St. George’s United Church, October 2, 2016
Sermon: “Seeds of Salvation”
Preacher: Rev. Ryan Slifka
Scripture: Luke 17:5-10
Faith faith faith… I gotta have faith…
You hear the immortal words of George Michael echoed in this morning’s passage. Jesus is holding another one of his classes. This class is for everyone. From the newbie to the master practitioner. Jesus’ apostles, the people closest to Jesus who he grants authority to, are sitting cross-legged in the circle with everyone else. “Increase our faith!” they cry. The apostles, who are probably the most spiritually mature people around. They ask Jesus—tell Jesus—to give them more faith.
Why more faith? The apostles demand more faith in response to Jesus’ demands of them. This part was left out of the reading. But in the few verses just before our passage, Jesus says this. That if a brother or a sister breaks your trust, sins against you, and then changes their mind, turns around, repents. Then forgive them. In fact, even if they sin against you seven times in one day, forgive them seven times in one day. The apostles cry out for more faith. Because what Jesus is asking them seems too difficult. Unrealistic. Maybe even impossible.
And Jesus has made plenty of demands like this before: “Love your enemies,” he said. And “Do good to those who hate you.” “Pray for those who persecute you,” he said. And “if someone smacks you in the face, turn the other cheek.” “Forgive seventy times seven,” he said. And now forgive seven times a day, seven days a week.
“Whew! Seriously? Lord, if you’re gonna get us to do that, we’re gonna need a lot more faith…”
Sometimes, Christians have spoken about faith as if it’s primarily believing the right things about God. There is a God… check. Jesus is his Son… check. Mary and Joseph were just really close friends … check. Or… that faith is about having the right feelings or experiences—that we need to feel God enter our hearts, or have that “born again” moment. Or… that faith is believing hard enough in miracles that they would come true—that if only we had enough faith, God would cure our illness, repair our relationships or get us off drugs. Faith is about us, about etting our words or our effort right. So we can get the right outcome.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Belief is important, feeling is important. And I’m sure creation is mysterious enough for things like miracles. But here, it seems to mean something different.
Instead, here, the apostles request for Jesus—“Increase our faith!” is for the strength, and the courage to follow him. Jesus pretty much instructs them to practice infinite patience, infinite mercy. Infinite love and forgiveness. So the apostles’ request is for enough faith… to be faithful. To be able to live and act more like Jesus lives and acts. For the power to be more fully human. More than we are.
It’s not so strange. Have you ever longed, and hoped for something more in life? Have you ever wondered what you’re missing? Have you ever looked at your life… all of those things about yourself, those things that you know you shouldn’t do? Those good and right things that you want to do, but somehow can’t? Or when you try, you fail miserably? I don’t mean being better at hockey, or with your investments. Or having a better memory (that’s me), or being more productive at your job. I mean stuff like letting your rage and your anger, or your inability to connect hurt your relationships. Or the people you love. I mean being so caught up in your own pain, that even if you wanted to forgive, you couldn’t quite bring yourself to do it. I mean being so cynical, so caught up with your own stuff, and your own fear and worries about the risk. That you couldn’t imagine reaching out to a friend in need. Let alone someone you don’t know.
What I’m talking about is the desire to do more, and to be more than you already are. And experience life more fully than you already do. That’s what our passage is talking about. If you know what it’s like to long for more in life. To have your heart so on fire with truth, goodness, and beauty, that other people in your life wish they were more like you. If you know what it’s like to want that, you know what it means when the apostles say to Jesus “increase our faith!” You know what it’s like to ask for enough faith… to be faithful.
Now, often in the Christian tradition, we’ve messed this up. Often, we’ve made it about doing more and making different choices in our behavior. Just try harder to follow the rule. Like “stop smoking!” Or “Forgive that person!” “Be a better father!” Or for our more conservative friends, “just stop being attracted to people of the same sex!” Or for United Church people “Do justice!” But we all know, like the apostles knew, life just doesn’t work like that. It’s easier said than done.
And Jesus knows life isn’t like that either. “If you have faith,” he says. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” A little faith can go a long way.
Now some have read this like Jesus is telling his friends that they just need to have more faith. But he’s not doing that. It’s actually an affirmation. The “if” clause that Jesus uses here expresses a condition of fact. It could better be translated, “If you have faith (and you do) as small as a mustard….” Jesus is encouraging them. He’s telling them that they already have all the faith they need to move forward. “You already have it.” He says. “You already have enough. Even if you’ve got a little pinprick of faith the size of a mustard seed—a tiny little millimeter wide seed—even a little faith like that will make all sorts of incredible things possible.”
It’s like Jesus is saying that they don’t need more faith to do what he’s asking. It’s like he’s saying that God has already planted seed this seed in you. To be more than you are, to do more than you thought possible. The faith… to be faithful.
So often we’ve talked about the Christian life as one that happens after you grow a certain amount, or have a whole lot of faith. Then life changes. But Jesus here is saying no matter where we’re at, God’s not waiting for us to get our lives together to be active in them. God’s already at work planted in us seeds of newness and transformation (prevenient grace). Each of us has the seed of faith planted within us. And it’s already enough to make a difference.
So friends… I am not going to tell you that if you follow Jesus, then instantly your life is going to get better. I’m not going to tell you that faith is going to fix all of your problems. I’m not going to say that immediately you’ll be a better parent, a more kind person, a more generous, loving and forgiving person. But what I’m saying, and what I truly believe Jesus is saying. Is that you already have enough to take the next step. You have the strength, the courage within you to be more, and to do more than you thought was possible. Not something you need to cultivate, or generate. Now God’s Holy Spirit has already planted in you enough faith to take the next step. You have enough to make a different. You have been given faith enough… to be faithful.
Because faith isn’t a matter of size. But, as small, as doubt riddled, as muddled as your might be it is still enough. It is enough to toss the trees that stand between you and fullness of life in the ocean. It’s enough to move mountains that block your view of the divine. And it’s enough to follow Jesus’ way of forgiveness. If even one tiny, little step at a time.
So today, friends: Whether you have the spiritual maturity of an apostle, or haven’t found your way on the path, yet. Have faith, even faith as small as a teeny-tiny mustard seed. Because that’s enough….
Enough strength to forgive as you’ve been forgiven.
Enough courage to love as you’ve been loved.
Enough humility, and generosity to give even as you’ve been given to.
You are free and equipped to be more fully human. You can be more than you already are. You can do more than you thought possible. You have been given everything you need—faith to be faithful. Faith enough to be who you have been created to be. And who you are in Christ.
No matter the size of your faith. May you have the courage and confidence to dare to live your life in the light of this good news. Amen.