Sermon for the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22

Text: Luke 17:5-6
The apostles said to the Lord, "Make our faith greater." The Lord answered, "If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!' and it would obey you.

Mustard seed sized faith

I don’t believe there is anyone here today who would disagree with this:  we are the people of God, people who have been made new by the blood of Christ, people who are followers of Jesus, but find it really hard to be the people God has called us to be.  Like the apostle Paul, we know what we ought to do, but we find it so hard to do (Romans 7:14-19).

We find it easy to give a multitude of reasons why a particular person doesn’t deserve understanding and kindness and our hearts can be so hard toward that person. 
We find it so easy to let unkind, thoughtless, hurtful words spill from our mouths and wound without thinking about the consequences.
We find so hard to forgive and so easy to hold grudges.  We know forgiveness and love are God’s way, but our pride gets in the way.  Just before our reading today, Jesus reemphasizes the importance of forgiveness saying that no matter how many times a person says, “I’m sorry”, we must forgive. But in reality, there is a limit to our patience and forgiving spirit.

Jesus’ disciples had been observing and listening to Jesus as they journeyed toward Jerusalem and are now nearing the end of that journey. 
They had witnessed
how he expressed his amazing love and compassion to all people;
how he spoke to them with kindness and understanding;
how he dealt with their needs with such gentleness and sympathy;
how his patience with his own blundering disciples seemed endless.  As students of their master, they must have wondered how they could ever follow his example.

When it came to faith Jesus had set the bar high. They had heard Jesus comment on the faith of others – to the men who had boldly let down their paralysed friend through the roof, to the Roman centurion with the sick servant, to the woman who dried his feet with her hair, to the woman healed when she touched the edge of his robe – Jesus made comments like “your faith has made you well” or “I have never seen such great faith before”.  On the other, when the disciples were caught in the middle of a storm, they panicked.  Jesus response: “Where is your faith?” 

The disciples felt it and no doubt you have as well.  There are times when the believer becomes confused, disheartened, feeling inadequate and not up to the task ahead, troubled by life’s events and overwhelmed by the mountain of pain, or grief, or tragedy looming ahead. We feel like the disciples in the boat with mountainous waves dwarfing what little faith we have.  

It’s no wonder we hear the disciples come to Jesus in our reading today with the request, “Make our faith greater”. “Give us a greater and stronger faith that will enable us to be better disciples, to be more like you, more loving, more forgiving, more able to stand up to the troubles that come our way.”

And what does Jesus do?
Does he lay his hands upon them and fervently pray for a double dose of the Spirit and faith?
Does he give them ‘mountain moving faith’ so that nothing will stand in their way of being like Christ or be terrified by life’s challenges?

He doesn’t do any of these – instead he says, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!' and it would obey you’” (Luke 17:5-6).
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Jesus is saying to his disciples as he holds his thumb and finger closely together that in the case of faith being the size of a mustard seed, a very small faith indeed, this is one instance where size doesn’t matter. The disciples asked for more faith – Jesus tells them they have enough faith as small and as insignificant they might think it is.

It’s true that there are those who say that the more serious the illness greater faith is required to overcome it.
The more serious the sin great faith is needed to defeat it and receive forgiveness.
In short, the bigger the obstacle, the greater the faith that is required to overcome it.  Simply, that’s having faith in great faith.

But that’s not how faith works.  Faith isn’t measured by how great our sincerity or fervour or trust might be.  Faith doesn’t do anything by itself.  It’s where we place our faith that counts, and of course, the object of our faith is God himself. 

God is the one who is working and is the one who moves mountains.  Faith requires knowing God, trusting God, relying on God and constantly getting to know God more and more through his Word and daily experiencing his power in our lives. 

Consider this.  Two people are standing at the top of a cliff.  They want to abseil over the side of the cliff and glide down a rope to the valley below. One of them has abseiled down cliffs many times and tells his friend not to worry.  Going down a cliff face like this is one of the safest things a person can ever do.  They both put on their harnesses, helmets, ropes are fixed to solid points and both stand with their back to the drop below ready lean backwards with their feet on edge of the cliff wall.  One leans back a little and can’t bare the idea of leaning so far back with just a rope holding him from certain death – and chickens out.  The other person leans back and walks down the cliff face, jumping every now and then, leaning back on the rope until he reaches the bottom.

I have three questions for you to think about.
What made it possible for the person to go all the way down the cliff? 
Of course, it was his special rope and abseiling gear. Trying this with anything less would have been disastrous.  You might be tempted to say faith got him to the bottom safely.  But if he had faith in a piece of string as he went over the edge, I don’t think his faith would have counted for much.

Faith does have a part to play here.  Which of the two had the strongest faith?
Of course, it was the person who went all the way down the cliff trusting his equipment.  His equipment was the object of his faith.  The other didn’t trust the rope or his friend.

What difference did faith make?
One was confident in the face of danger, the other remained afraid.

So, what is Jesus saying to his disciples who asked for their faith to be increased – a small faith is all that is required to do great things.  Even the smallest faith can grasp what God is doing, can do and will do in our lives;
even the smallest faith is able to recognise how God is able to make changes in our lives and the world around us.

Jesus refers to mulberry trees with their strong root systems and huge bulk, and immovable mountains – both represent seemingly impossible obstacles in our lives – things that are big, fixed, stubborn, too awesome to see beyond. The disciples would soon confront something like this when they see Jesus beaten, suffer and die on the cross.  Their faith at that moment seemed so small and insignificant and even faltering as they denied him, ran from him and hid behind locked doors.  But even in their darkest moment, Jesus, the one in whom they had faith, didn’t abandon them.

This happens to us as well.  There are times when our faith seems so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family, our self-worth, our security and abandonment by friends who don’t like our Christian values.

There are times when following God’s ways are too hard.  As the parable about the servant who does what he does because that’s what a servant does.  A servant expects no reward or praise.  He is a servant after all.

When we follow Jesus’ teaching, when we are the people of God in the world, we are doing what we are supposed to be doing even though at times it might be a very hard thing to do and we might be tempted to take an easier way.  We are God’s people in the world because that is our calling and even when we think that our faith is as small as a mustard seed, Jesus says, it is just the right amount.  God is able to do great things through us and our mustard seed sized faith – that’s how powerful mustard seed sized faith is in the hands of God.  It has been said, “Faith is not about our ability to do the job, but God’s ability to do the job through us.”

He can use our mustard seed sized faith to make a difference in the lives of others.  The love, kindness, warmth, smile, friendly word, the welcome we give to someone might be just what that person needs to lift their day.  God can use that small thing to make a big change.  Really when you think about how God can use us and our faith in him, the sky is the limit. It’s amazing to see what he can do. 

Faith is always a busy thing – seeking to grow through Word and Sacrament, and I want to emphasise faith’s need to know God and God’s ways for us through the Scriptures and worship. 
Faith is always busy finding ways to express God’s love to the people around us, helping us to rely on Jesus, his love and strength when things are tough, guiding us to make choices that follow God’s ways and help us to be better followers of the risen Saviour. This mustard seed sized faith is a powerful thing.

Once I was asked by the parents of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would have enough faith and understanding to be able to come to Holy Communion.  My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly concerned about understanding.  Their child may never be able to express in words what the Sacrament is all about.  But as far as God is concerned a faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great things in their child’s life.’  The wide smile and the outstretched hands at the altar rail expressed exactly what is meant by mustard seed sized faith.

It’s clear from Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question, “Make our faith greater” that he doesn’t need supersized faith to work through us. It’s not necessary. God is gracious.  Each day he gives us the faith we need to be his servants.  We have Christ himself in us. He won’t hold back renewing and sustaining us as that faith changes our lives, our relationships, and the lives of others.  

Praise God for the faith he has given us – even with faith as small as a mustard seed the impossible becomes possible.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

6th October 2019

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