By Linda Rex
October 2, 2022, PROPER 22—Nowadays, when someone wants to move a grown sycamore tree, if they can afford it, they call up the local landscape company who sends out a large truck with a digger on the back. The workers use this machine’s massive teeth to dig the tree up, roots and all, and to tip it back and up over the truck in order to carry it. Then the workers drive the truck with the sycamore tree on top to its new location, dropping the tree there into the ground.
In reality, a lot of us exercise some kind faith without knowing we are doing it. Looking at this activity on the surface, we may wonder exactly how much faith is needed to move that full-grown tree to a new location. For example, the workers need to trust that the people who put the truck together and the digger together did their job properly, enabling the workers to drive the truck back and forth, and to use the digger to safely remove the tree from the ground. The workers trust that the spade will hold the tree safely until they get it to its new location rather than dropping it in the middle of the highway, creating a massive traffic snarl. The workers trust in the digger’s ability to place the tree safely in its hole, and in the owner’s promise to pay them for their efforts. There is a lot of faith being expressed in this simple act of everyday labor.
In my recent studies with Grace Communion Seminary on the topic of Paul’s epistles, I am learning about his concept of faith. Faith, for the apostle Paul, not only has to do with the trustworthiness of the One being trusted—Jesus Christ, but also about his complete and perfect trust in the Father expressed in his self-offering on the cross. This faith is given to us to participate in by the Holy Spirit, who lives in us. The matter of having sufficient faith to move anything at all has been taken care of by the One who is not only perfectly trustworthy, but who also has total faith in our trustworthy Father—and Jesus enables us to participate in that perfect faith in the Spirit.
When Jesus said that with the faith the size of a mustard seed one could move a tree and plant it in the ocean, he probably had in mind the previous conversation he and his disciples were having about forgiveness. When we come face to face with impossible tasks such as continually and freely forgiving those who deeply wound us, we discover our inadequacy, our inability to do what God asks of us in those situations. It is not a bad thing to realize that our best efforts are insufficient—it reminds us to turn to the One who, by his Spirit, can and will live our best response in and through and out from us.
In our New Testament reading for this Sunday, 2 Timothy 1:1–14, we hear the apostle Paul reminding us to “kindle afresh” or “fan into flame” (NIV) the gift we have been given. Adding fuel to a fire or kindling to hot coals causes the flame to leap up and again begin to burn intensely. Paul is reminding us that there is a fire we are baptized with, the Holy Spirit, and we do not want to “quench” this fire in any way. Rather we want to facilitate and encourage its continued flame.
In speaking of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded Timothy that this “sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” was indeed living within him. Because God by the Spirit was living within Timothy, he did not have a spirit of timidity or fear, but one of “power and love, and discipline”. The indwelling presence of God by the Spirit enabled Timothy to do the ministry he was called into, and it was by the Spirit that Timothy found God’s grace and purpose at work in his life. It was not all up to Timothy, but rather a walk of faith in which the “faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” were expressed as he lived out God’s calling on his life.
When asked by the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus spoke of the tiny amount of faith necessary to pick up and move a large tree from land into the sea. And then he went on to use a parable, which in our culture does not really resonate with us, since so many of us object so strongly to slavery. But what if we looked at it a little differently?
Think of a college intern, Gracie, who works for a fashion designer, Laurel, in hopes of one day she might have her own designs looked at and used. (Sorry if this sounds like a romcom plot.) Gracie spends her days fetching Laurel’s coffee, running her errands, picking up her dry cleaning, and taking care of the designer’s everyday tasks. Gracie doesn’t get paid much of anything since she is an intern—she’s lucky to barely have enough income to cover her expenses with her side job waitressing in the student union.
If Gracie is out running errands for Laurel, is the designer going to call her up and invite her in for tea and crumpets, offering to serve her? No. Instead, Laurel will probably call her up and tell Gracie that while she is running around, she is to stop by Laurel’s favorite dinner spot and pick up a meal to go and to be sure to bring home Laurel’s favorite coffee while she is at it. Gracie will be expected to do all that, finish her errands, and clean off the coffee table so Laurel has a place to eat her dinner. And while Laurel is eating, Gracie will be expected to take the dog Feathers out for a walk and to feed her. And when Gracie shows up and finishes all her tasks, she should not expect praise and gratitude from Laurel, since Gracie is simply supposed to do what she was instructed to do, since she is just an intern.
Now, in the real world, I would like to hope that if there are any Laurel’s out there, that they would reconsider how they treat their interns. But this is a parable, right? It is to help us see in our minds eye what Jesus is saying. The disciples wanted Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus said that even the tiniest bit of faith can move a large tree to the sea should it be exercised.
The only way any of us has any faith at all is in Christ, as we participate with him in his death and resurrection. It is Christ’s faith at work in us by the Holy Spirit which enables us to do difficult things such as forgiving what seems impossible for us to forgive. And when we do forgive, when we do live like we should, when we do say what is healing and encouraging rather than hurtful, should God stand up and applaud? No, because we are simply doing what we were created to do, being who we were created to be—image-bearers of the divine, reflections of the glory of God in Christ by the Spirit.
It is God’s life at work in us by the Spirit who gets the credit. It is for his glory and to fulfill his purpose. The life of faith begins with a God who is trustworthy and who, in Christ, lives the life of faith we were created to live within, and who gives us, in Christ, the faith necessary to follow him and live in the truth of who we were created to be as children of the Father. I would imagine that even the angels of heaven have delight as does the Father when his children return home to their real selves, living in right relationship with him and each other. But truly, isn’t that where we belonged all along?
Father, Jesus, Spirit, you made us to live in loving, other-centered relationship with you and each other. We cannot and will not do this apart from your life in us and with us by your heavenly Spirit. Thank you for giving us the faith of Christ by the Spirit, enabling us to trust you in any and every situation, as you always meant for us to trust you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea”; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, “Come immediately and sit down to eat”? But will he not say to him, “Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink”? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.” ’ ” Luke 17:5–10 NASB
By Linda Rex
June 5, 2022, PENTECOST—There have been so many changes in our world these past few years. The technological advancements are getting to be overwhelming at times—it’s hard to keep up with them all. Many of these, though, came about through the cooperative efforts of gifted and talented people coming together for a common purpose.
It seems that many of us do not realize the capacity we have as human beings to accomplish goals, develop strategies and create new things. As image-bearers of the divine Creator and Sustainer of all things, we have been given a great ability and potential that is meant to benefit our world and those who live on it. This capacity is enhanced and empowered when we come together, each bringing his or her own unique contribution to the whole, and as a single body begin to address a common purpose.
This is something God knew about us from the very beginning. After all, he created us to be a reflection of his very nature as the God who lives in perichoretic love—three distinct, uniquely related equal Persons in one Being. Out of that union and communion was birthed our cosmos and everything in it. As the humans God created began to multiply on this earth, they came together to build a great civilization and a massive structure that would showcase their greatness. At that time God said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them (Genesis 11:6 NASB).’ ”
We find that humans from that point on were given by God the challenge of multiplicity of languages, making it difficult to communicate with one another. They developed into separate countries, ethnicities and races, and ultimately, division and conflict were more common than union and communion. It has been the development in recent years of common languages and powerful communication tools that has begun to make it possible for greater collaboration and bringing together of different people from around the world to solve problems.
Apart from some effort to work together, much lies undone or incomplete. And without the natural checks that come from all sides coming together in unity, so often what is created ends up being used for the wrong reasons or for selfish and evil ends. Or people who seek unity fall into the ditch of uniformity and end up creating unhealthy or dangerous situations that are destructive, with coercive insistence upon everything being done one particular way.
It is our broken way of doing things that gets us into trouble all the time. What happens when we do things our way, insist on our own path apart from God, is evident by the conflict, war, and other destructive experiences that can be seen in every area of our lives. This is why God, knowing even before he created us our capacity to end up this way, did what was needed for our healing and renewal.
The way God did this was by his Son taking on our human flesh in Jesus Christ, living a genuinely human life, dying unjustly at the hands of those he came to save, and then bringing our restored and glorified humanity up in his resurrection and ascension to be in the presence of the Father. He sent the Holy Spirit from the Father so that by faith each of us individually could now participate Christ’s perfected humanity and begin to live within the intimate relationship the Son of God has with the Father in the Spirit. We can, by the Spirit, live in union and communion with our God now and forever as his adopted children.
The Spirit now given to all, is ever working to create union and communion—to draw people together into loving unity to fulfill God’s purposes on this earth. We find the Spirit at work in many places, tearing down walls that would otherwise exist between people, healing relationships that would otherwise be estranged, and bringing harmony between people who would otherwise be at odds.
We find the Spirit, since that first Pentecost, has been at work, within Christ’s Church and elsewhere, to bring people together to accomplish amazing feats of kindness, charity, healing, restoration, and renewal. He brings people together, not just to be churches, but to be those who care for the orphans, for the sick, and for those in prison. We find people caring for the safety and protection of citizens and countries. We find people working together to find cures for illnesses and solutions for caring more tenderly for the world on which we live. We find people gathering together to create things of beauty, that bring joy, peace, and encouragement to others.
Jesus told his followers, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with [meta] you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with [or by; para] you and will be in [en] you (John 14:16-17 NASB).” The way in which we are able to live and work together in unity and oneness is simply by the presence of God through Christ in the Spirit, who is with us, by us, and in us. Vincent puts it this way: “With you (μετά), in fellowship; by you (παρά), in His personal presence; in you (ἐν), as an indwelling personal energy, at the springs of the life (Vincent, Marvin, Word Studies in the New Testament).” Through Christ, God’s indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit brings us into personal relationship with our Creator in such a way that we are joined in union and communion with one another.
Thinking this through then specifically in terms of the body of Christ, the Church, we have been brought together in the Spirit to share the good news of God’s love expressed to us in Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and in the giving of the Spirit. We do this, not on our own initiative, but on the instructions of Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body, and the head tells the body what to do. So, the body of Christ, the Church, acts on the initiative of its head, Jesus, and does as he instructs her.
There are many things Jesus calls us to do. We are each uniquely gifted and uniquely called. We are created with different personalities and natures. But we are brought together, like all the unique parts of a human body, in order to work together to do a common purpose—the will of God—sharing the good news.
Just as Jesus never did anything on his own initiative—he did what he saw the Father doing and said what the Father told him to say. In the same way, we don’t do anything on our own initiative—we do what we see Jesus doing and say what he tells us to say. This can be very challenging for us. We often busily find projects we’re going to do for Jesus or people we’re going to save and never once consider that maybe that is not what Jesus wants us to be doing. He may have a different priority at the moment.
Just as Jesus lived all of his human existence while on earth in union and communion with his Father in the Spirit, we are individually called, no matter who we are, to live our human existence in union and communion with the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. What we see Jesus doing we by the Spirit participate in, using those gifts and abilities and personalities which are uniquely our own. Together, by the Spirit, we become a more effective whole in service to Christ, and in obedience to his will and purposes, we accomplish amazing and wonderful things in this world. These amazing and wonderful things are a work of the Spirit in and through us, and they glorify our heavenly Father and his Son Jesus.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the marvelous and wonderful way in which you have created us and designed us to live and work together in union and communion with you. Grant us the grace to act only on Jesus’ initiative and to only say and do what he directs, by your Holy Spirit, for his name’s sake. Amen.
“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:8–17 (25–27) NASB
[Printable copy: https://newhope4me.files.wordpress.com/2022/05/one-people-one-language.pdf ]