Lamentations 1:1-6; Lamentations 3:19-26; 2Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
On Wednesday night I began texting some of my clergy friends who live in southwest Florida. Mostly my texts were filled with prayers and concern though I did inquire as to whether or not my island friends were evacuating. One of them was not. She lives on Marco Island which experienced storm surge on places of up to twelve feet. She was ok—water reached the steps to her house but didn’t get in. Even her church faired well with only the parking lot flooding. Other churches and clergy were not quite so lucky.
As I scrolled through Facebook feed after Ian left Florida, I saw pictures and read reports of homes and churches that ranged from minor damage to total devastation. That is not surprising—clergy is just as vulnerable to the devastation of a near Cat 5 hurricane as any other person and churches are just as susceptible to wind and water damage as any other structure. What might be surprising is how may clergy and diocesan representatives throughout Florida, were prioritizing the clean-up of their churches over their homes in order to be prepared for Sunday services. Those clergy seem to know that come Sunday, people will need a place to go; a place to offer thanksgiving for the lives that were spared and the hope that has been strengthened and a place to grieve the losses they have experienced. The church is a greater priority than their homes not simply so they might celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday or bless their pets—it is because for those clergy it is the place where their own faith is strengthened and encouraged.
The disciples ask Jesus to “increase our faith.” For some reason, they have not taken personal responsibility in the growth and nurture of their own faith experience—leaving it up to Jesus as if they were energy vampires and could simply drain the source for all of their power needs. Jesus responds with a cryptique reply that seems somewhat problematic especially in terms of inherited language with negative connotations like that of master and slave. If we can release the impropriety of that language in our modern context for the moment, we might find that we get a glimpse of a deeper and, possibly even more difficult, teaching.
Jesus’s reply includes an almost parabolic quality in which he talks about the expectations and responsibilities of the master/slave relationship. He defines the slave as one who would work hard not only out in the field, but also internally—in the house. His example is meant to juxtapose the work of the disciples with that of servanthood. They will increase in their faith by working out in the kingdom—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner—and also by doing the interior work needed to feed their own souls—saying their prayers, worshipping together, establishing a disciplined spiritual life.
My friends on the southwest coast of Florida will find their faith increased in this time—not because they will have prepared the church and celebrated the sacraments but because in so doing they have found themselves keenly focused on what is good and true and beautiful in a world that experienced chaos, destruction, and devastation. Hurricane Ian washed away the distractions of the world and allowed them to center on their restored faith.
That is often our response in times of devastation. When the apocalyptic moment approaches, we grow akin to foxhole Christians praying fervently for our salvation or that, at the least, the cup of suffering might be removed from us. For some reason, we have been led to believe that the gospel is one of sunshine, smiles, and prosperity but that is not the gospel. The gospel is the hope in the midst of suffering, the peace in the midst of the storm, the joy even in the times of sorrow. God does not simply bless us in our times of success, he blesses us in our times of darkness. One need only to consider the beatitudes to know that. Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep. Jesus does not say blessed are the poor when they are rich or the hungry when they eat or those who weep when they are happy again. His blessing is upon them in the moment of their condition. When you’re down on your luck and you’re at your wits end; when life is on the rocks and you’re grasping at straws—God is blessing you. And it takes the faithful person to find the blessing in those times of hardship and suffering.
The disciples ask Jesus to increase our faith and Jesus reminds them that only they can do that. The work of growing in faith is vital to the survival of our spirits in times of tribulation. As people of God, we work on our faith, growing our hearts through service and worship, in peaceful times that we might find peace in times of strife.
Go out into the fields to tend the sheep. Then return to the Master’s house to serve his table. Cultivate the outer world of the soul and the inner being. That is how we increase our faith. My friends throughout the devastated regions of Florida know that well—and they are preparing a space so that those who are out in the fields working might return home to the Lord this day to be strengthened and renewed as they face this long road to recovery and wholeness.