10/6/2019 Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Luke 17: 5-10.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“If” the apostles had the faith of a mustard seed. I feel this needs clarification. This single-syllable, ‘if’, tends to put a slant on Jesus’ admonition that has been misunderstood over time; and doesn’t convey the true meaning of the rebuke. The implication is not so much one of doubt, but is more accurately interpreted to mean ‘since’. Jesus doesn’t intend to disparage the disciples, telling them he doubts they have even a minute amount of faith. It’s a tiny disparity, but the difference leads us to a greatly different understanding of Jesus’ words. The underlying term is understood to be ‘since’ they have a mustard seed’s portion of faith. Example; ‘If you’re already here at church this morning, you may as well stay for the sermon’.
Your presence here is obvious and not in question, but the implication is that ‘since’ you are here, staying is an option. In the same way, Jesus is implying that the apostles already have faith, and their request for it to be increased is at the root of his response to them. This “‘if’ you had faith” statement implies that they do, in fact, possess such a faith; it’s an affirmation. Next, Jesus suggests that the belief they have would be enough for them to accomplish something seemingly impossible; to command a tree to take a dip in the ocean and plant itself there. I can’t help but think that Jesus was trying to make this faith point with his followers and a mulberry tree just happened to be in his line of sight when he shared with them the foolishness of their request for greater faith. So this is the object he chose to illustrate that the faith they have is sufficient for them to do whatever is God’s will. Although, the tree-in-the sea metaphor seems a bit unlikely. But that’s a story for another time.
If we accept that the apostles do have some measure of faith, the question then becomes; ‘how much faith do they have?’ And, from there it follows; ‘how much do they need?’ And ultimately, since we are the latest in this long line of Christ-followers; ‘how much faith do we have, and how much do we need?’ We read in Acts, 2 Peter, and Philippians that faith is a gift from God, and that it is what cements our relationship with the Father and Jesus. Therefore, it would seem that any discussion about the quantity of our faith is moot and that its quality is the issue we ought to explore. Not so much the amount of faith we have; rather the way in which it is manifested.
There are two distinct ways to describe faith; as a noun and as a verb. What it is, and what action is done with it. As a noun, it simply describes what we believe; that we are in a justified, righteous relationship with God. And remember, even this is provided for us through God’s grace. As a verb, it becomes incumbent on us to determine what we do with this belief. And this in turn, is dependent on the amount of confidence that we have, to trust that we do, in fact have enough faith. The noun part is easy; the verb part, not so much!
This is where we separate the God-given noun of faith as belief, from the actions we take as evidence of our faith as a verb. ‘Doing’, as opposed to ‘having’. And we don’t have to quantify the amount of faith we think we have; whatever we feel we have within us is enough. What does matter, is that we recognize that however limited we feel our faith might be, that as a gift from God it will be sufficient to give us the confidence we need to rise above any obstacle. No matter what, it’s enough. Possibly even plentiful enough to tell a mulberry tree to plant itself in the sea!
God blesses us with ample faith to overcome whatever we encounter in this life; we need only to trust and believe that our God keeps his promises to his children.
When we experience fear of the unknown, God gives us enough faith to face the future without dread. When we worry about our children, God makes sure we have enough faith to trust in God’s unfailing mercy toward them. When we consider ourselves to be weak in any way, God assures us that our faith is enough to discover a strength we didn’t know we possess. When we stumble in darkness, Jesus declares that we have faith enough to break into God’s reassuring light. Even faith the size of a mustard seed is ‘enough’. Enough for God to work with to accomplish God’s will; for us, and for the world.
Let us trust that our gift of faith is enough for God’s purpose. Let us not have fear, or worry, or weakness, or dread of the dark; but let our faith secure for us calmness, and reassurance, and strength, and the brilliance of God’s light.
Will you pray with me as we recognize that our faith, no matter how small it seems, is enough? Please repeat after me. “Be still and know that I am God”. “Be still and know that I am”. “Be still and know”. “Be still”. “Be.”
And the people of God say…Amen.
Now go forth from this place knowing that your faith is enough. Enough for God’s purpose for God’s kingdom.