Sunday, October 6, 2013

five D's for greater faith

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. That presents us with quite a challenge … which of us could claim to have faith that strong? Which means that we have to work not just daily, but every day of our lives, to increase our faith, to grow in holiness.

Because of that, I thought I'd talk to you today about some practical ways of doing so … and as I was reflecting on how I might do so, it occurred to me that five words or phrases beginning with letter 'd' might be of help: and those are – duty; discernment; discipline; determination; and divine grace and mercy.

The first, duty, is suggested by our readings. We have a duty to work at our faith. Faith is a gift from God, but like all gifts it must be accepted and put to use. If we are going to call ourselves Christians we have a duty to work at our relationship with God, to understand what it is that our faith entails, and to try to put that faith into practice in our lives. And that sense of duty is important – without it, there is a danger we will simply take our faith, and what God offers it through it, for granted and simply drift along or away.

Impelled by our duty to strengthen our faith, we then must enter into discernment – what is it that we must do to improve our relationship with God. That prayerful discernment will produce different answers for different people – your state of life will dictate not only what it is that you must do but what you can do: the busy working mother of several children will simply not have much time from the obligations of her life as will a young, single man living on his own. But neither must we allow our state of life to be an excuse to do nothing.

Also, this discernment must be brutally honest – you must be totally open and honest with yourself … there is no point in being otherwise … because even if you fool yourself, you can not fool God. You must determine where it is that you are failing in your Christian life – is it your life of prayer? Your support of God's Church? Your obedience to God's law – or to put it another way, have you allowed sin to creep into your life and have you become comfortable with it? And having admitted where it is that you are failing, you must determine a programme of corrective action, of carving out time for prayer, of seeking out God's help to bring your relationship with him back on track.

Having discerned what it is that you need to do, the next thing needed is discipline. If it has become clear to you that what you need is to study the bible more, then pick a time, and stick to that time faithfully each day; if it is to pray more, then chose a time, the morning perhaps before the day gets busy, and pray then and let nothing get in your way. If you don't stick to whatever programme you have discerned with a degree of discipline then it will soon fall by the way side. I'm too tired this morning, I'll stay in bed a little longer and do it later – maybe during lunch; or I'm too busy today, I'll do double tomorrow, just won't cut it, and you know it. If you have truly prayerfully discerned that this is what you need for your spiritual well-being, then you must stick to it with iron discipline or before you know it all your good intentions will have faded as quickly as your new year's resolutions.

As well as discipline, you will need determination. The determination to resist the distractions while you pray, read scripture, study, worship, or whatever it is that you discerned. And determination to resist all the temptations that the world, the flesh, and devil will throw at you to abandon your programme … you work hard, you need your rest … what do you mean, you can't come out tonight? Don't be such a wet blanket … oh come, on; you're not really such a bad person – what do you need all this praying for? The temptations to slack off will come – and it will take all your will-power to resist them at times. But if you are determined to succeed, then you will.

Why? Well, that brings us to our final 'd' – divine grace and mercy. We need God's help in all we do … we are weak and frail … alone we will fail … our Father in heaven knows this … that is why he sent us his Son … to show us the way to the Father … to teach us, to die for us, and to rise from the dead to assure us that he had conquered death and eternal life was available to all who put their faith in him … and to all who their faith truly in him, he will, in his grace and mercy, guide and strengthen to succeed in such a task prayerfully begun and continued.

And so there it is: a five-step programme to increase your faith and stay strong in it: accepting that it is our duty to do so; prayerfully discerning what it is we must do; entering into what God calls to us in a disciplined fashion; continuing on that path with determination; and taking comfort in the knowledge that divine mercy and grace is always there to help you on your way.

I do not promise that you will end your days with the faith to move mountains … I do not even suggest that you will end with faith enough that you could move even a mustard seed … but you may very well end with faith enough to attain unto everlasting life … and that is faith enough … it is something that I pray for you all … and ask that you pray for me. Amen.

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