As a former athlete and now coaching my son’s fifth grade football team, I can appreciate a good pep talk. I know first-hand the power that a few select words can have on the mind and spirit to help focus and motivate one into action on the field of play. And certainly movies and T.V. shows have perfected the drama and emotion of a good pre-game, locker room pep talk. A fiery talk by the coach, a thrown hat or chair, the cheer of the players, and then the storming onto the field filled with cheerleaders and the marching band, surrounded by bleachers packed with cheering fans.
However, maybe some of the best pep talks have been one-to-one: player-to-coach, teacher-to-student, friend-to-friend, spouse-to-spouse, parent-to-child, and sibling-to-sibling. It is the words of a loved one that can best offer comfort in a time of sadness, hope in a time of despair, encouragement in a time of doubt, focus in a time of disarray, and confidence in a time of fear. And this is what we hear about in today’s readings. God speaking to the prophet Habakkuk, Paul writing to his friend Timothy, and Jesus speaking to his beloved Apostles. These are all essentially pep talks geared to a target audience AND to us - focusing us, encouraging us, challenging us to be the holy men and women we are called to be, to love and serve as God commands us.
In today’s Gospel, the Apostles ask Jesus to “Increase their faith.” They are asking for help. They are physically tired from their journey with Jesus up to Jerusalem and mentally and emotionally exhausted trying to comprehend all that Jesus has said and done AND what they are being asked to do: to love and forgive as they have never done before! The Apostles are also reacting to Jesus’ warning that immediately proceeds today’s Gospel passage, in which Jesus says: “woe to the person through whom sin occurs; it would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea.” The Apostles knew their human weaknesses and were worried that they did not have enough faith to live as they were called to live.
Jesus’ reply is simple and direct – even with the smallest amount of faith you can do great things. He was not being critical or comical, but rather he was offering hope and encouragement. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds, while the mulberry tree has a deep and extensive root system and thus extremely difficult to uproot. But with even the smallest of faith, Jesus is telling us that we can do great things, things beyond imagination, like uprooting a tree and throwing it into the sea.
Then, in today’s first reading, God offers encouragement to the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet is frustrated for two reasons. First, he sees the world around him in collapse (violence, ruin, destruction, misery, strife and discord); and second, God is silent in the midst of it all. When God responds, he offers reassurance to the prophet and to us – that God will fulfill his promise of salvation, but now is not the time and so we need to be patient for it will surely come and we will not be disappointed. It is also significant that God asks the prophet to write this down. We are a visual people and so it helps our faith and the faith of others to see and remain focused on what God promises.
I suspect the written letters from Paul to Timothy had the same effect. In today’s second reading Paul writes with authority – not by virtue of title or position, but by the experience of having endured hardship and pain, including being in jail from where he writes this letter, as well as the peace and love he experiences in God. It is with this authority that he can both encourage his audience “to stir into flame the gift of God” – a gift of power, love, and self-control – AND to challenge them to bear hardship with the strength that comes from God. Paul is essentially saying that each one of us: be confident, you can endure any problem because God dwells in you, by your Baptism in Christ, God has given you all that you need. How true and how wonderful this is!
Jesus’ pep talk continues with his second parable in today’s Gospel. He reminds us that our relationship with God calls us to make ordinary in our lives what society views as extra-ordinary (to love and serve generously and without reservation and to seek forgiveness and be merciful toward others). Juese is telling us that we can never be excessive in self-LESS-ly loving and forgiving others. This is the point of Jesus’ second parable. If we do what we are called to do, what we are made to do, if we do all that we are suppose to do as Christians, than we are unprofitable servants- we are ‘without need’ of anything else. We are in need of nothing more.
Next Sunday evening, Jerry Freewalt from the Diocese’s office of social concerns will be speaking to us about how we can live out Christian lives of service to others, especially those in greatest need. To live lives as unprofitable servants. I invite you to pray Evening Prayer with us before his presentation and then attend the presentation and learn how the diocese serves those in need and how you can help.
Yes, to be a Christian is difficult and requires hard work – God knows this. Don't harden your hearts, but take courage from today’s readings (from these mini-pep talks) and know that God does provide all that you need – God has given you the gift of faith. Like the Apostles, ask for more faith and God will provide!