"Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004
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Proper 22C 2004 Luke 17:5-10
“Increase our faith!” the disciples cried out to Jesus. “Increase our faith!” Many of us may have
cried out like that at times in our lives. There is a story long current in clergy circles about a parish priest who feared
that he had lost his faith and he didn’t know how in the world he was going to get it back. He tried every thing he
knew: prayers beseeching God to restore his faith; devotional books hoping to fan into glowing embers the dead ashes of his
once vibrant faith; even seeking counseling from fellow priests and his bishop. Nothing seemed to work.
But he remained faithful to his calling and to his duties. Every Sunday during communion he would see his parishioners coming
forward to receive the bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. And slowly, as he saw the faith and faithfulness in
their faces and in their lives and actions, he felt the breath of the Holy Spirit stirring in his being and one day he knew
that his faith had returned. But it had taken a long time.
Jesus tells his disciples of whatever time and place that all that they need is faith only as large as a tiny mustard seed.
And he reminds them that faith demands that we carry out our duty toward God and God’s people; that faith demands unending
servanthood in the work of the Lord that we are each given to do.
Faith is one of those religious words that we glibly speak. But what does it really mean. If I were to sum faith, and its
handmaiden, spirituality, in a short phrase, it would be this: ‘Hunger for the Holy.” But that demands some
For all Christians there are at least three basic aspects to faith, each of which has had its internal tensions over the
centuries. For true Anglicans, and American Episcopalians in particular, except for the theologically most extreme liberals
and conservatives, such tension is not kept at either/or but has been classically resolved as both/and.
First is belief in and belief that. We believe that God has revealed himself to us in the truth of Scripture about his nature
and will and has also revealed himself to us in his constant self-giving in his love. For Episcopalians our faith is centered
in both the acceptance of doctrinal propositions in the Book of Common Prayer and through trust in God as our response to
the God who loves us. The sacraments, liturgies, creeds, catechism, and scripture embodied in the Prayer Book set forth the
doctrinal statements of our faith. And our private devotions and spirituality, our preparation for the sacraments, and our
personal relationship with God and our neighbor – and the whole Creation – these things reflect the depth of our
trusting response to the God who loves us. In recent times the consensus has grown that while faith is primarily personal
and relational, the reflective element seeking to understand the truth of faith is equally necessary.
Second is the faith by which we believe and the faith which we believe. One is the emotional response to the God who loves
us – the response of the heart -- and the other is the intellectual response – the response of the mind. Faith
is passionate in our hearts precisely because of the ultimate reality of God, precisely because of the holiness and grace
of the loving God whom the mind seeks to understand and know more about.
Third is faith as human decision and faith as divine gift. Because faith is the human response to God’s initiative,
God’s love, God’s call, human decision, trust, reason, and understanding are involved in our response. Because
one of the great gifts of the God who loves us is human free will to accept or reject, a response in faith to God involves
the exercise of free will and reason in that acceptance, however much about God we know we can never understand and must always
remain a mystery.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve really been using the vocabulary of theology to talk about the three-legged
Stool of Anglicanism to describe the faith: the three legs of Scripture, tradition, and reason. Richard Hooker first formulated
this image and analogy in the late 16th Century. Hooker is one of the two giants of Anglicanism whose writings and legacy
shape the theology of our Prayer Books and particularly Anglican spirituality even today. Hooker died in 1600 AD at the age
of 47, thirteen years before the birth of Jeremy Taylor in 1613.
Taylor is the other giant of Anglicanism. He flourished during a time full of the giants of Anglicanism known as the Caroline
Divines. It was they who constructed the via media characteristic of modern classical Anglicanism. They wrote in a time
when the Church of England was being torn by a resurgent Counter-Reformation Roman Catholicism on the
one hand, and an increasingly powerful and radical Puritan Protestantism on the other. They lived in the time of the Civil
War culminating in the execution of King Charles I because of his Roman sympathies and leanings and during the Puritan Protectorate
of Oliver Cromwell that followed for twenty years until 1660. It was in these fires that Hooker and Taylor and others forged
Anglican ways of thinking and worshipping that are still with us.
Taylor’s gifts to us are largely in his two books of devotional spirituality, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living
and it’s companion, The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. Their genius lies in their classical Anglican foundation:
that there is no real separation between the sacred and secular –that they are all part of the seamless web of Creation
and living and dying.
Taylor set forth three general instruments of Holy Living. The first was Care of our time because life was short compared
to eternity and “we must remember that we have a great work to do, many enemies to conquer, many evils to prevent, much
danger to run through, many difficulties to master, many necessities to serve, and much good to do, many children to provide
for, or many friends to support, or many poor to relieve, or many diseases to cure, besides the needs of nature and of relation,
our private and our public cares, and duties of the world which necessity and the providence of God hath adopted into the
family of religion.”
The second was purity of intention: “that we should intend and design God’s glory in every action we do, whether
it be natural or chosen, is expressed by Saint Paul, ‘whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.’”
The third was the practice of the presence of God: “that God is present in all places, that he sees every action,
hears all discourses, and understands every thought, is no strange thing to a Christian ear, who hath been taught this doctrine,
not only by right reason, and the consent of all wise men in the world [tradition], but also by God himself in holy scripture….God
is wholly in every place, included in no place; not bounds with cords except those of love…filling heaven and earth
with his present power, and with his never absent nature… So that we may imagine God to be as the air and the sea, and
we are all enclosed in His circle, wrapped up in the lap of his infinite nature; or as infants in the wombs of their pregnant
mothers: and we can no more be removed from the presence of God than from our own being.”
The practice of the presence of God was something Brother Lawrence practiced and espoused and lived out as monastery purchasing
agent and scullery dishwasher some decades later.
I spent a year with Holy Living and Holy Dying and it has shaped my own spirituality and its practice. I turn back to it
But as Paul Harvey says, that’s not the end of the story. Several years ago I was in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina,
to officiate at the wedding of my nephew. I was waiting at the airport in Myrtle Beach for my daughter and son in law. I
was in black shirt and color because we were going directly to the wedding rehearsal. A small very dignified black man approached
us and introduced himself.
“I see you are wearing a clerical collar. Are you an Episcopal priest?”
“Yes,” I said.
“I’m the pastor of a small Baptist Church not far from here and I wanted to say hello. My name is Reverend Carvell
We chatted for a while and then he said, “I don’t know if you have read it but one of my favorite books was written
by an Anglican named Jeremy Taylor. It’s entitled Holy Living and Holy Dying. Have you ever heard of it?”“
I laughed and said, “Of course. It’s one of my favorites.”
Reverend Moore said, “You know, my copy was lost in fire some years ago and I’ve missed it ever since. You can’t
just find them lying around easily in South Carolina.”
“Well,” I said. I just inherited some books from an older priest who just died and there’s a copy in them.
Would you like it?”
His face lit up. “I would love it. Do please send it to me.” And he handed me his card.
I sent Holy Living and Holy Dying to him. He wrote me just before he died that it had meant much to him to have it on his
bedside to read twice each day.
I would like to hear the conversations Jeremy Taylor and Carvel Moore are having now. Wouldn’t you?
“Increase our faith!” the disciples cried out to Jesus. “Increase our faith!” And we cry out, too.
But we also have the rest of the story in the gospels. And we also have Holy Living and Holy Dying. (1)
1. Compiled from the Westminster Dictionaries of Theology, Spirituality, and Church History (articles on Faith, Spirituality,
Jeremy Taylor, Richard hooker, Caroline Divines, etc.) and Jeremy Taylor: Selected Works in the Paulist Press series, The
Classics of Western Spirituality.