October 2, 2022
“I wish I had more faith!” Have you ever said that? I have. I’ve said it when I didn’t know which way to turn. I’ve said it when disease and death have closed every door. I’ve said it standing helpless as another suffers. I’ve said it when I feel inadequate, inept, and ill-equipped to meet the challenges of life.
I wish I had more faith. So, when I hear the apostles in our gospel reading, I know I’m in good company. Following Jesus is hard. Jesus needs me to care for the vulnerable. He wants me to keep other disciples accountable, and vice versa. He expects me to forgive others and to do that as many times as it takes.
The disciples hear this list and panic. “Increase our faith!” We’re not up to it. We need something more. If this is up to me, I need a turbocharger for my faith.
The disciples see faith as fuel. They see faith as stuff that can be measured. We often see faith the same way. Why do people come to church? “I come to get my spiritual batteries recharged,” some say. “I come to get my faith-tank refilled,” others say. We see church as a place to plug in our spiritual cell phones when they’re ready to die. If we don’t do it periodically, we get dead batteries and empty tanks.
That’s a fair description of our weekly experience. But Jesus isn’t crazy about it. If faith is fuel, then it’s really all up to me. Even if I have a smidgeon of that stuff, I should be able to manufacture miracles. I should be able to tell a mulberry tree to take a swim. Hah! I can barely get my dogs to do what I tell them. Moving mulberry trees is way above my paygrade.
Faith isn’t fuel. Faith can’t be measured in gallons or volts or calories. Faith is a relationship. Faith means trusting that someone deserves that trust. Faith means putting yourself in the hands of another and going along for the ride. Christian faith is trusting Jesus in life and in death.
I want to tell you about Charles Blondin. Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. He was best known for walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Blondin made that trip – not once, not twice, but many times. He crossed blindfolded. He crossed on stilts. He balanced halfway across, sitting on one leg of a chair. He carried a small stove to the middle of the falls. Then he cooked and ate an omelet while the river roared beneath him.
One day, Blondin pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls. When he arrived at the far side, the crowd clapped and cheered and whistled. When the noise died down, Blondin eyed the crowd. “Do you believe I could do that again?” he asked. “Of course, you could!” the crowd replied. “You are the great Charles Blondin!”
“Very well,” Blondin answered. Then he tapped the wheelbarrow. “Who wants the first ride?”
Here’s a deeper understanding of faith. The question isn’t, “How much do I have?” The question is, “Who do I trust?” Christian faith isn’t a tank full of self-confidence. Christian faith isn’t spiritual batteries charged and ready for action. Christian faith is trusting Jesus in life and in death.
If faith is gas in the tank or juice in the battery, it all depends on me. The popular image is the “leap of faith.” You’ll get the idea from this movie clip. It comes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
It’s a desperate moment. Without the help of the Holy Grail, Indiana’s father will die in minutes. Indiana has to step out in “blind” faith, trusting that the path will appear. The bridge was there all along, although it was invisible except to “the eyes of faith.” Many of folks understand faith just like this.
It’s a powerful scene. But it’s all about what’s happening inside of Indiana Jones. The question is whether he can prove his own worth. Once he has, his daring is rewarded. It has little to do with whatever person or force provided the sturdy bridge to the future.
At first, this may look just like Charles Blondin’s wheelbarrow. Do you believe I can do that again? Of course, we do! Fine, who wants the first ride? Crawling in Blondin’s wheelbarrow might look like Indiana Jones closing his eyes and stepping into nothingness.
Except, it’s not the same. Someone did crawl into Blondin’s wheelbarrow that day. Harry Colcord, Blondin’s manager, got in and rode across the falls. But this wasn’t Colcord’s first ride. Blondin had carried Colcord on his back across the falls several times before. Colcord trusted Blondin because he knew from experience that Blondin could be trusted.
Faith isn’t fuel. Faith is trust in the character of the one who carries me. I trust Jesus – God in the flesh who comes to rescue the cosmos from sin, death, and the devil. I trust Jesus – the one who brings God’s merciful justice to a broken-down world. I trust Jesus – the one God raised from the dead to give life to us all. I trust Jesus in life and in death. It’s not about me.
Martin Luther puts it this way. “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times.” It’s about God’s faithfulness, not mine.
If I’m Indiana Jones, I have faith in my faith. That’s the problem with faith as fuel, as a personal decision, as a blind leap. What happens when my faith fails? What happens when I lose it? What happens when life just gets too hard? If faith is fuel and I run out of gas, then I’m done for.
“If we are faithless, Jesus Christ remains faithful,” the Bible says in Second Timothy two, verse thirteen, for Jesus cannot deny himself.” I think about the old poem, “Footprints in the Sand.” The poet imagines two sets of footprints on a beach – one set for the poet and one for Jesus. During the hardest parts of the poet’s life, it seemed like there was only one set of footprints.
“Lord,” the poet protested, “I don’t understand why when I needed you the most you would leave me.”
“During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints,” the Lord replied, “it was then that I carried you.”
We trust Jesus because we know Jesus can be trusted. We know we can trust Jesus in life and in death. We know that because not even death could defeat him. In the bread and wine of Holy Communion, Jesus gives his life to you and me. In this meal we remember that God’s grace is a gift to us. We can trust that gift because we trust the Giver.
“Increase our faith!” we cry when things get hard. We come to church to remind one another that Jesus is faithful to us precisely in those hard moments. I’m so glad to come together with the faith community. On those days when I don’t get it, someone else here does. And on those days when you don’t get it, I hope I can remind you that Jesus is carrying you through.
We remind one another of what Jesus has done in us and for us and through us. Then, when Jesus taps the wheelbarrow, we can joyfully jump in. Let’s pray…