The Dormant Seed of Faith
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, August 17, 2014
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (17:14-23)
Today I want you to notice a few things in the Gospel reading.
First, Jesus once again rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith, this time for not being able to heal the epileptic boy – as if doing miracles was not such a big deal. Last week it was feeding five thousand. “You feed them!” They did not know how. This week he rebukes his disciples for not healing the boy. “Why could we not” they ask? “Because you have no faith.” Not even, evidently, did they have faith the size of a grain of a mustard seed and you know how tiny that is! A mustard seed is very, very small. A grain of a mustard seed is infinitesimal.
Jesus tells them that with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed they could move mountains “from here to there and nothing will be impossible to you.” I do not know if he means real mountains. Perhaps so, but rarely do actual mountains need to be moved. Remember from last week that Jesus was not into grand demonstrations of power and what could be grander than moving the White Mountains to Kansas? But what good would that do except to make flat old Kansas a little more interesting?
I do know that there are other kinds of mountains that do need to be moved. They are inside of us. These are those interior hindrances to love (and to faith) that Rumi writes about.
Anything that hinders us from loving God, neighbor and self with all our heart, soul, mind and strength are mountains that need attending to, mountains that need to be “moved.” And please see the word “moved” metaphorically. We could just as easily and more correctly speak of them as being transformed. “Every mountain shall be brought low,” Isaiah says “and the rough ways made smooth.” I like better the word transformed.
Now, Jesus says, that this takes faith. So, what is faith? We cannot exhaust the subject in a ten minute sermon, but here is some food for thought.
First, faith is not a set of beliefs like when we add an article like “the faith” or “a” faith, it is a way of life characterized by a constantly growing openness to God. It is a way of life that is watchful and attentive, nonjudgmental, and courageous. Faith includes all three.
Watchful because to move or transform an interior mountain we need to see clearly what mountains there are within us to be “moved”. We need faith to know that when we see them clearly, they begin to change and to be made “smooth.” Seeing clearly is a gift from God. It is called Enlightenment.
Nonjudgmental because we are admonished not to judge. We are admonished to love. Interior mountains hide from us if they are approached with judgment and anger. They bury themselves deeper and become harder to move and more difficult to transform. They do respond, however, to compassion. It may take time, but they do.
Finally, we need courage, because without it we would never be able to begin this often wrenching journey of self-discovery and transformation to begin with, and once begun to keep moving down the path. Sometimes as some holy fathers and mothers say, things seem to get worse before they get better.
And where does faith come from? It comes from God and it comes from within. It is placed there like a seed in every human being. The seed of faith is ready to germinate and grow if we will but put on a little fertilizer and some water, referred to by Jesus in this reading, as “prayer and fasting.” “Prayer and fasting” is a metaphor for interior spiritual work that may well include prayer and fasting, but that does not exhaust the list. There are things we can do at every moment to cultivate the garden of the heart and move mountains.
Here is Meister Eckhart again. By now you may have noticed that I like him.
“The outward work will never be puny if the inward work is great.”
What is most sure is that this is the work of a lifetime and it is not easy. Still the more we put into it the more we get out of it.
“Prayer and fasting” denote a way of life that promotes the growth of the seed of faith that lies dormant within us. An attitude and perspective that will bring the faith that is in us, a divine gift from the hand of God himself, to fruition.
This Gospel reading is primarily a call for us to cultivate the seeds of faith placed there by God that lie deep within us, at the core of our being. Unless we do the interior work, the abundant water s of faith within, will not be able to flow and the “greater things” Jesus promised that we would do will not come to pass.