5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “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. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”
I bring you greetings from the new lakefront property in Colorado; from my own congregation—Lutheran Church of the Master of Lakewood, CO; and from your full communion denominational partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I am so pleased to be here with you this morning. Thank you for letting me be part of your life and your ministry this weekend. A bunch of us were here yesterday and had a great time in conversation around this amazing congregation and your ministry in the world. I’m grateful to you for your boldness, your partnership, and your faith.
Which happens to be the point of this gospel text in Luke. For those of you who’ve been here the last several weeks as we’ve journeyed through Luke’s gospel, Jesus seems to be a little bit cranky, demanding, impatient. We’ve lately just taken to calling him “Grumpy Jesus.” In recent weeks he’s told us that if we’re really his disciples we will hate our families, carry a cross, get serious about what it will cost, and we have to give up all our possessions.
I can’t blame the disciples for asking him to increase their faith! Frankly, I’m amazed they’re still hanging with him. But, in grumpy Jesus style, he doesn’t try to soothe their anxiety or assure them, he seems to just twist the knife a little bit more. They are trying, they ask him to increase their faith so they can do the crazy stuff he’s demanding, and his response is to tell them that if they had faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed they could tell a big old mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea.
Thanks, Jesus. Apparently we don’t even have that small amount of faith. Even though we’re asking you for it, you just keep telling us how inadequate we are.
I don’t know about you, but I’m with the disciples here. I know I’m not the greatest disciple. I see homeless people at intersections holding cardboard signs asking for food and ignore them. I have time to volunteer at our local food pantry but don’t do it that often. I sometimes hold grudges longer than I should. I’m not the most ardent pray-er. When our 15 year old Bassett Hound would have to go out in the middle of the night, I’d accidentally nudge my wife awake while pretending I was still asleep, hoping she’d get up and do it.
But c’mon, Jesus, I’m trying. And if I need a little help, you gotta do better than slamming me for my lack of faith which I already know is less than perfect.
But here’s the thing about faith. Like pretty much everything else, we make it about us. We think of faith as a possession, a commodity, something we can work up and bolster in order to do more spiritual things. I don’t think we trust God, I think we trust our faith in God. That’s different.
A friend told me a story that makes sense of this for me. During a flood, a mother and her little boy were soon to be trapped by the rising river. The mother knew they had to get across the river now if they were to have a chance of surviving. So she said to her son, “Hold on to my hand while we go across.” The little boy answered, “No, mommy. You hold onto my hand.”
That’s the difference. We tend to think of faith as holding onto God’s hand. As long as we have the strength to hold on, we think we’re OK. But I think Jesus is telling us here that faith isn’t proportionate to the difficulties. It’s not like the more faith we have the greater things we can do. No. It seems Jesus is saying the amount of faith doesn’t matter, because it’s not about us. It’s not trusting our ability to hold onto God, it’s about trusting that God is holding onto us. That’s different, right?
If we trust God to hold our hand, we can go across a river that is stronger than our grip. Because it isn’t our strength, it’s God’s. So even a tiny bit of faith is more than enough, because all faith needs to do is recognize we are in God’s hands. God does the rest. God takes us where we need to go, even if it’s in places we wouldn’t trust ourselves to go. You don’t have to hang on to God when you go out of this place, just recognize that God is hanging on to you.
Think of the difference that makes. Yesterday we came up with lots of different ways to live as disciples in a public way–in the world around us. Does that scare you? Sometimes the thought of that simply exhausts me. What if I goof it up? What if I get laughed at? What if I get called a Bible thumper or say something wrong? I simply don’t have enough faith to do that. And Grumpy Jesus says, It’s not about how much faith you have or what you think you can do. It’s about God holding you, never letting you go, always with you. Even if you’re crossing a rising river. Even if you’re going to work, or to school, or to your weekly Bridge Club. Even just the tiniest bit of faith, a willingness to take a risk that God’s got a grip on you, is more than enough.
Don’t worry about whether or not you have enough faith. Instead, watch what God does around you, through you, and in you. God will not let go of St. James’. And God will not let go of you. If you’re willing to even begin testing the possibility that that might be true, you have more than enough faith. Amen.