INCREASE OUR FAITH!
In the name of One God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
Seriously, one might ask when reading this passage, are the apostles expecting Jesus to perform something magical and “Presto, Change-O!” they suddenly have more faith?
And, if that is the case, then what are we to do? Does that mean that we simply have to say the right prayer and then we have more faith?
I’ve thought about this passage a lot.
I read about the scripture in study guides.
I thought about the juxtaposition of the mustard seed and the mulberry tree.
Many things can test our faith. You know what kind of things would be on a list of what tests our faith. Things like:
Death of a loved one
So many times, these kinds of things happen and we are tempted to ask, “Why did God let this happen?” And, when we do ask that question, it affects our faith. Other times, we may get so tied up in the bad event, we lose sight of the strength of our faith. When our faith falters, the devil is dominant. The devil is getting his way.
I had other thoughts to share with you this morning besides this. I actually had an entirely different homily prepared with a great story of how a student and his professor had an exchange when the learned man of higher education questioned a student’s faith.
But, nothing illustrated for me this whole relationship of the mustard seed and mulberry tree regarding our faith than something this blog I read.
You see, I have a friend who is a deacon at Trinity Cathedral in Miami. His name is Grey Maggiano. His wife, Monica, used to work with my wife, Ann. That is how we met.
He and I have had discussions about faith and our walk with Christ. He went to seminary at VTS here in Alexandria. He is just a few months from ordination as a priest in our Episcopal Church.
Well Gray and Monica are expecting their second child. Another little girl. Isabella, their first daughter, is going to have a baby sister. But there is more to their story than simply a new child in their house. I will let Grey tell his own story by reading you what he wrote this week on his blog.
He titled his writing…
I have seen the Devil… …and it wasn’t where you think
He starts his post with this quote from the poet, W. H. Auden,
“You shall love your crooked neighbor with your crooked heart.”
Grey continues: As a person of faith I struggle sometimes to talk about evil. The reality is, my life has been pretty easy, all things considered and it is sometimes hard to conjure up what the Devil is like. Perhaps ‘the Devil’ is just some archaic creation of mankind to explain why WE are so bad? (I’ve said that). Or perhaps it is the anthro-po-morphizing of some nebulous force that is out ‘there’ to make it easier to explain ‘bad things’ to people. (I’ve said that too). And certainly we, collectively, have called all manner of things and people, ‘the Devil’, (guilty) even if they were far from it.
But today I woke up with a weight on my chest and realized that I had met the Devil.
You see my wife is pregnant and our daughter has been diagnosed in-utero with a congenital heart defect. One that we now know is survivable, with multiple surgeries, but for a long time we did not. Her Heart is, to use Auden’s phrase, ‘Crooked’.
We have spent four months shuttling from Doctor to Doctor, exam to exam, sonogram to fetal echo-cardiogram. We’ve talked to Doctors in DC, Miami, Minneapolis and a few places in between. We’ve looked at detailed images of her lungs, her stomach, her deformed kidney, her misshapen heart, and we have watched breathlessly trails of red and blue on the screen as doctors attempt to divine where exactly the heart is pumping, and why.
But the Devil is not in my Daughters heart. And it is not in the hands of the Doctors who are doing their best to care for my daughter and for my wife.
In the last four months I’ve met countless people who have told me it is going to be okay. Whether through prayer, medical intervention, dumb luck or blind faith, they thought things were going to turn out okay. I’ve spoken to experts and folks who know nothing. Ministers have laid their hands on me, strangers have offered hugs and smiles, and our oldest daughter has been the most indefatigable of them all, praying every night for ‘AudeeGace’.
But the Devil is not in the hope, however unfounded, of strangers and friends. It is not in the smiles, hugs and comforts provided by others.
The Devil is in me.
You see, I woke up this morning with the realization that I have not once dreamt about what those first moments of Audrey Grace’s life will be like. I haven’t allowed myself to wonder what color her eyes might be, which direction her nose might turn, or whether she will indeed be born with a full head of black hair, like I was. I haven’t pondered whether she will be beet red like Isabella was, how much she will cry, or whether I will be able to hold back tears when I hold her for the first time.
I have become lost in a sea of diagnoses, treatment options, surgery schedules, success rates and clinical trials. I have become obsessed with the ‘facts’ of the matter.
-What WILL be.
-What IS going to happen.
-WHO will be where and when and why and how we are going to manage?
I have forgotten all about the magic and the mystery of the moment and instead gotten lost in facts. I never understood the phrase, ‘the Devil is in the details’ until now, but for me the Devil has very much been in the details. I have become so obsessed, so overwhelmed by details that I have forgotten to see the joy, the mystery, the love of the moment. I was so worried about her heart, that I never realized it was mine that was crooked.
So rather than focus on the details I have spent the morning dreaming. My unruly black hair. Her mother’s stunning blue eyes. Naturally left handed (so we can work on her backdoor slider), and a heart as big as her mothers. She’ll have my grandmother’s perseverance and my wife’s grandmother’s hospitality. She’ll have a big sister to boss her around and eventually (if she’s anything like MY little brother) she’ll turn the tables on her and all of us.
Audrey Grace I can’t wait to meet you. I’m sorry it has taken me so long to recognize what a Joy and a Wonder you are to me. You are a blessing and a gift.
So, when the apostles said, “Increase our faith”, and Jesus talked about the mustard seed….I have an easy explanation for you about what I think all that means.
Because, this week, when I read this writing of Grey’s over and over again; it was easy for me to see the mustard seed part of the story in the faces, and the minds, and the hearts of Grey and Monica, these precious children of God, as they wait for the gift of Audrey Grace. Amen.