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!’”
When you think of the word “faith”, what thoughts or images come to mine? How does one “increase” faith?
A simple definition of faith is as follows:
strong belief or trust in someone or something
belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs a system of religious beliefs
The apostles are asking Jesus to give them faith, but Jesus is turning it around, as he often does, saying essentially that they have faith already…but, that it’s not rooted in a belief system, but in something much more. It’s rooted in trust and commitment. In other words, we don’t have proof that Jesus is the son of God, or that Jesus is represents all of humanity. Yet, we commit to God that we don’t have all of the answers, that God is a mystery, and that this God indwelled in Jesus and this Jesus embodied what it means to be human, and was human…and, somehow, this Jesus, after being killed and rising from the dead, encompasses all of humanity. This commitment leads to trust in the flow of God’s presence in and around us, and in others…causing our faith to increase.
Jesus’s disciples simply need to start with a small kernel of faith, a mustard seed, an inkling of an idea of God’s experience with us. I’m not a gardener, but I know quite a few of them…they will tell you that even the tiniest seeds can grow into something huge.
Jesus is telling his disciples that if you can start with even a small amount of faith, you can see amazing things happen, things that we could hardly imagine happening in our lives.
Allowing that faith to grow, nurturing it with encouragement, grace, humility, love, and even obedience and accountability in community with others are the gardeners tools to cultivate a mature faith over time.
But, again, that seed needs to be planted with commitment, curiosity, and knowing that God believes in us…if God believes in us, then we can begin to believe in this God I’d imagine.
The second part of our story talks about a slave and their master. This is not a commen- tary on slavery, nor is it accepting it. It’s just using something that was common in the 1st century as an illustration. And, it wasn’t the type of slavery that we had in America, this was more of a relationship type of thing. It was still wrong, any time you feel like you can own someone is wrong, or put a barrier to equitable relationship. The writer of this passage is saying that masters and slaves have a type of relationship that is respon- sive…and that we should be responsive to God.
We also have to remember, especially in this day and time, that scripture is on a trajectory towards equality and inclusion. The writers 2000 years ago are attempting to articulate a beauty of relationship, of awareness, and even progressive cultural attitudes using the context that they live.
In our time and day, we have to follow that trajectory of scripture towards radically inclu- sive relational love bound in community with one another. We also have to be willing to speak out against racism, sexism…and sorts of “isms” as we work towards be reconciling and prophetic voices…not only within our communities, which is where it starts, but to those who want to be in leadership roles in our country and world.
God wants us to live in deep faith, the deep faith that God demonstrates to us and shows us. Fear and anxiety can be detriments to that faith.
Henri Nouwen says this:
Once there was a group of people who surveyed the resources of the world and said to each other: “How can we be sure that we have enough in hard times? We want to survive whatever happens. Let us start collecting food and knowledge so that we are safe and secure when a crisis occurs.” So they started hoarding, so much and so eagerly that oth- er people protested and said: “You have much more than you need, while we don’t have enough to survive. Give us part of your wealth!” But the fearful hoarders said: “No, no, we need to keep this in case of an emergency, in case things go bad for us too, in case our lives are threatened.” But the others said: “We are dying now; please give us food and materials and knowledge to survive. We can’t wait, we need it now!” Then the fearful hoarders became even more fearful, since they became afraid that the poor and hungry would attack them. So they said to one another: “Let us build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it from us.” They started erecting walls so high that they could not even see anymore whether there were enemies outside the walls or not! As their fear increased they told each other: “Our enemies have become so numerous that they may be able to tear down our walls. Our walls are not strong enough to keep them away. We need to put explosives and barbed wire on top of the walls so that nobody will dare to even come close to us.” But instead of feeling safe and secure behind their armed walls they found themselves trapped in the prison they had built with their own fear.
Faith allows us to overcome fear…even a small amount of faith, but as we take risks be- cause of God’s faith in us and our faith in God, we will find that we can overcome fear, have imagination, and change the world as we build bridges with one another, not walls.
Friends, I’m not sure where you are today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for our church…but, I do know that it is a great future if we want to work towards it. And I know from working with churches and faith communities across the world, and even in our own church, that we often live in a place of anxiety over what we don’t have. We live in scarcity. Yet, faith with imagination can move us towards a place of abundance. When we look around, we can see the richness of friendship, of relationship, we can see that we live in a place filled with potential for listening and deepening a sense of community. We can have faith that is mysterious and keeps us curious and moves us towards the blessing of connecting with others in a nonjudgmental, non transactional way…a way of true love the is transformational…that can cause us to see church in a new way…not in who’s not here or here on a Sunday morning, but in ways that we can bless our neighborhood…and in so doing, change the world! God’s faith in us gives us courage to do just that…may it be so!