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Sermon on Luke 17:1-10 and Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Posted on October 6, 2019 by Kathy Miller


Luke 17:1-10

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

Rev. Jennifer Gleichauf

October 6, 2019


I recently became aware of the term “cathedral thinking” when I heard it used in a quote from a speech by climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.  Intrigued, I looked it up and, as it sounds, cathedral thinking refers to the kind of thinking which requires a person or group of people to have long-term vision and big picture imagination.  It is the thinking we use when we are trying to figure out big projects or problems, like how we are going to build something really big or new or solve a complex problem or do something which will take a long time and have multiple stages.  It is the kind of thinking which requires you to make a plan, but as you make that plan, you must also accept you can’t really know how it will all unfold and that you can’t possibly foresee all the problems, even huge problems.  You just have to make your best possible plan and start the work.

            Which is the kind of thinking it took to build the great old cathedrals, especially before machinery.  Cathedrals which took centuries to complete.  In the time it took to build a cathedral, people lived and died, there were fires and floods, there were years where no work could be done for lack of money and there were wars that came and brought ruin and people got stuck on things for decades like how to make sure the ceiling wouldn’t fall in.  To build a cathedral requires the imagination of a future you likely will not live to see.  It means beginning with the foundation of something, without knowing exactly how it will be finished, or even with the expectation you’ll live to see its completion. 




And I think this idea of cathedral thinking felt very familiar to me, because the Christian faith necessitates a certain amount of cathedral thinking because we are supposed to be building something even grander than a cathedral.  We are meant to be building God’s kingdom here on earth. Our ancestors, from Abraham, Moses and the prophets to Jesus and the disciples to the reformers like John Calvin to the people who founded this very church in 1962, these women and men laid the foundation of our faith.  They started building the walls and handed off to us the best they had accomplished in this grand plan, hoping we would continue and hand it on to those who come next.  


And how do we build the kingdom of God here on earth?  We have the witness of scripture and our ancestors to guide us – the blueprints - which tell us that our work should include things like: feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned.  Scripture and faithful Christians through time have shown us that we need to pay attention to injustice and beware the corruption of power and money.  And of course, there is an importance placed on sharing the news of God’s great love and forgiveness and desire for relationship with the world – in our words, sure, but especially in our actions.  Essentially, to build the kingdom of God on earth, we are called to live as disciples of Christ.  To live our lives as though they matter not only to ourselves, but as though our words and actions matter to our neighbors, our community, our nation and really, the whole world.  It’s a big assignment.  Really big. Cathedral thinking big.


And we read two examples today of people in scripture coming face to face with this big assignment and not feeling entirely up to the task.


In the gospel, Jesus was explaining to the disciples what it means to live as God’s people together. True community requires them to beware of sin and stumbling blocks that will take them away from living the way God wants, and especially to beware any sin that might cause someone else to fall away from God.  And that if they see someone sinning, they are meant to point it out and call the person to account for their behavior.  So, that sounds pretty hard already.  But then, Jesus goes on to say that if someone sins against them, they should forgive them even seven times in a day.  Which just seems beyond reason.  Depending on what the sin is, most of us could imagine forgiving someone once, maybe twice if they were really repentant.  But to forgive someone seven times and seven times in the same day?  That’s just so much.  Other places in scripture Jesus says we should forgive seventy times seven.  That feels beyond our reason, our capability, or honestly, even our basic desire to forgive.  If someone can’t get it together after seven times, forgive them again? It’s one thing if this is just someone cutting you off in traffic or something else with no real long term effect, but what if it is someone who has really caused harm to you or someone you love?  Seven times is a lot.  Jesus is asking a lot.  And the disciples hear him ask this really hard thing of them and they immediately ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Like, “ok Jesus, if that’s what you want, we’re going to need a little more from you, a little help with that.  We need more faith if we’re going to live in this kind of community your describing.” They think Jesus can’t possibly be serious about this based on where things stand right then - if he understood who they were, he’d know they weren’t capable of this.


And in our first reading, the prophet Habakkuk, is looking around at the world and is terribly upset by what he sees.  He sees destruction and war and violence.  Things on earth are in bad shape and he doesn’t want any part of it anymore.  He wants God to make it stop.  In fact, Habakkuk tells God he is going just stand at his post and wait for God to answer him.  He can’t go on with being a prophet until he gets some answers about all the pain and suffering he has witnessed.


And in both cases, Jesus and God respond to the disciples and Habakkuk.


God tells Habakkuk to take his vision and write it down plainly to give to messengers who can take it out to people far and wide.  In other words, God is saying Habakkuk doesn’t need more answers from God, he already knows the answers.  God is telling Habakkuk to remember his vision, his history, his foundation – to remember that his people have been through hard times before and they continued to trust in God, and that God was faithful to them and was with them even in the very dark and difficult times.  God reminds Habakkuk that God’s promises continue to be true and that the present circumstances should not determine the hope Habakkuk has for the future.  In other words, Habakkuk has what he needs to do his work as a prophet.  He knows enough; he is enough for this work and he is not alone. 


And when the disciples ask Jesus for more faith to do the work he’s laid out for them, Jesus tells them, “If you only had faith the size of a mustard seed (a very, very small thing), you could say to this mulberry tree (a very, very big thing), ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.  The original greek for the phrase “if you only had” can be interpreted in two ways.  One way is to understand “if you only had,” is as though it Jesus is saying the disciples don’t have any faith and if they could just have a little, they could do what he’s asking.  But the other way to understand it, the way it is meant here, is “if you only had faith, and I know you do.”  Jesus is saying the faith, the little faith, whatever amount of faith they have, is enough.  That it isn’t the amount of their faith or the goodness of their faith that is what matters.  They are enough, because God will do the rest.  What they have, who they are, what they know, is enough for the work ahead. 


And these scriptures should speak to us today.  Because when we look at the world with cathedral thinking; when we try to imagine how we can make a difference in one or all of the problems in the world today; when we try to figure out how we are going to be a part of building God’s kingdom here on earth; it would not be unreasonable for us to throw up our hands in defeat and say, “We can’t do that.  We need more answers.  We need more faith.  We aren’t enough.”  We could let the present circumstances in our own lives, in our community, in our country, in the world, dictate what we think is possible for the future.  We could believe in only what we see, what we’ve always known - the world is an imperfect, messy, broken place and that is all the world will ever be. 


But, if our ancestors had done that – if Abraham had told God he wasn’t going to move to a new place, if Moses said no thanks he didn’t want to lead the Israelites out of captivity, if the prophets gave up and went home, if the disciples went back to fishing, if the reformers stayed quiet about the corruption they saw in the church, if no one ever laid the cornerstone to Covenant Presbyterian Church – if they said it was too hard, if they said they weren’t enough, if they thought things would never get better so why bother, then where would we be today?  Who would we be?  What would we believe? 


But they didn’t do that.  Instead, we have a long legacy of people who trusted in God’s promise that they were enough, that God could work through them, that they had the answers they needed, even if they didn’t know everything.  They trusted in a God whose love has no end; who promises to remain through any sadness or evil, who works towards the redemption of the world each day.  And the good news is not only that each one of us enough individually, but in addition, God has given us community.  And in this community, my mustard seed faith and your mustard seed faith and all of our mustard seeds of faith – which include both our moments of clarity and hope, and our times of doubt and despair – can be even more than we imagine. 





And together in community, we make our cathedral plans, we look at the blueprints and do our best to add our stones and mortar.  Sometimes they get knocked down right away, sometimes they stand for our lifetime but won’t stand forever, sometimes they will stand for centuries – we don’t know, we may never know, but we believe, we hope, we dream, that eventually there will be a cathedral and our part will have helped. 


This is one of the great purposes of having a day called World Communion Sunday. A day where we know Christians all over the world will gather together at the communion table.  This day holds the promise within it that even as we look at a world that seems broken, beaten, violent, troubled; even as we see the news about the evils humans take out on each other and our planet; even as we worry about the any number of ways we seem to be driving towards our own extinction, our present circumstances do not dictate our hope for the future. 


On World Communion Sunday, we are meant to be reminded how many of us there are.  That we are not alone.  That the world does not lie solely in our own hands, nor the hands of this one congregation, but that our cathedral plan includes a faith which connects us to people all over this world.  That our own faith can be just the size of a mustard seed, and still be enough because God can do so much with even our little.  Because while our stones may crumble and fall, God is our rock and our redeemer, building towards that kingdom of heaven on earth day by day.   


So, what part in the plan are you going play?  Which rocks and mortar will you bring?  How will you add whatever it is God has entrusted to you to the plan?  And if you don’t know or it feels overwhelming or you just can’t see the forest for the trees, the cathedral for the bricks (as it were), may you hear God’s promise that you are enough.  More than enough.  Beloved and beautiful and worthy.  Just as each person is meant to be reminded every single time they come forward to the communion table, just as millions will do today.  May it be so. Amen.


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