The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - October 2, 2016
Scripture Reading: Luke 17:5-10
Sermon Title:
“Faith is a Verb

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     I remember my first summer on a summer camp staff.  It was in Connecticut at Silver Lake Conference Center.  I really wanted to do it, and remember attending the fall work weekend before applications for the next summer were due.  When I left I said goodbye to Alden, the camp director.  He said “See you soon Robert.”  OK, he knew my name, this had to be a good sign. 

     So I was happy but not too surprised when the big envelope appeared in the mail.  Inside, typed on 8 ½ by 14 size legal paper were the things that I needed to know.  There was a covenant I had to read and agree to live by.  And there was my contract.  Of course this was before the days of computers, so it had been mimeographed, and then my name, salary and job description typed in on the blank lines.  I would be working 10 weeks, plus a week of staff training, and I don’t remember if my salary was $300 or $400 for the summer.  Benefits were one day off a week and, room and board. 

     I was hired as “Camp Family.”  This was what they called their first year staff.  They had a Camp Family Mom and a Camp Family Dad, who were your immediate supervisors, watched over to make sure you behaved, and did all your scheduling.  Each day one of our family would help in the bakery, a few in the kitchen, a few on the waterfront, many of us would wash dishes, then bathrooms, then set tables for lunch, wash dishes, sweep and mop the dining hall, put back all the tables and chairs, set the tables for dinner and then wash dishes after dinner.  And often we were given special projects, maybe painting, or fixing something the director thought we could fix, or just about anything else that had to be done.  On Sunday’s we would greet families when they arrived, on Saturday we would send off the campers, and clean every cabin in camp.  Since I was a little older, 17 at that time, I was used several weeks as a counselor for a cabin of boys.  Rather than try to explain all, that my job description was “Keep the Camp Neat and Clean at all times.” 

     I will admit that I was a little disappointed.  I had seen Camp Family washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, singing, dancing, having a good time.  But what would I really be doing every day.  This letter arrived in February, when the ground was snow covered and I was stuck inside.  I wanted a long description of my job and its duties, not “Keep the camp neat and clean at all times.” 

     It turned out that my job description fit my job.  Of course with the washing dishes and cleaning, I could see it.  But all our special projects helped the camp look neat.  At the waterfront we watched the kids swimming, kept them safe, then cleaned up and put everything back where it had to go.  Even as a cabin counselor, we were making sure the kids were safe, and our cabin was neat and clean.  Having kids running around without any programming, getting hurt would not have kept the camp neat and clean. 

     This morning we read about the disciples saying “increase our faith.”  Jesus points out that with faith the size of a mustard seed they can do great things.  But, then goes on explain that even if they are doing what they are supposed to, they may not really realize it.  If you were a slave, you would not expect to eat with your master, you would cook and eat later. 

     Often when we look at our faith we think that it is something we need to consciously work on.  And I am guessing that some us here this morning are kind of like the disciples.  We want to have our faith grow.  This is understandable.  Faith, as Jesus describes it, is just doing your job, just doing your duty, not because of any sense of reward but simply because it needs doing. Faith, in other words, is doing what needs to be done right in front of you and this, Jesus says, the disciples can already do. Sometimes faith can be pretty ordinary. That’s what Jesus means, I think, by saying that if they had the faith even of a mustard seed, they could uproot and move a mulberry tree -- that it really doesn’t take all that much faith to be faithful.

     And there are others who are here this morning who believe that as long as you attend church and are generally a good person than you are a good Christian. It would never occur to them that being a good friend, or working at jobs to keep food on the table or keep the world running, or paying your taxes and voting for people who spend those taxes well, or any of the other ordinary stuff we do every day has anything to do with the Christian faith.

     For both groups, it is important to realize that all those things you have done this past week matter.  What are some of the things that you may have done this week:

  • doing our work
  • caring for those in need
  • protecting the vulnerable
  • reaching out to the lonely
  • befriending the friendless
  • keeping the world going
  • contributing to the common good.

     It is all the stuff that we would do, no matter what.  Often in life we are looking for a big job description.  When I worked at Silver Lake, I wanted a big job description, I wanted to exactly what to do.  That is what the disciples were looking for.  But rather Jesus says you already have it, you are doing it. 
Faith is not a noun, it is a verb.  It is the doing.  I am not sure the disciples really understood that.  If they did, they would understand that the way you increase it is through exercise. 

     I think of it like Physical Therapy.  I believe that many of you have had some experience with physical therapists in the past few years.  I went to a physical therapist for my shoulder a few years ago.  I have no idea what I did, or why it hurt, but if I rolled over to turn off the alarm clock in the morning, that reaching out hurt.  If I were to get something that had fallen on the floor, that was really bad.  When I was standing, lifting straight up it was fine, but off to the side I could not do.  The therapist didn’t really know what had happened either, but he suggested some exercises that I could do to strengthen those muscles.  He started with a little weight, like one pound, or maybe half a pound, had me lay down and hold it off to the side.  Had me do that twice.  And then he told me when I got home to get a can of soup out of my cupboard and do that twice that night, and twice the next morning, after a few days, do it three times, then four, then 5 and keep working up.  Switch out a Campbell’s soup for a larger soup can.   His thought was that the muscles around that joint would be built up, and hold it all together a little bit better. 

     You may also experience the opposite at times.  I have had a few broken bones in my time, luckily not recently.  Because I was active each time they put me in a cast.  Once I had a full leg cast, my left arm had a full arm cast and my right arm and hand had a cast one summer.  When I had the cast taken off first you realize that strange feeling.  For weeks you had something heavy, holding your bones together so they could heal, and it was tight against your skin.  Not cutting off circulation, but for the first layer they use something like a sock.  Suddenly your limb can breathe again, and that feels great.  But very quickly you realize how weak that limb has become.  Just a few weeks of not using it, and when you try to use it, there is no muscle left.  You try to lift something after getting a cast off your arm, and the arm that was not broken works fine, the one that was in the cast is much weaker. But of course you exercise it, and it gets stronger and stronger. 

     Our faith is a muscle. But I would like to suggest that we are already exercising it, even sometimes we don’t realize it.  When I got my last cast off, I didn’t do any special exercises for it.  Don’t remember doing any special exercises after any of my broken bones.  But I went back to what I was doing, and pretty soon it was back to normal.  Think for a minute about all the good things that you have done this past week.  Maybe it was something big, maybe you helped serve a meal, volunteered for some event to help others.  Maybe it was the smaller things.  Maybe it was the phone call that you made, or when you stopped by to see someone.  Maybe it was an email or text just letting someone know that you are thinking about them.  Maybe it was something as simple as a smile in the store, or letting a car go first when you both arrive at a stop sign at the same time.  All those little things add up, and make the world a little bit better.  Now imagine that we all did some of those things this week.  I would guess that at some point this past week we all did something nice for someone else.  Put all that together.  That is a lot of good. 

     And that is exercising our faith.  Jesus is not asking his disciples to do a lot more than they are doing now, he is telling them that they already have it, they are already doing it, and the more they do it the easier it will become.   Jesus never told us to read the Bible, he told us to feed, to clothe, and to visit. 

     There is no clear job description.  Things have changed a lot since Jesus time.  Does an email or text count as a visit today?  I think it can at times.  That face to face is still sometimes important.  Can donations of food to the food pantry be feeding the hungry, or even giving an offering to the church count as feeding and clothing.  I think it can.  Doing our work, caring for those in need, protecting the vulnerable, reaching out to the lonely, befriending the friendless, keeping the world going, contributing to the common good.

     Putting all those things together, which we are doing, but can always exercise and do more, is our job description, and also makes a difference in our world.  Our faith, our doing, can move mountains, can order a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea, can make the world a better place, and can bring a bit of the kingdom of heaven to this place on earth.