Every week, people gather and say to their pastor, “Increase our faith.” Jesus’ disciples came to him with the same request (Luke 17:5-10). Jesus looked at them kindly and said, “Hear now this inspirational story that I clipped out of the sermon helper magazine this week.” They listened to this sentimental dribble and smiled. Ka-Ching! Their faith tanks were refilled. They heard the benediction and went forth a little more positive about their dysfunctional families and lousy mac-jobs. One teen said to another, “This church thing, you know I could take it or leave it.”
No, Jesus didn’t do what most pastors will do this Sunday. He replied to the increase our faith request with two of his most difficult parables. These are not inspirational stories, but visual images that refuse to be compressed into words. The second of these parables requires us to imagine ourselves as household servants. Many of Jesus’ audience had no trouble picturing a day in the life of a peasant. Imagine going through those menial tasks, without hope of reward. Imagine doing your job well, all through the ten hour day, not looking for to be thanked. You do your job to the best of your ability, because it is your vocation. It is in living out our calling that we find ourselves intimate with this thing called faith. Faith causes us to be patient, loving, and diligent, in our crappy workplaces and dysfunctional families.
I believe that every person has a vocation or missional calling from God. My calling is to write. I write with the same diligence and dependency upon the Holy Spirit if there will be a thousand people reading my words, or if I alone will read them. I don’t write to be thanked or liked on Facebook. I write to bring into reality the thing which God had in mind when he created me.
I believe that every congregation has a unique vocation or missional calling from God. Some are called to the menial role of shepherding a small flock for a few more years until the church dies. Others are doing the gut wrenching work of reforming everything about their church so that they might witness to the next generation. Still others are fully committed to a particular mission and way that they will transform the world. And finally, some have a calling to become a high visibility church in the region. No church should ever choose its path with the hope of becoming popular or appreciated by the world. We each must do our vocation because it is where our faith is made real.
When we understand this difficult second parable (Luke 17:7-10), then the first image, that of faith being able to put a mulberry bush into the sea, become more sensible. Those who work hard out of no other motive than to do what God has called them to do, live within a miracle. They are constantly moving mountains. They are bringing hope to the hopeless. They are growing their congregation from a single mustard seed to a great tree, which shelters and nourishes a flock of people who want Jesus to increase their faith.
This weekend is world communion. As we break the bread, let us be mindful of those who are not content to go to the store and buy Wonder Bread, but do the soul-filled work of baking loafs that nourish their families. As we pour the wine, let us be mindful of the fact that small vineyard owners spend their entire lives learning their craft. Something that has been done by common folk since Noah, can easily be viewed with contempt. “It’s not rocket science,” one might say. But, when done by a person gifted and called by God to do it, wine can be a miracle. Symbolically, each of us bring whole wheat bread and finest wine to those around us by our loving acts. Lord increase our faith, so that we might live out of our holy calling.