Great is your Faithfulness (Community Ministries Sunday)

September 30, 2016

 

Today at St. Albans and throughout our Diocese, it’s Community Ministries Sunday.  It’s one day each year when we celebrate the work of the five Community Ministries of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa:  St. Luke’s Table, The Well, Cornerstone, Ottawa Pastoral Centre, and Centre 454, the one that we’re most familiar with because it is located right here in this church.  The Community Ministries support people in need.  They confront homelessness, provide meals and housing, offer mental health services and counselling, build community, create places of belonging and so much more.  Today is Community Ministries Sunday – but in reality every day is a Community Ministries day.  Because these services operate 7 days a week, some services 24 hours a day.  Last year we had over 75,000 visits and we touched the lives of more than 10,000 people.  One in every 100 people in our city is served by our Community Ministries.

 

Many of those visits, many of the participants, come from places of tragedy and crisis.  They come from places of lament.  Our first reading this evening also comes from a place of lament.  “How lonely sits the city that was once full of people.”  It is the lament of a people in exile, in this case the Jewish people whose capital city Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587 BC.  “She weeps bitterly in the night with tears on her cheeks; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies.”  This lament comes from a place of pain and suffering, of remorse and confusion. 

 

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.”

 

These are the writings of a Jewish poet who some 2600 years ago was struggling to put into words the desolation of his people.  But these could just as easily be the words of so many of the people in our city who come to our Community Ministries each day. 

 

“The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!  My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.”

 

It is remarkable, that despite his sense of having been abandoned by God, the poet still brings these words into God’s presence.  And even more remarkable are the words that follow:

 

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning;

Great is your faithfulness.”

 

Despite all that he sees around him, despite the desolation and the suffering and the feeling of abandonment, the poet chooses hope, a hope that is grounded in the faithfulness of God.

 

The tag line of our Community Ministries is the phrase “Choose Hope”.  It is an interesting, even an inspired choice.  Do you think of hope as something that you choose?  Especially when you’re coming from a place of lament, it is a crucial choice, even one that can save your life.

 

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I will hope in him.”

 

In times of trouble, and in times of joy, we choose to hope in God.  And the reason we can make that choice is because of God’s great faithfulness.  As the old hymn says

 

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

 

Often in church we speak about our faith.  But what do we mean when we speak of God’s faithfulness?

 

We mean, as the poet of Lamentations says, that God’s steadfast love never ceases and his mercies never come to an end.

We remember that God said through Moses, “I am your God and you are my people”

We remember Jesus saying to us just before his death, “I will be with you always”

With Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, we say in awesome wonder that “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and destined us for adoption as his children.”

 

These are God’s promises to us.  We trust in God.  We trust that God will be faithful to these promises.  Great is God’s faithfulness.  This I call to mind and therefore I have hope.

 

I find it curious that we often seem to talk more about our faith than we do about God’s faith.  We find an example of that in the gospel reading from Luke.

 

The apostles are tired.  They are on the long journey with Jesus to Jerusalem.  They have experienced conflict and rejection.  Jesus has challenged them with his hard teachings on discipleship and with his predictions of his coming death.  And yet they see Jesus continuing to teach, continuing to heal, continuing to cast out demons, continuing his journey.  Whatever he’s got, they want some of that.  And so they say to Jesus,

 

“Lord, increase our faith.”

 

And Jesus replies, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea” and it would obey you.”

 

Now, a mustard seed is small.  Tiny. That’s kind of the point.  Yes the seed has the potential to grow, and yes, mustard is one of those plants that can take root and can spread everywhere, and yes, Jesus also said once that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  But the seed itself is tiny.  And the disciples want to have big faith, more faith, strong faith, powerful faith, super-sized faith.  Jesus tells them that what they need is faith the size of a mustard seed.

 

What is that tiny seed of faith that Jesus is talking about?

 

Lots of people have puzzled over Jesus’ words, beginning with those apostles.  I puzzle over them too, not exactly sure what Jesus means here.  But this week as I was going over the readings, I was struck by the contrast between the words of Lamentations and the words of the gospel.  Lamentations talks about the faith of God as great – Great is your faithfulness.  The gospel talks about our faith as being as tiny as a mustard seed.  Great and tiny.  God and us.

 

And as I thought about this, I had an idea.  What if the tiny faith that we need is simply this:  to trust in God.  To have faith in God’s faithfulness.

 

We don’t need to do great things.  We don’t need to have theological degrees.  We don’t need to be heroes.  We do need to be people who trust God.  People who can say great is your faithfulness.  People who have faith that God’s steadfast love never ceases and his mercies will never come to an end.  A people who knows that it is God’s people, that we are God’s children.  People who know that God has promised to be with us always and who trust that God will be faithful to that promise.

 

It is God’s faithfulness that really matters, it’s God’s faithfulness that is great.  We are invited to trust in God.  That’s the grain of faith that we are called to.  It is simple.  It is as tiny as a mustard seed.  But with that tiny seed planted in us, living in us, growing in us, we become participants in God’s faithful presence in this world.  And we can choose hope.  And God working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

 

Even when the thought of affliction and homelessness is wormwood and gall, when my soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

 

Great is your faithfulness.

 

Amen.

 

Homily.  St. Al’s@5. Oct 2 2016.  Community Ministries Sunday

Readings:  Lamentations 1.1-6, 3.19-26; Luke 17.5-10

Image by Michael_Swan (Creative Commons)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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