Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
October 6, 2013
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 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.” Luke 17:5-6
More is not always necessary, or even better. If you recognize the reference in the title of this reflection then you know that more than a little dab can sometimes even be detrimental. It’s a normal human tendency to think that more of something will be better; Jesus’ disciples were no exception.
To understand deeply the context of this week’s gospel lesson, you need to up back and start reading at least from the beginning of chapter 17, but preferably a couple of chapters earlier. If you have one of those Bibles with Jesus’ words in red, you’ll notice that he’s been doing a whole lot of instructing. In fact, the words that seem to push the disciples over the edge to ask for more faith are these:
Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It 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. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And 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 asked for more faith! The pressure is on for do-it-yourself discipleship. How in the world can any one of us–then or now–make the grade? Stumbling blocks and leading folks astray unawares, disciplining the wayward, forgiving the repentant, and (gulp) not just forgiving but REALLY forgiving, even when dealing with a repeat offender. Sort of makes one want to throw up the hands and look for the line where they’re handing out rope and millstones.
But that’s exactly the point. We can’t do this on our own. It is impossible. And that’s what Jesus is trying to get his disciples (and us) to see. It is not about us at all. It’s all about God and what God can do with ordinary, fallen, fragile, broken, and wonderful bumbleheads like us. We don’t need to supersize our faith. We don’t need to feel inadequate because someone else seems like more of a saint or appears better-equipped for ministry. We don’t need to have edifice envy because the church down the street has a full parking lot every Sunday. And we don’t need to be bigger, better, rockstar Christians.
According to Jesus all we need is the faith of a mustard seed. A tiny little seed’s worth of faith is enough to produce much fruit. A little dab of faith’ll do ya; it’s enough to see you through. By the winds of the Holy Spirit God will equip, inspire, and send us to do what we’re called to do–to serve the world in the name of Christ because we have been loved, and fed, and saved by a gracious and amazing God.
So relax. Breathe. Quit fretting. Give yourself permission to mess up, because even if you do (and you will), God will be right there to get you back on your feet so you can try again. God will provide. You don’t need more faith or greater faith or bigger faith; just exercise the faith you have, no matter how paltry or pitiful it may appear to you. God is in the business of maximizing the small broken bits and pieces of ordinary, everyday faithful folk. Go into the world and share this amazingly good news!
With all that is going on in the United States and around the world, this might be a perfect Sunday to focus on the “do not fret” element of Psalm 37. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the word “fret” has its origin in words that mean “devour.” What happens to us as Christians when we allow worry and fear to “devour” us? What might we be doing to turn our fretting into faith? What if we take Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel to heart and trust that a little faith will do the job. A little faith is all we need to serve effectively. Consider weaving elements and opportunities throughout this day’s worship to proclaim aloud “We will not fret because God gives us faith sufficient.” If you are able to project images, contrast the words “fret” and “faith” with appropriate photos or graphics. Remind people that “fret” is one letter away from “fear.” Jesus spends a lot of time warning against fear, reminding us instead that we have the Spirit’s breath to guide and empower us.
The epistle reading from 2 Timothy 1:1-14 provides a rich opportunity to discuss the power of blessing, the importance of passing on the faith, and the need to nourish faith through perseverance, sound teaching, and relationship. Paul is a strong mentor for Timothy. Who are mentors for your youth? If you don’t have a mentoring program, what might it take to inaugurate one? However you choose to unpack this rich text, be sure to end with a blessing and laying on of hands–the more the better. There is power in this act of blessing and solidarity in community. Use it to equip and support your youth, even though at first they may not fully “get it,” the sincere care and love will win out.
Spicy Faith and the Power of a “Little Bit”
The disciples pray for a “super-sized” faith. They feel like they need more. But faith is a powerful thing because it comes from God and is a gift of God working in us. So we only need a little bit. Think of it like certain spices that can make or break a dish. Scripture references salt. No salt makes for a bland dish while too much can ruin things. Put salt in beans too early, and they end up hard and almost inedible. Hot sauce can give just the right kick to almost any dishes, but too much is difficult to handle. Think of various spices that require only a bit to make a dish magnificent. Bring them to show the children. I suggest hot sauce, saffron, and salt. You might even take a cheap bottle of hot sauce and make your own label for it that reads something like this: Faith Sauce: A Little Dab’ll Do Ya” … “It’s Heavenly!” Trinity Distributors LLC (Lavish Love Conspirators) Just be sure not to burn anyone with the pepper sauce!
End with this or a similar prayer: Dear God, thank you for giving us faith. We know you give us enough to season our lives with gladness, generosity, and grace. Help us to trust you and love others. In Jesus’ name. Amen