“The Size of a Mustard Seed”
Luke 17:5-10, Proper 22 C, 2 October 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion and East Rochester United Methodist Churches
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Our Gospel lesson is a continuation of the past couple of Sundays.
You may remember
We left Jesus first teaching the disciples,
Then teaching the Pharisees
(who were lovers of money),
And, last week
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Today, Jesus again turns to his disciples
And begins to teach
Four seemingly unconnected sayings
That are found in the first ten verses of chapter 17.
The first two are not included in our reading this morning;
Yet it is important to mention them.
The first saying
Is a warning to anyone who would cause someone to stumble,
That is, to temp someone to sin.
Jesus warns that
“It would be better for you
If a millstone were hung around your neck
And you were thrown into the sea.”
– Luke 17:2
This is pretty familiar and pretty self explanatory.
The second saying
Is Jesus giving instructions about
How one disciple is to treat another disciple who sins.
“You must rebuke the offender,”
Jesus instructs them,
“and if there is repentance,
You must forgive.”
– Luke 17:4
Again, pretty straight forward.
Allow me to leapfrog the third saying and go right to the fourth.
The fourth saying of Jesus
Was read this morning and is found in verses 7-10.
Jesus makes his point with an illustration that causes us to shutter today,
Yet, this was a common cultural reality in the time of Jesus.
I doubt if anyone in the audience
To whom Jesus is teaching owned slaves.
At the same time, it was a slave holding society.
Slaves came primarily from military expansion, victory, and settlements.
Everyone would have been exposed to slavery
And known the ins and outs of how it worked.
The slave’s time and labor belongs to the master,
Therefore, the slave has no claim on the master
Even after a period of obedient service.
The point being,
We cannot put God into our debt.
God never owes us.
What we receive from God is kindness,
Not reward for what we should do in the first place.
This is an important point:
What we receive from God is grace, not reward.
My primary focus for today is upon the third continuous saying of Jesus,
Found in Luke 17:5-6, which reads:
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
The Lord replied,
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,
you could say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’
and it would obey you.”
Let’s set this passage into context.
Take note of the fact that
It isn’t the disciples who ask,
Rather, it is the “apostles” who ask Jesus to
“increase our faith.”
The use of the word “apostles” indicates the fact
That this passage was most probably first written down
Almost two generations after Jesus.
Think about this dynamic for a moment;
The Gospel of Luke was written down nearly 50 to 70 years
After Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.
It goes to show that for those who follow Jesus,
Be they the original disciples,
The faithful members of the early, first century church,
Or even for us today,
It is normal and natural to find the demands of life
Seemingly too great for the faith that has already been given us.
What they are asking is, “Lord, make us adequate for being your disciples.”
This reminds me of the old hymn
“When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. (x2)
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.”
(Words and music by Charles Albert Tindley, 1906)
Sometimes we feel like the weight of the world is crushing us,
The responsibilities thrust upon us are more than we can bear,
The expectations of family, work, and life exceed our capacity to endure,
And we, like the disciples of old cry out
“Lord, increase our faith!”
We cry out like the old hymn
“Lord, stand by me,
because I can’t stand alone any longer.”
Jesus reminds us
That the faith you already have is more than adequate.
Our natural tendency is to think this is a parable about us.
We want to measure and quantify our faith.
We do so to correlate life’s events,
Suggesting that times of great faith is a sign of God’s favor
And times of weakened faith is a sign that we’ve fallen out of God’s favor
(which is patently untrue).
I’d suggest, however, Jesus teaches this parable
To reveal more about the characteristics about God, our Heavenly Father,
Than to teach his disciples about how to increase our faith.
Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.
God’s power is unlimited.
When our faith is connected with God’s infinite power
There is nothing God can’t do through us.
All things are possible by God
When working through willing disciples of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ response his disciples petition is quite familiar;
Familiar much more so to us from Matthew and Mark
Where “mountain” is substituted for “mulberry tree.”
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
You could move a mighty mountain.”
– Paraphrased from Matthew 17:20 and Mark 11:23
Mulberry tree or Mountain,
… Six and one-half dozen the other …
Both employ apparently impossible tasks at the time of Jesus.
Yes, the top of a mountain could be leveled and a temple built on top of it;
But move a whole mountain?
Whoa! I don’t think so;
Not in an era before shovels, earth movers, dynamite and pan dump trucks.
Likewise, it would have been quite impossible
For a mulberry tree,
A middle-eastern blackberry tree with an extensive root system
Which thrives in the desert,
To be transplanted from its original growing place
And be replanted in, or near, the sea.
It would be quite the impossible task!
From the original Greek,
Our Lord’s words,
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,”
Implies or assumes an existing level of faith.
Specifically, Jesus isn’t questioning
Whether or not his disciples had any faith,
He was simply saying,
“If the faith you already have is equal to, or bigger than,
The size of a mustard seed …”
Friends, a mustard seed is the very smallest of seeds,
Nearly microscopic in size.
When looking at the tiny mustard seed
And comparing it to the decision to leave life and family behind,
To lay down their nets to come and follow Jesus,
Every one of his disciples would have thought,
“Well, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”
Today, when considering the tiny mustard seed
And comparing it to the decision to roll out of bed
And to come to worship on a Sunday morning,
Every one of us can also proclaim,
“Why, yes. I do have at least THAT amount of faith!”
If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,
It is sufficient to do the impossible.
You heard me right.
The faith you have
Gives you the potential
To do the impossible.
Faith in Jesus Christ connects us to the power of God.
It taps us into the Almighty,
The Creator of the universe.
The faith you already have
Connects you directly into the power of God,
Enabling that power
To be put to use for God’s useful means.
Faith grows when we take God at his word.
God has been tugging at you all your life.
God has been whispering in your ear all your life.
God has been speaking to your conscience all your life.
It is God’s initiative,
That brought you forward to the baptismal font
And cleansed you with
Your baptismal waters
And the blood of the cross.
It is God’s prompting you,
Longing for you to step forward again,
To partner with our Creator in this great endeavor,
To follow his lead and to expand his kingdom
On earth as it is in heaven.
So, what are the implications of this passage for our church today?
Let’s take them one-by-one.
1. It is normal and natural to find the demands of life
Seemingly too great for the faith we’ve been given.
God’s vision is far greater than ours.
We get so focused on the here and now
That we are blinded to the possibilities of what God is creating.
We see our life and our church as small, as limited, and vulnerable.
This is based upon our past and present.
But this may not be the future reality to which God is calling us.
Be of good courage!
Where ever God is leading, let us follow,
Knowing in the depth of our bones
That God has given us all that is necessary for this journey.
The church of tomorrow
Will be what God wants it to be.
2. The faith we already have is more than adequate.
The particulars of doctrine don’t matter to God;
What matters to God is that
“we live by faith, not by sight.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:7
The fact that you are here right now,
In front of this altar gilded by the cross,
Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses,
Tells me that though
None of us have seen Jesus,
Each of us live with Christ living in us
( - Galatians 2:20)
And the breath of his Spirit filling our lungs.
That’s all you need.
Your faith is more than adequate.
Stop complaining and making excuses.
Move this church forward
And bring it into the fullness of all that God wants us to be.
3. Our faith taps us into the unlimited power of God.
“With God all things are possible.”
- Matthew 19:26 and Mark 10:27
Jesus is claiming,
The God who created all there is,
All there ever has been,
And all there ever shall be,
Is a God of infinite power and ability.
Faith is like hooking in a power cable into God.
God’s will is going to become the future’s reality for this congregation
Whether we like it or not,
Whether we cooperate or not.
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
- Luke 11:2
Grow this church two fold in the next year?
Of course this is possible.
If this is God’s will, our faith can make this happen.
Though the opposite may be true,
It is important to recognize that
God is in the expansion business!
Faithfulness is to be able to simply pray,
“Use me, O Lord, …
Use this church, O Lord …
That Thy will may be done.”
4. If faith is even teeny-tiny in size,
It is sufficient to do the seemingly impossible.
Friends, you’ve got this!
God’s future for us is not dependent
On how smart we are,
How creative we are,
Or how much money we have.
We’re tapped into the greatest power in the cosmos,
And through this power
All things are possible through Christ who loves us.
We’ve got this, if we want this
And if we are willing to be faithful.
5. Lastly, Faith grows when we take God at his word.
Disciples of Jesus need to stop obsessing about a lot of things:
Church growth, church politics, and, most importantly, about faith.
Let it go.
Let it be.
With Christ by our side,
There is no reason to be anxious about the future.
Stop trying to quantify faith.
Faith will take care of itself,
Just so long as we continually attempt to seek God’s will
And follow God’s ways.
Doing so, normally, naturally, grows faith.
Instead of petitioning Jesus to increase our faith,
Perhaps we should spend more time asking our Heavenly Father
What he would have us to do
And spend more time getting it done!
Because of God love
The reality of God’s tomorrow is more wonderful than you or I can imagine.
In the meantime,
Take heart in the faith that you have been given.
Know that your faith is sufficient,
Because it connects us,
It binds us together with God,
Tapping us into God’s unlimited power.
Together, we can complete God’s will.
Together, we can do anything.