This is the message that I presented at Walker Valley UMC for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, 7 October 21. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Lamentations 1: 1 – 6, 2 Timothy 1: 1 – 14, and Luke 17: 5 – 10.
The three readings for today all deal with faith. Paul writes to Timothy as an older colleague encouraging a younger one experiencing difficulty. In the Gospel reading the disciples are crying out for help because they feel that the demands being placed on them exceed what they feel they can do.
And at a time when hope seems lost, when it appears that God has left us behind, the reading from Lamentations speaks to us of God’s presence in our daily lives. I have to agree with the commentaries that said it is very difficult to preach from Lamentations.
The name is certainly appropriate. Written by the prophet Jeremiah, this plaintive outcry reveals the prophet’s broken heart. Lamentations was written at a time when Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonians. Jeremiah’s grief comes from not from the loss of the city but rather because the people of Israel had forsaken God.
Yet while the title of the book speaks of sorrow, grief, sadness and misfortune, there is within it a statement of faith. We find in the passage for today a statement of God’s involvement in our lives, especially when we think that He has forgotten about us.
The lament of the people was for a God they felt was gone; a God who had left the people to suffer. Yet the problem was that God had not forgotten the people of Israel but rather that the people of Israel had forgotten God. When we forget God, then our lives tumble out of control. When God is a part of our lives, our lives are in control. The call of Lamentations is not one of complaining and grieving but rather how we can regain the presence of God in our lives.
There are certainly times when things look hopeless or beyond anything that we can do. I am certain that many people feel that way right now. We see everything the world today and wonder how it is that God could allow such things to happen.
And when what happens seems to only happen to us, then the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness becomes even stronger. Our ability to survive becomes less and less when we feel that we are alone in the world and that no one appreciates that which we do.
I think that is the point that Jesus made with the disciples. This passage is also mentioned in Matthew and it comes after the disciples have been challenged to do the good works of the Gospel message. Failing to drive out some demons, the disciples call for Jesus to give them faith. Yet Jesus points out that by faith alone they could move mountains (in Matthew) or uproot the mulberry tree and its complicated root system.
A Christian must always be prepared to endure the demands of the kingdom, even when it seems impossible to do so or even when it seems that one has done enough. In the second part of the Gospel reading for today, Jesus pointed out that the servants of that time did not have the opportunity to forgo doing another task. Yet in crying for Jesus to teach them faith that is what the disciples did.
Jesus’ message of love, hope and peace was a radical new view of service. It is perhaps the hardest part of the message. It says that even when you have done what you were asked to do, more is expected. And when you expect payment for what you have done, you find that there is no extra payment for the extra work.
If we focus our lives on the present world, it is very difficult to see how the Gospel works. We expect that we only need to do the minimum in order to reap the maximum rewards. We are used to solving monumental tasks in terms of monumental solutions. It never occurs to us that the solution can be in expressed in the simplest or smallest terms.
Jesus chose the mustard seed because it is one of the smallest seeds we know; yet the benefits of that seed exceed its initial size. When one in our community is faced with monumental struggles, it is imperative that they know the solution comes not from within but rather from the community of support that they have.
It is not clear why Paul wrote that second letter to Timothy but it certainly was written as a means of encouraging Timothy to hold to the course that he had started. One other reason Paul wrote Timothy was to remind him that he was not alone in the work that he was doing. That he was a part of a community of faith, that despite all the troubles that he was encountering and the feeling that he was not being successful there were those in his community who supported him and sought to help him in any way possible.
So to is it with us. We build courage in others to remain steadfast in their faith by helping them reconnect with God in life-affirming ways. Paul shared with Timothy the gospel of Jesus Christ, the salvation, grace, victory over death, the light of life eternal, and the power of those truths even today. Paul understood that true courage, the ability to stay the course comes from looking to Christ, not looking within us.
And when we are asked to take on one additional task; when we are asked to one more thing for the community or the church, we need to know that the solution comes not from within but rather from God. There is a need to see that solution in the church today. Not just the Methodist Church in general but Walker Valley UMC specifically.
The challenge we have to find the leaders for the coming year. The challenge is to make Walker Valley UMC a stronger part of the community so that it is there when people need for it to be there. One might see the passage from Lamentations in a very dismal sense, that of a deserted and lonely community with people needing help but not finding it. But it can be seen as a promise of hope. As you leave today, think of the mustard seed. Faith, like the mustard seed, can be strong enough to move mountains. Faith can give you the opportunity to the see the future in terms of hope, not despair. There is a challenge before us this day. Through faith, we will find the ways to meet it.