Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just A Grain of Faith

Luke 17:5-10
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 17:6 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. 17:7 "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'? 17:8 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'? 17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 17:10 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!'"
(A draft of tomorrow's sermon.)
Fresh tomato, Rotten tomato:
(ripe) “Would you say this fruit is worth having?”
(rotten) What about this one?

We decide value or worth based on what use we can make of the fruit. A rotten tomato is good only for the compost pile. Yet at one time, this tomato was ripe and full of potential. It grew as God intended and developed fully, I just wasn’t around to see it then.
Is the tomato worthless? Even tho it grew as intended just because I wasn’t there to see it or eat it?

I think only God can judge the value of the fruit, knowing that it reached its full potential and it grew just as it should. Once again we find that human perspective falls short of God’s view of value and worth.

In today’s story we might wonder what caused the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith? Were they feeling worthless? Their question comes right after Jesus warns them not to lead anyone astray. “Occassions for stumbling are bound to come, (he said) 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. . .(and Jesus told them they must forgive,) “even if the same person sins against them seven times a day and turns back to say, “I repent,” you must forgive.” (Luke 17:1-4)

? What must the disciples have been feeling after IMAGINING a huge stone (millstone) tied around their neck and be thrown into the sea. ?
? What must the disciples have been feeling after being told to forgive and to forgive again?

I suppose they were feeling “worthless” enough that they asked Jesus to “Increase our faith, Lord”.
It is easy to feel ‘worthless’
It is easy to feel ‘worthless’. You know the feeling, don’t you?
that feeling when it seems like you can do nothing right,
the feeling that you will never measure up to God’s expectations
the feeling that you aren’t worthy of church leadership, or even mentoring another Christian
the feeling that Christ “died for your sins” individually and that somehow YOU ALONE were the sole reason for his arrest, crucifixion, and death.

Some branches of Christianity seem to revel in pushing that kind of guilt on their members and it spills over into a generic understanding of Christianity. Seldom do we take the time to examine how the beliefs of early Brethren or even later Brethren theologians viewed Christ’s death or our own sense of guilt related to it. So then how ARE we to feel about our worth as children of God?
Are we merely slaves, required to do what is expected of us? As it says at the end of the text?

“Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 17:10 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!'"

Is this how Jesus meant us to feel?

Although there is a sense that as Christians we can’t expect to be thanked for each gracious thing we do. Following the behaviors Jesus’ set out in his interpretation of God’s law that says, “1st love God, with ALL you’ve got, then love your neighbor as yourself.” Means this is just the way we should live and we CAN’T and SHOULDN”T expect to be THANKED for it.

But we needn’t feel that we are worthless either. Remember we don’t have the same sense of being accustomed to the behavior of slaves and ‘thanks be to God’ for that! God’s view of our value, our worth, is different than a human perspective.

I think the beginning of today’s scripture tells us more about how we feel. We just need some help from the Lord. Even if it is just a little.
A mustard seed is not very big. (pull out the seeds) Describe mustard seed and indicated packets in pews where each person may have a seed.
When Jesus spoke of this particular seed he knew his listeners would know how small a single seed is.

Jesus says that even this very small amount of faith is enough to do great things. Is that as crazy as saying a spoiled fruit is as worthy in God’s eye as the fresh one?
Perhaps we need a different perspective on value.

Fruit is delicious when it is ripe. We all love a ripe tomato, a ripe orange, or a perfect apple – and the bigger the better!

It’s why so many still life paintings are of fruit. A big, ripe piece of fruit can make your mouth water.

Surprisingly, fruit and vegetables can still have worth even when they are shriveled and small. When a pepper gets dried like this one, it is still useful for putting in a big pot of chili and spicing it up.
And, When a fruit is left on the vine beyond its ripening point, its seeds develop fully allowing it to be the bearer of future potential.
Certain Seeds can even be food in themselves. In fact these mustard seeds can be used to make some very sweet BREAD & BUTTER pickles, even as tiny as they are.

If we look at the great potential built into the cycle of life, we find that we cannot determine value or worth merely by the looks we prefer or the stage of life most appealing to us. (HOLD UP ripe fruit.)

Mustard seed faith is not only small faith, it is faith in God and in God’s great cycle of life.
Mustard seed faith is trusting that what we CAN do, however small it seems, will fit into a larger plan.
Mustard seed faith takes the contingency of belief from being centered in our ability and puts it back where it belongs, on God’s plate.

Mustard Seed faith is the beginning of faith.
It allows us to take however much we can believe, whatever little thing we can do and make it enough because of who Christ is and what he has done.

How often have you read a scripture verse about having faith in Christ, and wondered if your faith was big enough? You see we tend to translate these passages as contingent on our ability to believe and when we face part of life where our faith seems very small, or even gone, we think “oh how unworthy I am” but if we read as far as the footnotes, we see that our translation needs adjusting according to the mustard seed principle.
…because of Christ’s faith… means that whatever we face isn’t dependent on the amount of faith WE have, but is only dependent on the amount of faith Christ had.

Therefore we hear Christ’s words, ‘if you have faith, if you only have faith the size of a mustard seed’ well then you can tell a plant, a tree, to pick up and move into the sea. Even a miracle of this size is not impossible to us, because what we lack, Christ has. This is God’s perspective on our worth -
Our faith; our mustard seed-size- faith - is enough.

And we are reminded of this when we lift up a very small piece of bread and recall “the life that was lived and broken for us”.

We are reminded when we pick up the smallest of cups and hear the words, “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood, drink it in remembrance of me”

These small symbols are big enough to remind us of Christ’s faith.

This mustard seed is big enough to remind us that we are enough, - worthy enough, to sit a Christ’s table, and to take on the work he left us.

1 comment:

Mompriest said...

Amen. I love the image you offer of ripe/over-ripe fruit and the cycle of life, and tying that into the mustard seed.