October 3, 2010

Sermon for Proper 22C - Mustard Seed Faith

Epic fail this week - forgot to hit record on the digital recorder. Here's the text.

Have you ever asked God to increase your faith? Or maybe to give you more patience? Or perhaps you needed the power to forgive. We've all done it. I once heard a friend of mine say, “If it is true that God won't give me more than I can handle, I wish he wouldn't think so highly of me.” We've all reached the point where everything we've got seems like it isn't enough, and yet the seconds keep ticking, the minutes pass by, and life continues to come down the pike. Increase my faith is about all we can manage to say.
Jesus' disciples have reached that point by Luke's 17th chapter. The journey to Jerusalem is nearing its inevitable conclusion, and they are expecting a battle with Rome to begin at any time. They've heard Jesus continuously teach things that made possible disciples turn away. They've noticed the ranks of strong men thinning, while the number of faithful women, former cripples, and once-crazy beggars seems to be increasing exponentially. The march to Jerusalem for war is getting scarier as the expectations for discipleship get more and more difficult.
On three different occasions, Jesus turned away perfectly viable candidates for no good reason at all. There was that ill advised speech about foxes having holes and birds having nests, but the Son of Man having no where to lay his head. One guy wanted to bury his father. Another just wanted to run and say “goodbye” to his family and he got “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” in return. Later on, Jesus told the whole huge crowd that was following him about how costly (like building a huge tower) and how risky (like going to war) being his disciple would be. And then, if that weren't enough, he rounded out the thinning of the herd with that line that the disciples must repeat under their collective breath over and over again, “you can't be my disciple unless you give up everything you have - you can't be my disciple unless you give up everything you have - you can't be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.”
As if that wasn't enough, recently Jesus has spent most of his time making the Pharisees and Scribes uncomfortable and angry. Now, when it is just him and the twelve, he tells them that sin is impossible to get away from; people will lay before you temptation over and over again. And though life is bad for that person, if they come to you for forgiveness, you have to forgive them. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Seven times. The perfect number seven. So really, Jesus just said forgive your brother or sister every time they screw up and return to you seeking forgiveness.
THAT'S IT! The disciples have had enough. In the words of Popeye, “they've stands all they can stand and they can't stands no more.” And so they plead with Jesus, seemingly in unison, “Increase our faith!” They know that they don't have enough. They can't do this on their own. They can't walk into Jerusalem ready to overthrow the Romans and their co-conspirators the Temple Authorities by themselves. So “give us more” is their cry.
Jesus, knowing full well that the disciples are stressed and worried, does relatively little to sooth their fears. “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,” he replies. And in doing so, Jesus does very little ally the fears and stresses and frustrations that we bring to the table as well. I don't know about you, but that seems to always be the case with me. I cry out, “give me more faith” and there is never a miraculous out-pouring of magical faith pixy dust. Instead, I get something like: “Trust me.” Or, “have no fear.” Or, “it'll be all right.” Which is fine and good, but it isn't at all what I asked for.
The more I think about it, though, the less I want God to increase my faith. Of the one to whom more is given, more is expected. If my faith were the size of a mustard seed, I'd be moving mountains and telling mulberry trees to uproot and plant in the sea. I think I'll pass. Instead, I find myself being thankful for the little faith I do have. And isn't that really what Jesus is saying here, “you've got enough, any more and the world we start to look very very different. Frighteningly so.”
Nobody needs enough faith to move mountains and trees. It would make a great movie though, imagine what would happen if that kind of faith ended up in the wrong hands? But in the real world, more faith is not required because faith isn't magic pixy dust or the strength to persevere or the power to believe in something that is patently false or actually impossible. What Indiana Jones does in stepping out on the invisible bridge is not faith, it is stupidity. Faith is about a relationship.
And as a relationship, faith is based on trust, and as much as we humans like to think trust is something you can have more or less of, when it comes down to it, trust and faith are things that you either have or you don't. Faith isn't believing in Jesus, but rather believing Jesus, trusting Jesus, giving your heart to Jesus, having a relationship with Jesus. There is no more or less, there is only being in or out of relationship.
As grown-ups we have a hard time understanding this because we've learned to see the world in gradations. We have a little money, some money, enough money, lots of money, more money than sense – the ways to break down the area between having and not having are endless, but I think in our growing up, we've lost a little bit of what Jesus is trying to teach us. Remember his whole, “unless you become like a child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” bit?
Cassie and I enjoy ice cream. We've been frequent fliers at at least one decent ice cream shop everywhere we've ever lived. Recently we found the joy that is the Bama Creamery; homemade ice cream, marble slab mix-ins, num yummy! Anyway, we try to make it a once-a-paycheck treat for the whole family to go out for ice cream. I get chocolate with peanut butter cup. Cass get's chocolate with strawberry's and hot fudge. And Eliza gets a cup of vanilla. If you look at our ice cream in the beginning it is clear that Cass and I have a lot of ice cream and Eliza has a little. But in Eliza's eyes, she either has ice cream or she doesn't. She cane either have “more” or it is “all gone.” The in between stuff doesn't matter to her.
It takes child-like eyes to see what Jesus is saying here. You've either got faith or its “all gone.” And if you have faith, if you are in that relationship, then you have enough to do whatever it is you need because nobody needs to tell a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea.
If you have that relationship, if you have turned your heart over to Jesus, if you trust in him, then you've got all the faith you'll ever need. There are times, of course, when that is really hard to believe; times when the weight of stress or illness or sadness feels like it has crushed your faith. In those time, then it is important to remember that we don't walk this journey of faith alone.
Let's assume for a minute that none of us has faith the size of one mustard seed. Maybe instead our faith is half a mustard seed. So if two gather together in faith, then you have one mustard seed of faith. One mustard seed could move a mulberry tree. Imagine what four people of faith gathered together could do. Or six. Or ten. Or seventy-five. Or two-hundred. Think of the power that comes in the community of faith. Ten or fifteen people working together for a couple of days raised hundreds of dollars for the Hope for Children Mission in Port Au Prince just this weekend.
Faith is not something that you can cultivate and grow within yourself. You've either got it or you don't. If you've got it, then rest assured you've got enough to carry you through. But faith was not given to live in isolation. Faith is perfected in community; faith is most powerful when living alongside the faith of another.
So this weekend, I'm doing an experiment. I want to see how many mountains, mulberry trees, and various other things the family and friends of St. Paul's Foley can accomplish by the grace of God's gift of faith. Take a mustard seed and hold onto it. Realize just how small it is. Realize how much can be accomplished with just that seed, and then think about how much we can accomplish when we combine our mustard seeds one with another. Try not to lose it for the next twenty minutes. And then, as you come forward to communion, bring your mustard seed up front and place it in with those from five15 (and 7:30) and give thanks to God for the power of faith multiplied and perfected in the communion of the body of Christ. Amen.

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