One word echoes around and around these readings today: faith. And the way faith is talked about makes it sound like a fragile thing, a thing in short-supply, or at least something you have to work at to keep. Like the ashes of a fire that have to be stirred into flame. Like a rich treasure that has to be guarded. Like a message that has to be written in big letters to jog the memory. Like a tiny seed that has to be planted and cared for.
But what is it? What is this faith we are talking about? The gospel gives us a good image of the experience of faith — it’s like standing in front of an enormous sycamore tree and wondering how to uproot it and throw it into the sea. Not with tools and trucks, not even with bare hands, but with a word. Imagine it. This is the experience of faith — or of despair, for the only difference is in what you do. And what makes all the difference is that despair does nothing but faith plants a seed in the hope it will make a difference. Faith is planting a seed in the shadow of a sycamore.
We get a glimpse of faith in action in the words of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is a prophet who stands before a sycamore tree and does not despair of moving it. He sees the violence in his society — the ruin, the misery, and the destruction — and while his contemporaries are looking outside Israel for enemies he sees the violence on his own doorstep — violence done by his own friends, by his own community — violence perpetuated by his own legal system, by his own religious leaders, by his own government — he sees the violence which no one else will name and he names it. He names it, stands before it, lets it tower above him, and refuses to despair. He calls on God, shouts at God, begs God until he gets an answer. And the answer is “Habakkuk, do something.”
That’s faith in action. Faith isn’t a thing you have, but a thing you do. That’s why you have to stir the ashes into flame, that’s why you have to write the message in big letters so it can’t be forgotten, that’s why you have to take a tiny seed and plant it in dirt.
Faith is what happens when you experience the immovable violence and injustice all around you and within you and still do the one thing necessary, however insignificant it may seem. Faith is sitting down on the bus because your feet are tired — faith is speaking a dream of justice in the face of violence — faith is knowing the gap between the way things are and the way God means things to be, and feeling the gap like fire in your bones — faith is doing something impossible because it cries out to be done.
Thank God we are not alone in our faith — that faith is not mine, that faith is not yours, but that faith is ours — or it’s nobody’s. We don’t face the sycamore alone.
Today, we begin Renew. Today we have seeds to plant, seeds symbolic of faith, our faith, our desire, our hope. And we have dirt to plant them in. It is dirt that Habakkuk names: dirt, violence, ruin, misery. Planting a seed is a risk, an act of hope that somehow in God’s good time and with God’s good grace a tiny seed can change filth into flowers, can take the dirt and make it grow.