The Next Step

francis-in-stained-glassYou have to feel for the disciples. In recent gospels Jesus has been asking some fairly extraordinary things of them – to give away their possessions, to forgive countless times, to take up his cross, and the list goes on. No wonder then, they ask for more faith. They don’t feel up to what is being asked of them, are anxious about the challenges ahead, and just can’t imagine accomplishing what is being asked of them.

It is a theme I hear a lot from you, the disciples of this age. The world around us seems to being going off the rails: armies are amassing around Aleppo, Syria; there are more shootings; a bank created fake accounts using our good name; as a nation it seems we are going to be voting against our candidates instead of for one of them. Add to all that the very personal details of our own lives – and too often I hear, “Father, it feels like my faith is under attack…I wish God would give me more faith.”

St. Francis of Assisi knew that same experience all too well. He led a carefree and spoiled life, funded by his indulgent parents. As a youth and young man, Francis imagined himself as destined for the exciting, notable, and extraordinary. Seeing himself the gallant, medieval knight, he had his father buy him a horse and suit of shining armor, and galloped off to war. Francis faced his first crisis and crumbled.

When he returned home after a year as a prisoner of war, slowly he descended into the chaos of a crumbling faith. He literally began to wander the hills and forests around Assisi searching for faith, purpose, and meaning. He was like the disciples; he was like us – at a point he just can’t imagine accomplishing what is being asked of him. He thought he needed more faith. He was like the disciples of today’s gospel.

Jesus responded to the disciples: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…” Ouch! What kind of way is that to respond to the disciples’ cry for help? I think it is Jesus’ way of shocking them into the realization that it is the wrong request. Maybe Jesus is trying to tell them (and us) we need don’t know what we are asking for and to reconsider the meaning of “faith.” Too often people imagine faith as this bigger-then-life heroic moment – and sometimes it is. Most often it is as simple as doing what needs to be done – and that is why Jesus begins to recount the ordinary workings of the household. He points out a story of the everyday.  People who took the next step. It is a small lesson in choosing to trust in the One who is the focus of our faith. Willing to live the life given to us without knowing the big plan, but willing to do what is ours to do because it needs doing, be we landowner or servant.

We can look at the life of St. Francis (and all the saints) and only see them through the lenses of the heroic, but if we look closer, there is a whole lot of “the next step” in trust and very little of their seeing the “big plan.” In fact, in my study of the life of St. Francis, there is very little evidence of Francis following a plan. It is a story of his taking the next step and discovering God was already there. He could not imagine himself the leader of a religious order yet he found himself there. He could not imagine himself telling Popes what was theirs to do, and yet… He could not imagine he had the faith to be St. Francis, and yet….

On the night of his death Francis understood that while he could not imagine it all, God could always see it. God always knew Francis already had enough faith to take the next step. Francis took those steps and along the way he learned that trust is the deepest root and foundation of faith. As he lay dying, Francis’ last words to his brother Franciscans was, “I have done what is mine to do, may Christ teach you what is yours to do.” At the end of his life, a life resplendent with faith lived large, he told us how he found the faith for which he searched – he took the next step and the next and discovered the miraculous presence of God all around him and the totally-sufficient faith he already had.

And so it perhaps shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus challenges the disciples’ perception about faith by pointing them to the far from illustrious or noteworthy hard work of a servant performing his duties. Faith is found not in the mighty acts of heaven but in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around us, and caring for the people who come our way.

Do you believe that? That faith is found in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done? That what you think is unnoticed and routine is ever blessed by Jesus as being faithful? Showing up for work and doing a good job. Listening when someone needs to talk. Getting the kids off to school. Sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend. Volunteering. Voting even if you are dismayed by the choices. Writing a thank you note. Washing dishes. Praying for a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker who is having a hard time. The list could go on. And that’s the point. None of these are any big deal, and yet it is just these kinds of acts that occupy so much of our lives. In the name of Christ, they are all acts of faith. They are the next step.

“Acts of faith” don’t need to be significant or costly or even extravagant to merit God’s attention. But I will tell you today, just as Jesus and St. Francis told others in their time, these everyday, ordinary things as acts of faith are honorable, God-blessed, and important. Do you believe that?

The disciples believed it, took the next step into the ordinary, and we know them as saints.

Francis took the next step into the ordinary and we know him as a saint.

You and me?  Through the grace of God, let us step into our ordinary, that Christ may teach us what is ours to do. It is in the ordinary that we become saints of God. People of faith.

Amen.

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