An Ordinary Faith
October 2, 2022 Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He
replied, “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.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“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 the mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.”
It would be so easy to criticize those disciples for asking for more faith. We think about how they walked alongside Jesus – watching him heal and show great compassion for all those he met. We Lutherans certainly know that faith is a gift from God. We talk about “faith alone” as something we receive from God. How dare they ask for more! To really understand this gospel lesson we need to know that prior to these verses, Jesus warned the disciples about making others stumble. Then he told them that they must forgive those who wronged them – again and again. No wonder they ask for more faith. They must have been wondering how they could live up to Jesus’ expectations.
Of course, we Lutheran Christians today may ask ourselves the same thing. How can we possibly live out our faith (and perhaps we don’t think we have enough of it either) in a world that seems to be increasingly evil and dangerous. But we don’t even need to go that far to crave more faith. I imagine at one time or another most of us have cried out for Jesus saying – “Please see me through this” – we may experience more losses than we think we can handle - such as loss of a love or loved one. Or we experience a long term illness that leaves us a different person than we once were. We too may plead for more faith to figure out what’s going on in our lives…
And so we ask…just what is faith? Faith is a kind of relational trust. It’s what connects us with God and helps us to follow Jesus. There are so many definitions crafted by scholars and theologians, and, of course, we can always look to the Augsburg Confession and Lutheran confessions for the meaning of “justification by grace through faith alone.” But what Jesus is saying to the disciples here he is saying to us 21st century Christians wanting to follow Jesus but not sure sometimes how we can deal with the challenges of each day. He is telling us that faith is trusting in God even in the midst of doubt. I can’t help but think that Jesus was being a bit sarcastic in his response to those disciples. He was saying – yes, you certainly do need faith! But he was also saying it is not about how much faith.
We sometimes divide faith up into two parts – the first being that miraculous kind of faith that we associate with Mother Theresa or St. Francis of Assisi. Incidentally, the church commemorates St. Francis on October 4th.
We have to admit that when St. Francis renounced his wealth and future inheritance and devoted himself entirely to serving the poor, that’s a powerful kind of faith. The second kind of faith is what most of us think we have – a basic trust in Jesus Christ. What Jesus is telling us in this gospel may be something a little different. The last verses in the gospel annoy us (and they should) because we don’t like the idea of slaves and masters. In the context of Jesus’ time, slaves were those totally devoted to another. In that sense, we want to be living out our faith in the deepest way possible. What Jesus is saying here is that faith in god cannot be measured. Having even faith the size of a mustard seed means having our thoughts, feelings, and actions transformed by god. We can never see faith as a power we can control or a means of justifying or rewarding ourselves.
Faith is known through life experiences. A scholar shares that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the fear that overcame him when he began receiving death threats during the Montgomery bus boycott in the mid-1950’s. One night after a particularly troubling phone call, Dr. King found himself unable to sleep and ready to quit. While offering a humble desperate prayer, he said he felt the presence of God like never before and heard words speaking to him in the depth of his soul. “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” As Dr. King notes, “The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.” (from “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.”, 508-509).
While Jesus’s responses to the disciples’ request may appear to be a little sarcastic, I believe he was telling us that through faith, we can always be assured of his love. Blessed assurance: Jesus is mine! We don’t have to have great faith. Belief in Jesus Christ is the heart of the matter. It is all
right to pray for more faith – remembering that even that mustard –seed-sized faith has power! In serving God we are to believe, Jesus says that “we have done only what we ought to have done.” (Luke 17:10) That kind of humility is reflected by former president, Jimmy Carter, who said, “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something…my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” When he celebrated his 98th birthday yesterday, he shared that he still had faith in God’s plan for his life.
Sometimes we are not so sure we are up to the task of being a good Christian. When we feel that way, we need to remember faith does not have to be heroic. I don’t have any experience with the military, but I always appreciate the stories in the news about heroes in Afghanistan or other places where people are constantly in danger. Invariably, when heroes or their families are interviewed, they say that they do not consider themselves heroes but that they were just doing their jobs – what they were called to do.
That’s the kind of faith that I think Jesus was talking about –especially in the last verses of the gospel. I remember when I graduated from Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary, I invited all those I felt had supported me through my Christian journey that took me to that day of celebration. My first pastor, Pastor Dietrich who was not physically able to be present wrote me a letter, and I will never forget what he said. He told me that I was clearly called to serve in the church. Then he said, “Always remember that serving means simply doing what needs to be done in the church. It is nothing more. It is nothing less.” In other words he was telling me to do my job and do it well.
As Jesus describes it, following him is doing your duty – not because of any sense of reward – but because it needs doing. It may be the task that is right in front of you. It doesn’t take that much faith to be faithful. One of the many things that we can do is share our faith with as many people as possible. Sometimes we use words, but in many cases our actions demonstrate our faith. In the lesson from 2nd Timothy 1:1-14, faith is described as a treasure. “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. “
Sharing that treasure – the faith given to us through Christ Jesus may be the most valuable thing we can do. It is through faith that we come to offer our time, talents, and resources. sharing may mean being a good friend, working at a job that keeps food on the table, doing whatever it takes to keep the world running, paying taxes and voting for the people who will use that tax money well – for the care of creation. God uses the most ordinary acts to care for God’s world.
In some ways, in those words in the gospel, Jesus may have been taking the pressure off. He was lifting up ordinary faithfulness and presence as a way of living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have this incredible legacy of faith. Each of us is here this morning because someone told us the story of Jesus Christ. We don’t need to wait for the right opportunity to share our faith because we know there is someone out there right now who needs to hear from a faithful follower of Jesus. It may be a relative or someone who is struggling with issues of loss or even despair. Or it may be someone who simply would like to be reminded of God’s love. We, the baptized, need to remember that our call is to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
We have so many opportunities to grow as disciples and witness to God’s presence and goodness in this world. So share this ordinary/extraordinary faith that we have been given. We will share this faith together as we receive Holy Communion this morning, and as we do that, let us remember that it is by God’s grace alone that we are truly blessed.