Saturday, October 1, 2016

It Is Not Yet Finished: Reflections on Luke 17.5-10 (RCL Proper 27C, 2 October 2016)

It Is Not Yet Finished
Reflections on Luke 17.5-10

RCL Proper 27C
2 October 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

                  17.5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
                  7 “Will any one of you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’?  8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’?  9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?  10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
            When I came to Vancouver in May 1987 to attend my first faculty meeting at Vancouver School of Theology, I was unaware that I was about to participate in an historic decision.  It was at this meeting that the faculty agreed to offer a Master of Divinity degree by extension to aboriginal and non-aboriginal students who lived in and served aboriginal communities in Canada and, some years later, the United States.  We agreed that aboriginal elders and scholars would help us shape the degree programme so that it respected aboriginal ways of learning and teaching as well as aboriginal cultures and customs.
            As I look back on that meeting from the distance of almost thirty years, I realize how na├»ve we were.  We did not realize how this commitment would change our lives, both professionally and personally.  We were not prepared for the challenges this commitment would bring.  There were moments of joy and moments of disappointment; there were strides forwards and slips backwards.  When I left the School in 2010, our work was still unfinished and much remains still to be done to achieve the goals we set for ourselves in 1987.
            In 1993 when our then Primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, offered his apology to aboriginal people for the wrongs committed by the Anglican Church of Canada through our involvement in the residential schools, some Anglican may have thought that the apology was enough and we could all move on.  Twenty-three years later and after the expenditure of millions of dollars in legal fees and in funding many worthwhile projects intended to heal some of the wounds, we know all too well  that the work is not finished.
            It is to this reality that the words of Jesus to his disciples in today’s reading of the Gospel speak.  Jesus and his disciples are on the journey towards Jerusalem that will change their lives.  Opposition to Jesus’ teaching has begun to emerge and the wise among the disciples realize that Jesus’ mission has risks.  His inner circle, the apostles, begin to wonder if they are up to the task Jesus has given to them. 
            For you and me, living two thousand years later and not speaking Greek as our first language, it is important that we understand Jesus’ response to the apostles’ plea to increase their faith.  When Jesus says, ‘if you had faith . . . ‘, he is not accusing them but indirectly affirming them. [1]   He is inviting them to live and act in the faith that they already have, however small it may be. [2]  This faith has the power to change their lives and the lives of others.  This is the good news.
            But as so often is true of Jesus’ words, there is what some might call ‘bad’ news.  The bad news is that the faith that has led them to become Jesus’ disciples has brought them into the on-going work of making the kingdom of God a present reality.  If there is no rest for the wicked, then neither is there any rest for the faithful.  Each day those who choose to follow the way of Jesus will be asked to make known God and the saving work God has begun in Jesus.  To use today’s jargon, Christian discipleship is ‘24/7’.
            But the good news is that we are not alone in this work.  Discipleship is a corporate path as well as a personal identity.  We are members of a community and we rely upon each other for support and wisdom.  No single Christian possesses all the gifts necessary for the work we have been given to do.  The kingdom is not enriched when we pretend to be able to do something we are not able to do, nor is the kingdom present when someone exhausts herself or himself in an unhealthy exercise of ministry. 
            But God’s work of reconciling and renewing the creation continues.  In the death and resurrection of Jesus a community of disciples is gathered to share in the work begun in Jesus and empowered by the Spirit.  The community of Jesus’ disciples is called to do justice and we know all too well that injustice continues to afflict the children of God.  The community of Jesus’ disciples is called to love steadfastly and we know all too well that fickleness permeates our world.  The community of Jesus’ disciples is called to walk humbly in relationship to God and we know all too well that self-interest and the desire for personal power frays the fabric of the creation that sustains all life.
            On the cross Jesus’ last words are ‘It is finished’.  His mission, the reconciliation of humanity to the very heart of God, is indeed finished.  His resurrection is the seal on this work, but it is also the inauguration of our mission to do justice, to love steadfastly and to walk humbly in relationship with God.  There are moments when you and I may doubt whether our faith is enough to continue this work in the face of the many challenges that arise daily.  But Jesus does not doubt our faith.  And so we worthy servants do what God has asked us to do.  Why?  Because we can do this work and the work is not yet finished.

[1] Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year:  Year C (1994), 431.

[2] Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year:  Year C (1994), 431.

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