Sermon 10/5/19: All You Need Is All You Got

Pr. Ben Adams

Lectionary 27c

October 5, 2019

All You Need Is All You Got

We are a measured people. We count money, count followers, count likes, we count grades, and we count votes.  And we keep count because in a hyper-competitive society like ours, keeping score allows us to determine the winners and losers.

Our first reading today from Lamentations reads like a scorecard listing all of the losses that the Hebrews have suffered in the wake of the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city by Babylon. It’s poetic and devastating like your favorite sad country music or break up song. 

Counting our anguish like the poet in Lamentations does is hard work and it’s work we’d often rather ignore, but it’s important that we do the hard work. Because the alternative is burying our anguish and pretending that we never suffered loss in the first place. We paint over the past and obscure the bad parts. It’s a defense mechanism against weakness and vulnerability in a world that only values strength and winning. But defenses lead to isolation, and the way that we as people of faith can combat isolation is to witness together, like the poet in Lamentations does, to the breadth and depth of our collective trauma.

Now anyone who knows me well knows that I am a fan of sad things. I love sad movies, sad music, sad art in general. There is just something so honest about it and it always feels to me more real to me than any rom com or fantasy escapism ever could.  And being a fan of sad things, there have been times in my preaching that people have come up to me afterwards and said, why can’t you preach about more happy things? I usually try to smile comments like that off, but what I think comments like that reveal about my preaching is that I am trying to witness to our collective trauma, but the truth is that we are inundated with tragic, heartbreaking news all the time, especially with social media and a twenty four hour news cycle preying on our fears, insecurities, and emotions. So when we come to church it makes sense that we want to hear good news. And trust me, that is my goal when I preach, I might not always hit the mark, but preaching good news is my desired bullseye every time I get in this pulpit. 

Especially in light of how broken our world is, it is my hope that every time I preach we all come away with a deeper awareness of God’s grace in our lives, but in order to know the depth of that grace, we must also take seriously how far and deep that grace has to go into the broken cracks of our world. The anguish of poets like the one in Lamentations who has just lost everything and is now in exile and captivity to the Babylonians, might seem like a downer to some of us, but to those of us who are also in that rock bottom place like the Hebrews, it’s a reminder to us that we are not alone, and beyond all of that, God gets into that rock bottom place with us as well.

Trusting that truth that God has not and will not abandon us when we hit rock bottom takes faith. And you might be saying to yourself, well I don’t even know if I have faith, at least not enough of it to take that leap. And let me say to you, you are not alone because the disciples in today’s Gospel are in a similar place.  It’s important you know that today’s gospel begins mid-story. Jesus had just commissioned his disciples to continually forgive repentant sinners. It is to this command that we then pick up with the disciples begging Jesus to, “Increase our faith!”

I’ve always found that sentiment to be a bit odd. “Increase our faith” makes it seem like faith is something that we can count like dollars or points. But I think we should reject this understanding of faith, because faith is not something that can be stored up or counted, it is a gift from God and it is at work within us through the Holy Spirit.

Theologian James Alison puts it this way, “For Faith is the stable disposition produced in you by God’s truthfully persuading you, through the presence of Jesus’ life and death, that you are loved by God as you are. Through this persuasion over time you are able habitually to relax into that “being known by God as you are with love” and to live without fear of death...Because of this, the ordinary emotional correlate of faith is relaxation. You are not having to strain belief towards something unknown. Rather, the effort, strain, and hard work, is on the part of the One who is trying to persuade you to relax into being known as you are. Despite all obstacles of shame, ignorance, and inability to accept yourself as loveable, that One is inducing in you the stable disposition of being persuaded by that One; which persuasion (or faith – the Greek word is the same) is itself God’s gift in you. This gift is in you as a certain, publicly detectable, way of being present in the world, which has incidence in all your relationships.”

Faith therefore produces acceptance of ourselves as we are, and that produces the correlating relaxation within us. This is not a quantifiable thing, but as we move through the world in faith, it has real impacts on our relationships to each other, to this earth, to ourselves. We can relax and instead of feeling inadequate and thinking, if I only had enough faith, we can trust that all the faith we need is already ours through Christ who has bestowed the gift of faith upon us.

When I was still competing in wrestling, I remember this shirt that I would wear to practice sometimes and on the back it read, “All you need is all you got.”  Obviously, in the context of wrestling, the phrase on the back of that shirt was intended to inspire more effort, that there was always more within if we were only willing to dig deep enough.  In that way, this shirt supported the score keeping, endlessly competitive, hustle till you die, work ethic that our world holds up as the ideal.

But in the context of faith, I wonder if the phrase on that shirt could be understood differently. All you need is all you got when it comes to faith means that we already have all the faith we need, and in that way maybe that phrase can help us to relax and trust that faith is a gift and not a personal improvement project.  Building, growing, or increasing our faith is starting from the wrong place. Because there is no striving, no work, no strain that we need to do in order to experience the stable, relaxed disposition that the gift of faith offers to us.

Our liturgy is an expression of that graceful gift of faith.  All the faith you need is all the faith you already got. And as we gather around this table where there is enough for everyone, and when we affirm that in the bread and wine, is the body and blood of Jesus, we affirm that all we need is here. There is no striving, straining, or work that needs to be done to earn this meal. All it takes is for you to take your place and God’s table is prepared, and with open empty hands outstretched, receive the gift of God’s presence.

Filled with that presence, we are persuaded once again that we are loved by God just as we are. Made one in the body of Christ through this meal. Connected, not isolated. And it’s together in faith that we witness to the collective trauma of this world, and we accompany one another through it.  Not keeping score or striving to one up or outdo one another, but simply resting and relaxing in faith that we are all loved just as we are, and there’s nothing we need to do, or even can do, to increase that love. Amen.