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!’ ”
The opening line of our gospel for today comes as a strange and unexpected demand from the disciples. The disciples say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Well….why?! Why do the disciples want Jesus to increase their faith? And is faith even something that increases and decreases? Can you have a big faith one day and a small faith the next day? Does faith work like that? It begs the question: what is faith? Is faith something that exists in your brain? Is it just a set of phrases you believe, like the Apostle’s Creed? Or is faith something different than that? And when the disciples seemingly demand that Jesus increase their faith, is this just a shallow and selfish request? Give us more, Jesus. Give us more.
We have to remember that Scripture is always placed in a context. It is always located in a story, where there is always a background or a setting. And for some reason the verses at the beginning of this chapter have been left out of today’s reading. And I don’t know why, because I think they are crucial for understanding why the disciples asked to have their faith increased. Listen to a few verses just before our reading:
Jesus says to his disciples, “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.”
Just before our reading for today, Jesus has just told his disciples that if someone has wronged them, they must forgive them. And even if they have wronged them over and over and over again, 7 times a day, they still must forgive them.
I’m willing to bet that must of us can think of someone in our life who has done something where it is really hard to forgive. And maybe they are a person who has hurt us or let us down over and over and over again…
No wonder the disciples are asking for more faith. Jesus has just set the bar for discipleship pretty high and they don’t know if they can do it. And so notice, they aren’t asking for more knowledge about faith. They aren’t asking for more info about God or Scripture. They are asking for courage. For trust. Courage to do the hard thing. To forgive the person who is hard to forgive. And to trust that there is something divine, holy, and sacred that exists within forgiveness that is underserved. And that can be really hard sometimes, right?
Jesus is setting the bar really high for what is means to be a disciple. And the disciples aren’t sure they can do it. Which is good news for those of us who aren’t sure we can do it either. We are in good company when we fail to do what Jesus asks of us. So the disciples, when they ask Jesus to increase their faith, they aren’t asking for something to believe or something to know. Their asking for something to do. And the courage and the trust to do it. Like forgiving that person who keeps screwing up over and over again.
And then Jesus does this interesting thing. He tells them that the faith they have is already enough. He is saying, “Look if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which is very, very small), you can tell a mulberry tree to go jump in a lake and it will obey you.” Now, Jesus is being playful here, I think. He’s being a little sarcastic. I don’t think he is saying you can literally move trees with your faith. If any of you try to start moving Mulberry trees with your faith, I’m afraid you will be sorely disappointed. But he’s saying that even the smallest amount of faith can do amazing things. Hard things. Seemingly impossible things. Therefore, whatever faith you have is enough.
But then right after that, Jesus tells this strange story about a slave. And it can be difficult to hear this parable with our 21st Century ears, where we know the atrocities and inhumanity of having and owning slaves from our own country’s history. While we reject the Bible’s view on slavery, we can still get Jesus’ point. Jesus says that being faithful, doing acts of faith, is sometimes just as simple and ordinary as doing your job. Doing your part. Like a servant serving its master, sometimes being faithful is nothing heroic or newsworthy, but rather sometimes being faithful to the work of God can be doing what you’ve been asked to do. Just doing your job with what you got. Because it needs to be done.
How often do you think of the ordinary things you do each and everyday as being part of God’s work? Have you considered that the regular things you do each day – like going to work or school, paying taxes, going to sports practice, putting dinner on the table – just might be what God needs you to do that day for the sake of a better world?
A couple of weeks ago, I took a tour of Viracon with Steven Thompson. And as he was showing me around, I kept seeing all of these pictures of all of these beautifully tall buildings that looked like they were made entirely out of glass. And I realized something – if someone here doesn’t do their job very well, if a window isn’t made right, or fitted correctly, someone could be seriously hurt. And how often do the workers at Viracon go to work knowing that the work they do is important to someone else’s well-being hundreds of miles away.
Imagine the good and ordinary things you did last week. And now, imagine if you hadn’t done any of those things last week. What if you didn’t help your friend with homework. What if you didn’t make lunch for your daycare kids. What if you didn’t go to work. What if you didn’t sing your child to sleep. What if you didn’t wish that person a happy birthday on facebook. What if you didn’t feed the cows. What if you didn’t tip your waitress at Olivia’s. What if you didn’t show love to your students at the alternative school.
If none of these ordinary, everyday things that we do happen, the world would be a darker place. But because you have done them, because God has put you in a place to do them, the world is better because of it.
Many of you have heard of Mother Teresa, that Roman Catholic nun so well-known for her work with those in severe poverty. In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered, “Go home and love your family.” Sometimes it just ordinary things that God is calling us to. Go home and love your family.
A couple of weeks ago, our very own Brenna Nelson told her parents something very important. She said that everyday she is thankful that her parents took her to church week after week. Here’s the thing, some of Brenna’s friend at college think that church is a waste of time. Who believes that crazy stuff about God and Jesus anyways, they say. But whenever her friends start saying things like that, she isn’t shy about telling them why she is so thankful her parents took her to church. She says that church for her isn’t about what you believe – it’s not about how much faith you have, it’s not about the head knowledge you carry with you. But rather that for her, at church she has a community of people that she knows loves her and cares for her and prays for her. And because of that care she received here at church, she is more willing to go out and help other people in whatever community she is in. Faith isn’t about what knowledge you have in your head. Or what statements in the creed you believe. Sometimes faith is just about showing up and getting the work done. Making sure people know they are loved and cared for. Who knows – maybe just by you showing up here today, maybe you’ve helped someone else here feel like they are part of a community that loves and cares and prays for them.
Sometimes we think we need more faith, a better faith to do anything that is of God or to do anything that God would be proud of. And today, Jesus tells us this good news: the faith you have today is enough. Now go and do the work you’ve been called to do. AMEN