Increase Our Faith

[special_heading title=”Increase Our Faith ” subtitle=”by Louise Westfall” separator=”yes”]A reading from the good news according to Luke, in the seventeenth chapter at the 5th verse.  Hear God’s Word to the church.  [Luke 17:5,6]  The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

The sun rose first today on Mt. Hakepa, highest point on the tiny Chatham Islands in the South Pacific.  Christians gathered there to sing and pray and break loaves of roti to remember Jesus Christ.  Before long three million South Korean Presbyterians were raising their voices and loaves of bread.  Members of the newly-reopened Presbyterian Church—and one of the very few Christian churches in North Korea–were beginning the Great Thanksgiving Prayer: Lift up your hearts! We lift them to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.  It is right to give our thanks and praise.  Some Christian churches in India distributed uneaten communion bread to children begging on the streets.  Syrian Christians gathered secretly in homes amid threats of persecution in that civil-war-torn land.  The congregation served by Chaplain Ron Estes were camouflage-clad US soldiers still in Iraq, and in Afghanistan the usual prohibition against Protestants receiving the elements from Catholics were ignored as chaplains served both.  Across Asia and throughout Africa: in the tiny Ethiopian village of Pokwo and the teeming streets of Harare; in Paris and the Isle of Skye; New York City, Havana, and Port-au-Prince.  In Antigua, Guatemala and San Juan, Puerto Rico where rubble from Hurricane Maria is still in evidence; later in San Francisco and Honolulu.  During this very hour at Peoples and Trinity and Fellowship Denver and St. Paul’s: the cup is lifted and the bread is broken and we are invited to feast on the bread of life, the cup of the covenant that both binds and liberates us all.  A continuous celebration of the Lord’s Supper encircling the globe.  Amid scenes of violence, recovery from natural disaster, in poverty and wealth, the Church eats the bread of life and drinks the cup of salvation, giving visible expression to God’s Kingdom where people will come from east and west and north and south and commune together.

Jesus’ earthly ministry brought people together.  Jesus challenged barriers and divisions between Jews and Samaritans, between rich and poor, men and women, between the deeply religious and the morally suspect, between all kinds of insiders and outsiders.  His vision of God’s beloved community was extraordinary.  He lifted up the lowly, and awakened the high and mighty to their true need.  He identified the hungry, imprisoned people, and ones without homes–the “least” of these–as his family.  He healed people from blindness, both the literal kind and the spiritual so they–so we–could “see” how deeply connected we are to God, and to one another.[callout_box title=”Friends, this meal we eat together is a visible sign that Jesus hears our prayer and responds with a resounding YES.” subtitle=””]Think for a moment how much of that ministry involved meals.  Jesus was a dinner guest in the homes of despised tax collectors, wealthy legal experts, and government officials.  He enjoyed meals with his dearest friends, provided choice wine for a wedding, and relished opportunities for fellowship so enthusiastically that he and his disciples were criticized for possessing a party spirit.  On several occasions he spread a “picnic in paradise” with thousands who had gathered in the countryside to hear him teach.  The abundance of food on those occasions is always mentioned–everyone ate until full, with lots of leftovers.  And on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus shared the Passover meal with his closest friends, imbuing that festival of liberation from slavery in Egypt with an even deeper sense of freedom from futility.

The disciples were an integral part of all this, and not unlike followers in every time and place, asked their Teacher for a measure of his power. Increase our faith!   

That plea, that prayer still resonate.  Increase our faith, to see how you, O God, are still at work in this crazy world.  Increase our faith, for strength to hold on through the night of pain.  Increase our faith, to discern your guidance through the chaos.  Increase our faith to deal more effectively with challenges that face us as a people.  Increase our faith to receive peace for our soul and joy for the journey.  Dear Jesus, increase our faith!

Friends, this meal we eat together is a visible sign that Jesus hears our prayer and responds with a resounding YES.

For faith is not a commodity, something that waxes and wanes according to human calculation or effort.    Faith is a gift.  It’s a quality that enlarges our vision and expands our heart.  It’s not faith that needs increasing (because even a tiny bit is transformative!), but our hunger for it, and our practice of it.

At this table, hosted by Jesus Christ, we receive everything we need to move mountains, to plant a garden in the sea, to warm cold hearts, to heal troubled minds, to welcome strangers as family, and create beloved community with everyone.  Here in a chunk of bread moistened with grape juice we are provided food for life.  Jesus’ presence and essence: the very love of God.

You are what you eat, the saying goes.  Who are we when our food is love?  When our table is set by faith?

Well, one answer I heard about concerned the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper shared on both sides of the border fence near Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Mexico.  The bread of life and the cup of salvation were passed back and forth through the slats. The joyful feast of the people of God. Communion no wall could prevent.  Thanks be to God!

What will we do, now that we are fed?