Now, I assume that mostly people responded more or less as he expected based on the evaluations they received. But some people’s responses surprised him.
So, he might say to one person: “You routinely come in late, your work is sloppy, and your co-workers find you unhelpful.” But in an effort not to be entirely negative, he might add that the man dressed pretty well.
And the man would leave, feeling good and thinking to himself, “That was not too bad. He thought I was looking sharp.”
To another person, my father would say: “You are an exemplary employee. You work hard. You are good at what you do. Everyone finds you helpful and cooperative. Oh, by the way, your tie is a little crooked.”
And the man would walk away crushed, thinking to himself, “I can’t believe I went into my evaluation with a crooked tie.”
His point was that some people have a hard time seeing their own weaknesses. And other people have a hard time accepting their own strengths.
That is worth remembering when we come to our readings for this morning because they offer us a pair of evaluations, and it is hard for many of us to hear both.
First, the bad news. In our gospel, we read that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we could say to a tree, “be uprooted,” and it would obey.
I first read this passage as a child, and I took it literally. I knew that mustard seeds were small. I wondered if I had that tiny bit of faith. So, one afternoon, I took the test. I kneeled down in my backyard, and I prayed that God would move one of our trees.
My eyes were closed, so I cannot be 100% sure what happened. But when I opened them, it looked a lot like that tree had not moved. I thought to myself, “My faith is not even the size of a mustard seed.”
Now I know better than to take this saying quite so literally. But I sometimes still hear criticism in this passage. Sometimes when my prayers are not answered as I want them to be, I wonder to myself, is it because my faith is too weak? I think many of us hear that kind of judgment sometimes.
On the other hand, the epistle sounds pretty good. God has given us “a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Therefore, the letter says, we need not be ashamed. That is more encouraging.
So, which one do we hear more clearly? Faith smaller than a mustard seed, or a spirit of power and of love?
The fact is, both are true.
The good news of our faith is that God the Father loves us, that God the Son became incarnate to save us, that God the Holy Spirit empowers us. God does not do that because we earn it. God does that because of who God is. That is God’s gift to us.
That is the lesson in Timothy. God has given us a spirit of power and love and self-discipline. To deny that, to pretend that it is not so, is reject God’s gift. We can and we should claim God’s promise for ourselves. We are filled with the Spirit of God, which fills us with power and love. We should celebrate that incredible gift!
Sadly, the opposite is also true. We sometimes lose sight of God’s hand at work in the world and in us. We question God’s promise to fill us with the Holy Spirit. We doubt our ability to do what God calls us to do, to be the people God invites us to be. Our faith is small.
We are powerful in God. And we are weak apart from God. Both are true. Both are important.
But the good news of what God has done is the more important truth. And that comes through in our readings too.
First Timothy is written to a young disciple who has accepted a position of leadership in the Church. The letter is to encourage him to be confident in the gifts that God has given him. First the author gives thanks for Timothy’s faith. And then he says, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you.”
That is a striking line. God gives the gift. And we have the ability to rekindle God’s gift in us. We do that, we rekindle the gift, by practicing discipleship, by living as the body of Christ with each other and in our world.
We see something similar in the gospel reading, although it is more subtle. Jesus has just told his disciples to forgive people who sin against them. They are to keep forgiving, even if the person sins against them seven times a day.
The disciples respond, if we have to do that, please increase our faith. We are going to need it!
Their response is natural enough. But it is not the right response. They feel inadequate. But God has already given them everything they need. God has given them a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.
So, instead of asking Jesus for more help, they need to do a little rekindling. That means getting to work. That means doing God’s will. That means forgiving each other. That means doing whatever Jesus asks them to do. As Jesus goes on to say at the end of our reading, our job as Christians is to obey God, period. And, with God’s help, we can do it.
And, as we do God’s will, with God’s help, our faith will rekindle. Our faith will increase.
Today we are commemorating Saint Francis. Francis gives us a beautiful example of rekindling the spirit of power and love that God has given him. At the beginning of his ministry, Francis feared leprosy and lepers. So, God called Francis to serve lepers. God gave Francis the spirit of power and love he needed. But Francis still had to do the hard work. Francis had to find the courage to embrace a leper, cleanse his wounds, and serve him. When he did, Francis’ faith and love were rekindled and grew.
What was true for the disciples, what was true for Francis, is true for us.
We know that our world is not as it should be. We know that God dreams of something better. We know that God calls us to be part of making God’s dream a reality. But we feel inadequate.
And yet God’s Spirit of power and love is within us, and even very small gifts are enough to accomplish great things, with God’s help. That is what we need to know.
I still cannot move trees by praying. But with God’s help I can forgive my brothers and sisters, and I can follow Christ, and I can use the gifts that God gives me. We can all do those things.
And our faith rekindles. And we will hear the good news of what God has done with new power and new conviction. And we will know that in God’s eyes, we are good and faithful servants, even if we do not always feel like it or live like it.
And so on this morning I give thanks to God for the sprit of power and love. And I ask God’s help as we commit to rekindling our faith, in obedience to our heavenly Father
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.