out the week.  Next week, you come back to receive them all again—to increase your faith!  Such is the Christian life—and so also is the mission of this congregation.  Amen.