A sermon preached at St. Francis by the Lake Episcopal Church, Canyon Lake, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
There are stories of archeologists who, while excavating a pyramid in Egypt, finding pots of honey that, after thousands of years, are still good. The pyramids, built as a supposedly eternal monument to the self-proclaimed deities of particular pharaohs are crumbling away but the honey, the natural product of bees being bees, endures.
The fruit of the bees’ life endures. The fruit of the Pharaohs’ lives have not. The bees lived a faith filled life by being a bee and doing what bees are created to do. The pharaohs attempted to be something they were not created to be.
In our gospel lesson today, the disciples ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith’ and what Jesus tries to do in his response is to get them to reframe their understanding of what faith really is. What prompts the disciples’ request (and the part we didn’t read) is Jesus warning them about causing others to sin, speaking to others about their sin, and telling them that they must forgive over and over again. And all of this falls on the heals of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from last week and the parable of the dishonest manager from two weeks ago when we read Jesus’ words, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”
With all that he says and does, Jesus is teaching how to live in faithful community, building each other up so that we can all be who we are created to be, image bearers of God.
Through the stories of our faith ancestors in the Old Testament scrolls, we hear often of God’s faithfulness. It has nothing to do with God’s ability to do anything but all about who God is and his choice to remain in relationship with the people he has called to reveal who he is to the world. And when God called his people to be faithful, full of faith, he was calling them into relationship with him. Our faith isn’t measured or proven by how well we pray or perform the rituals and sacraments that express our belonging as God’s children. Our faith is shown in the way we live our life, every day, revealing who God is through our behaviors toward others. We are faithful when we live generous, grateful, and forgiving lives.
Jesus shows us in flesh and blood how to be Children of God, the citizens of God’s Kingdom. Living the characteristics of justice, mercy, grace, love, in all that we do. Faith isn’t about proving we are worthy of God but living in such a way that is worthy of God’s faithfulness to us. Jesus shows us how to, like the faithful bee does, get in on what God has done and is doing in and through us by being human.
When Jesus tells the disciples if you had the tiniest amount of faith, the size of a tiny seed, he isn’t scolding them but encouraging them. The life he is teaching them to live can be challenging and difficult – living in loving relationship, forgiving, showing mercy, treating all people justly takes strength and courage. Jesus is saying this life, The Way of God’s Kingdom, takes just a tiny speck of trusting that this is the life we are created for, who we are created to be. And when we live with that understanding, we will have all the faith we need.
Having the faith of the mustard seed isn’t about a measurable quantity of faith but about trusting in God’s creative purpose for us. The faith of the mustard seed is that the mustard seed doesn’t expect to be anything but a mustard bush doing mustard bush things.
The faith of the honey bee is that the honey bee doesn’t make it’s honey as a monument to it’s own greatness; the honey bee makes honey because that’s what God created the honey bee to be and to do. Our faith is about becoming who God created us to be, opening ourselves up to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us.
So often we hear Jesus say to others, “go, your faith has made you well.” The disciples had heard this too. Learning who and Whose we are, beloved children of God, trusting in God’s creative purpose heals our thoughts about earning, deserving, and working to be worthy. Faith heals us from the struggle of self-reliance and sets us properly and confidently in relationship with God and each other and all of creation. We don’t have to make ourselves into anything; God has already created us to be who we are intended to be. We don’t have to earn God’s love, God loves us as he created us. We don’t have to prove ourselves good, God created us good. We only have to be and do that which we are created for.
In the words of the psalmist:
Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
And this is very good news indeed.
Having faith is putting our whole trust in God’s grace and love. It is proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; Seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
With faith, we will do greater things than our human efforts can imagine because we will be living God’s way, striving for justice, loving our neighbor, seeking the glory of God instead of our own.
Jesus tells us that faith isn’t a measurable thing but a character trait that reveals the image of God in us. And just to make sure we understand that faith isn’t a competition, Jesus plainly reminds us that having faith doesn’t make us super-human or even faith heroes. Faith makes us human, simply doing what we ought to do, doing what is ours to do because of who we are, being who we are: followers of Jesus, beloved children of God, living on earth as in heaven.
Living life faithful to who God is and who we are produces fruit, like the honey bee, that endures through all of eternity: love, mercy, justice, peace, joy.
Something else about bees and honey; honey in it’s pure state will never spoil, bacteria can’t grow in it. Honey lasts literally forever. If bees can produce something that lasts indefinitely just by being bees, imagine what we can do in this world with God’s help just by being the beloved, generous, forgiving humans he created us to be, faithful to God’s created purpose for us. We can do things as seemingly impossible getting trees to grow in the ocean – we can overcome fear with love, anxiety with peace, hatred with compassion, revenge with mercy. When we stop trying to be pharaoh and just be a bee, what a wonderful world it would be, flowing with proverbial milk and honey, heaven on earth. Amen.