Sermon Pentecost 20
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Context is important in a conversation, isn’t it? You hear something out of context and it takes on a whole different meaning.
For example, when we lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dave and I were walking through KMart one evening. I said, “Hey, I forgot to tell you – I bought a big screen TV just like that one today.” Another couple was walking past us and over heard me. The husband said to the wife, “Let’s stay close to them, I want to see what he has to say to that.”
Context is everything. Dave knew I had been looking for one for the Sunday School and the church had paid for it. He said something like, “That’s nice dear.”
Today the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Actually, if you look, there is an exclamation point at the end of the sentence. It isn’t just a polite request, “Increase our faith, please Lord.” It is almost a demand, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!”
Context matters. It isn’t just a random request. Here’s what came before:
Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!
It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.
Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.
And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent,’ you must forgive.”
No wonder they thought they needed more faith! “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!”
That’s scary news. But we know it is certainly true. We all have had our times of stumbling. We all know we can feel weak in our faith. We hope we are never the one who causes someone else to stumble out of the faith.
We proclaim the faith that Christ died on the cross to save us. We all hope our lives reflect that faith.
Life gets difficult sometimes. Two of our saints have died this week. Jane was so young. Don had just been given a clean bill of health.
These are times when we can’t help but wonder why things happen as they do. We wonder where God is, in the midst of the things we don’t begin to understand. We too, pray for more faith. We understand why the disciples sounded desperate in their request. It really was a cry of, “Help us, Lord!”
Jesus replies by telling them a story. Jesus reminds me of a grandparent sometimes. He doesn’t just say, “OK, I grant your request. You now have all the faith you will ever need.” He says, “Let me just tell you a story about faith.”
Mustard seeds are not very big. That is part of the point Jesus is making here. The disciples think you can measure the size of faith. I know I wouldn’t try to measure faith or anything else by comparing it to the size of a seed. Maybe farmers do that though. Bigger than a corn kernel, smaller than a soybean?
Maybe I would measure faith by weight – Less than an ounce, more than a ton. Or by volume – Less than a teaspoon, more than a gallon.
Jesus is trying to tell them that, once again, they just don’t get it. Everyone is given faith. We all just have to use it. Faith isn’t something you measure. A bushel isn’t better than a handful.
Faith is like a muscle. You just have to keep exercising it, keep using it and it will get stronger.
We can feel overwhelmed like the disciples in the story. After all, we don’t want to stumble. We certainly don’t want to make someone else stumble. We want to be good Christians.
We want to be able to forgive others even when they sin against us seven times in the same day. Because sometimes people really do sin against us seven times a day. Forgiveness gets really hard.
Jesus tells the disciples that we are like the slave in the story. To exercise our faith muscle, we just need to keep doing our jobs. God is not asking us to do anything heroic to prove we have faith. We don’t really have to tell the mulberry bush to uproot itself from the land and go root itself in the sea. We don’t have to do miracles.
Faith is really about just doing your job. Not because you will be rewarded or receive any special honor or get a medal for it, but do it because it is work that needs to be done.
Faith is pretty ordinary. It really doesn’t take special faith to be a faithful Christian. We just need to do the things we are supposed to do. The everyday, ordinary things that we are supposed to do.
Many people think that just going to church and being a good person is pretty much what it takes to be a Christian. But being a follower of Jesus Christ is much more than that. Faith is part of our every day life, not just an hour on Saturday or Sunday.
Being a good friend to someone who needs you – is an act of faith. Working at your job to keep food on the table is an act of faith. Making a salad or dessert for a funeral lunch is an act of faith. Whenever you are doing what God calls you to do, you are exercising your faith muscles.
When we pay our taxes and vote for people who will spend those taxes well, we are exercising our faith muscles. When we help a child with homework, we are exercising our faith muscles. When we care for anyone in need we are exercising our faith muscles.
Imagine for a moment all the good things you have done this week. Think about everything you have done this week as an employer, an employee, a student, a parent, a grandparent, a citizen, a volunteer, a friend.
Now, add your list up with everything that everyone else in this congregation has done. That is a mountain of good works.
Now, imagine what the week would have looked like if none of those things had gotten done. If we subtract all of them from existence, the world, or at least this part of it would be a sadder place.
Now, imagine next week. Think of all the things you have to do. All the ordinary things you do next week and every week. God is using you and all those ordinary things you do. God is using them to care for the world that God so loves.
God is using your ordinary life, your ordinary faith, to do amazing things. It is all the ordinary stuff we do that adds up over time that is blessed by God and becomes extraordinary.
But faith isn’t just a muscle that we exercise. Faith is an adventure. Faith is walking out the door every day wondering what God has in store for us today. Faith is looking toward the future with the hope that God will use our ordinary works and ordinary gifts to meet the daily challenges of our lives.
Whether the challenge is a problem to solve or someone to forgive, faith is the adventure of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Faith gives us the chance to witness God’s presence and goodness in the world.
You have enough faith. Just use it. Amen.