Updated: Oct 16, 2019
1. Once upon a time, a midwife baptized a new-born child she thought was dying.
a. This was once commonplace
b. and even nowadays some nurses will baptize children in danger of death.
2. However, this situation was not commonplace
a. For the child’s parents were Jewish.
b. Any other time this situation would have been seen
c. as a well-intentioned if misguided act.
i. But not here.
3. For this baptism took place in the 19th century, in the Papal States,
a. a nation of some three million people ruled back then by the Pope himself.
4. When Pope Pius IX,
a. known universally as Pio Nono
b. for his resistance to change, heard of the baptism
c. He had the child removed from the parents and raised as a Christian.
5. If something like that were to happen nowadays
a. The world would be outraged. It was back then as well.
6. But if we were able to ask Pio Nono
a. he would most certainly have NOT understood our anger.
b. After all, he was the Vicar, of Christ, and the Church was HIS to tend.
c. He was protecting a Christian soul from error.
d. He was only doing what God chose him to do.
7. It is little wonder that people soon rose up in rebellion against this claim of absolute power. in the 1870s revolutions were spreading across Europe.
8. These revolutions were rooted in the mother of all European revolutions: the French revolution.
a. Although it had happened almost a century before,
i. people still yearned for its values of liberty, equality and brotherhood.
ii. People still longed for democratic government rather than monarchy
iii. And people ached for the separation of Church and state.
9. Because many saw the church,
a. embodied in the actions of popes such as Pio Nono,
b. as what was wrong with Europe.
10. The papacy operated from a simple premise
a. The pope was Christ’s representative.
b. He was the defender of the faith.
c. The faith was always right;
d. so he, and thus his church, were always right.
11. And that meant everyone else was wrong.
12. And there can be no compromise when it comes to error, for error according to Church teaching, has no rights.
13. Guided by this doctrine, it is easy to see why the Church tended throughout its history to favor monarchies and recoil from democracies.
14. For the idea of choice is difficult for people of faith – whether that faith is in a government, or a church.
15. But the problem really isn’t democracy – or for that matter, monarchy! It is faith.
16. And you know who pointed that out? Jesus.
17. Jesus and his disciples were members of a people,
a. whom God chose and called to be a light to the nations.
18. Their faith was supposed to be an invitation to others to follow that light.
a. But all too often all their faith meant that they had the truth and others didn’t.
19. Thus, it was little wonder that the apostles said what they said to Jesus in today’s gospel.
a. For, if their faith made them chosen, made them special,
b. if their faith made them right;
i. why wouldn’t they want to have more of it, “Lord increase our faith!”
20. It is only in this context that we understand what Jesus meant by that tiny mustard seed.
a. When I was a child this passage bothered me because I thought, ‘well I have faith! How come I can't move mulberry trees?’
21. But in context we see that Jesus isn't instructing the apostles, he is mocking them!
a. He is saying that their attitude with God is like a servant
b. who actually expects that their master will sweep them up,
c. place them at table and wait on them . . . as if they were the master!
22. . . . because of course that is what the apostles though they were.
a. Of course mulberry trees should move for them;
b. of course people should listen to them and follow them.
c. They were right; others were wrong. They were the masters.
23. But they weren’t – not really, God was.
24. And while they were chosen, they were special and it was their responsibility to follow and teach God’s law, as APOSTLES it was God’s law as revealed by Jesus,
a. and thus it wasn’t the quantity of faith that mattered;
b. it was its quality
c. and that quality was not defined
i. by a rightness that is really only self-righteousness,
ii. but by love defined as service.
25. I don’t know if you noticed, but it is the Apostles that Jesus is mocking. Of course, Jesus had already chosen the twelve Apostles; that happens in Luke chapter 6.
26. But he uses the word “Apostle”. That English word comes from a Greek word that means “someone who is sent”.
27. The apostles were important in the early church.
28. Because the apostles were sent by Jesus; they were, are the living link with Jesus – who of course was right.
29. Thus if someone had a link to the apostles, they could claim to be right too.
30. Which is all well and good, if rightness is not self-righteousness but love expressed in service.
31. But according to Jesus it wasn’t – not even for the first twelve apostles.
a. That is why he mocks them for thinking
b. that God should move mulberry trees because their faith made them right.
c. that they should be treated like the masters, and thus were special.
32. And let’s be honest, it still isn't,
a. whether it is among those successors of the apostles
i. sent by God through their ordination whom we call bishops,
b. or among those who have also been sent by God by our baptisms
33. all of us are sent to do in our own lives what the twelve were supposed to do in theirs
i. teach and follow God’s law as revealed by Jesus.
34. And yet whether it is in the Vatican or Washington or here in Yorkville
35. we so often think faith makes us right,
a. and if you don’t agree you must be wrong for there can be no room for error.
36. But maybe, just maybe, there can be.
37. Most of you know that I was born as a Lutheran.
a. The Lutheran Church was born as a result of a revolution called the Reformation.
b. We see its results in the hundreds of different Christian Churches
i. All lumped under the heading “protestant”;
c. Protestant because five hundred years ago they rose up in PROTEST against the Pope;
i. Because he clamed to be right;
ii. and the first Reformers were certain they were.
38. The Reformation unleashed a war between Protestants and Catholics
a. that lasted for decades,
b. Slaughtered millions and destroyed whole nations in Europe.
39. It only ended when both sides were so exhausted that they agreed to disagree;
a. And for 500 years Protestants and Catholics have maintained that disagreement; sometimes peacefully sometimes not.
40. I know, I know, more history. But for years I studied the Reformation in my preparation to become a Lutheran minister. That study gave me a hatred of Revolutions;
a. For in revolutions, things change all right– but at quite a cost.
41. Recently we have heard people saying that another revolution is brewing;
a. this time not against Rome, but inside it.
42. Pope Francis has largely rejected the trappings of papal authority
43. And while this bothers those who value the such things.
44. it is what he says that really upsets them;
a. Like when he asks the bishops to consider how we can readmit divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist
b. When he asks his priests to see the confessional as a place of healing rather than use it as a torture chamber.
c. When he asks us all to see people such as gays and lesbians, people of different faith traditions or none at all, as called by the same God and thus not to judge.
45. Some see him as fomenting a revolution.
46. But I have come to believe Francis isn’t a revolutionary;
47. he is something far more important he is a true radical.
48. But that is not a bad thing because to be a radical is to be someone who goes to the Radix, the root of things that unites us all.
49. Because a true radical knows that all true change begins when we can agree on something, rather than when we disagree.
50. And so Francis brings us back to our roots; to Jesus
a. to a faith where love, expressed in service, is the highest Law,
b. and which recognizes that truth is always bigger than our ability to express it,
c. and thus while there might be no room for error,
d. there must always be room for all of us who err.
51. Will Francis words and actions bring about a revolution in the Church?
52. I, for one, hope not. I have a hatred of revolutions. They cost too much.
53. But if his words and actions cause us to return to that faith that Jesus practiced,
54. and asked his apostles to go out and spread, then that would be something more important than a revolution;
55. that would be a revelation;
a. for in that change we would glimpse the Church the way God wants it to be,
b. and see the people God calls us all to be
c. and when that happens, well then who know what other changes might just be possible?