Sunday, October 3, 2010

Faith That’s Teensy Weensy

Faith That’s Teensy Weensy

Meditation for World Communion Sunday

© copyright 2010 Robert J. Elder, Pastor

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Luke 17:1-10

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed...

We are a society driven by consideration of the size of things aren’t we? A few years back, the Congress passed legislation mandating higher gas mileage for automobiles, and we all started buying trucks – well, SUVs is what we call them, but they are, for all practical purposes, trucks. We liked them. They’re big and roomy, and up until gasoline hit $2 and then $3 a gallon, they seemed like a pretty good idea; good, maybe, unless you ever find yourself at a stop light in a regular size car and all you can see of the vehicle behind you is the front bumper and license plate, and its headlights are lighting up your car’s interior like a Broadway production. And I’m not “casting asparagus” here without wearing some myself. I have an aging SUV which gets 21 mpg on its very best highway days, and around 12 to 14 mpg in city driving. Still, it’s my preferred sloppy weather vehicle, and it’s is old enough to have the added, and not inconsiderable benefit of being paid for.

Still, we seem to insist on believing that bigger is better. It seems we may finally be getting past the “biggie size” and “super size” fast food craze, but I have noticed that portions don’t seem to have gone down all that much at fast food joints. We don’t just like food, we like lots of food. Some of those buffet restaurants have the worst food you can imagine, but you can have all of it you want, and that seems to hold some sort of strange appeal.

Texans and Alaskans continue their debate about true bigness when it comes to the size of states, and if linemen in the National Football League get any bigger, they are going to have to start getting uniforms for them at the local Tent and Awning shops.

When Jesus admonished the disciples for their focus on the size of faith, he cautioned them that attention to size in matters of faith is misplaced. Faith doesn’t come in small, medium, large and extra large. You can’t biggie-size it. Faith is a quality of our lives, not a quantity. Sizing up faith is like trying to measure kindness or the amount of feeling we have for our children. We may use the word “great” as in, “She has great faith,” or “that was a great act of kindness,” but it would sound silly to say, “That was great big faith.” That’s because it’s an attribute, not a measurable object.

When Jesus said to the disciples “If someone sins against you seven times a day and repents seven times, you must forgive them,” they exclaimed, “Increase our faith!” Jesus responded with his little comment about the mustard seed which was meant to remind them not about proportions but about a quality of their lives which they already possessed. “If you had even tiny faith,” he said, knowing full well they already possessed faith or they would not have stayed with him through all this time, deep into his earthly ministry by the time we have read into the 17th chapter of the gospel. “If you had any faith, and I say you do, you could do unimaginable things (and you will).”

“Increase our faith!” they said. Jesus wanted them to know that that which they requested was theirs already. If you had faith enough to walk into this place this morning and offer a prayer in worship to God, you have all the faith you need to effect great things in the world and in your own life. All you have to do is trust that faith in Christ is sufficient, and it will be.

Here is the important part about measuring faith this way. In the language Luke used in this gospel, Jesus was using the word “if” in a special way. Even in our language we have two ways of saying “if,” though only one word for it. For instance, were I to say, “If I were King of England,” it’s as though I were adding “...though of course I’m not.” It is a use of the word “if” that asks you to set aside what you know to be true, to accept a false premise, in order to consider another option. “If I were you, and we both know I’m not, but if I were you, I would do such and such.” That is the first way we use “if,” when it expresses a condition that we know to be contrary to the facts.

The second way we use “if,” though, arises from just the opposite condition. This happens when we begin a statement with a conditional phrase such as, “If the Bible is worthy of study...” This expresses a condition according to fact, as though we were saying, “If the Bible is worthy of study, and it is...” It is the second type of conditional clause that Jesus used.

He said, in effect, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, (which you do), you could harvest mulberries from ocean orchards.” In others words, the disciples already had an ample supply of the very resource they were seeking. If we believe in Jesus we already have all the faith we need. Working harder at it might be commendable, but it won’t make us more worthy. How much faith is enough? The amount that brought you here today is enough to make a new person out of you and transform the world in the process.

I remember a statement attributed to Archbishop William Temple that went, “It is a great mistake to think that God is chiefly concerned with our being religious.” Faith is not a matter of spiritual exertion or athletic achievement. Dietrich Bonhoeffer testified from his prison cell that faith is the miracle of God-given trust in a trustworthy God. “Who am I?’ Bonhoeffer asked himself rhetorically. “They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”

Mustard seed faith is the faith we already have, which has all the power needed to carry us to this table where Jesus receives and blesses us and empowers us to accomplish great things in his name. Like the disciples, we ought not pray for more faith. We ought to pray for the strength to live by the faith we have already been given.

Copyright © 2010 Robert J. Elder, all rights reserved