Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Today, we heard Jesus tell the disciples that even faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to tell a tree to move and plant itself in the sea. Now, that’s just a silly thing to do, but that’s not the point. You see, the disciples were worried that they didn’t have enough faith to be good followers of Jesus. They needed more. And Jesus kept telling them that God gave them enough faith to do amazing things!
So, I brought some poppy seeds—about the size of a mustard seed, maybe smaller. And I have enough to give each of you one. Now, don’t lose it! Oh my, that might be difficult. How can you make sure you don’t lose your seed? Hmmm… Well, the good news is that you can’t lose your faith. But, you might not use it very often. It’s kind of like a muscle. You won’t lose your muscle, but if you don’t use it, it gets a little weak.
So what kinds of things do you do to keep your muscles strong? And what kinds of things can you do to keep your faith strong? I’m going to give you this postcard. I’ve taped a poppy seed to each one to remind you that you don’t need something big to make a big difference. And when you get back to your seat, you can write on here three things that you can do today to put your faith to work and keep it strong and healthy.
Let’s pray. Thank you, God…for your gift of faith. Help me keep it strong…help me make it active…help me share it with others. Amen.
I think one of the most disturbing parts of the gospel passage this week is that it sounds as if Jesus is chastising the disciples for their lack of faith. This passage follows on the heels of Jesus telling them that even if another disciple sins over and over again, they are still to forgive that person—over and over. No wonder, then, that the disciples respond with the request, “Lord, increase our faith!” At least they have the wisdom to know that if they are going to do what Jesus demands, they’re going to need faith.
But Jesus says, “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.” Well, I don’t know about you, but that’s never worked for me. So, that must mean I don’t have faith even the size of a mustard seed, right? Wrong. That’s not what Jesus is saying, and our English translation is a bit off.
This conditional phrase is one built on fact. Jesus is saying, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed—and you do, trust me, it’s a gift that my Father gave you, so I know—you can do amazing and unimaginable things. You can even forgive over and over the sins of one who keeps sinning and repenting, over and over. You can plant a tree in the water and watch it grow. You can move mountains. You can. You have the power already within you.”
You see, the disciples—like us—are never sure that there is enough. We tend to operate on principles of scarcity. Take, for instance, my comment last week when I noticed how sparse our attendance was. I said, “Where is everyone?” As if those who were here were no one. I focused on what was not there instead of what was. We do this all the time! With our money, with our time, with our family, even with our faith. Like the disciples, we look to the challenges before us and pray to God, “Give me more.” Give me more strength, more courage, more love, more patience…more faith. I’m not sure I have what it takes within me to face what is coming.
But here’s the thing. If you have enough faith to ask God for faith, then you have enough. I suspect, however, that when we ask for faith, we’re really asking for something else. Maybe we’re hoping to no longer be plagued by doubts—that we can believe the unbelievable things of the Bible. Maybe we want to feel less fear, less anxiety. Maybe we want to have fewer questions. Maybe we think we should be experiencing less difficulties if we had more faith. But none of those are examples of more faith. In fact, I wonder if fear and doubt and questions and difficulties are part of the faith package. They come with the plan, whether we want them or not.
This makes sense of what Paul tells Timothy in his letter: “For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do.” And then he goes on: “But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” I know the one in whom I have put my trust. That’s the core of faith. I know Jesus. And if I know Jesus, then I know faith. If I have Jesus, then I have faith.
In his commentary on the Timothy passage, Pastor Karl Jacobsen tells of an experience he had while studying in China as a Junior in College. He lived in a dormitory with people from a variety of countries—some from America and Europe, and some from Africa, Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula. The western students were there to immerse themselves in the language and culture. The African and Arab students were sent there by their governments to learn math and science—in English. So when it came to the language, they were often left out.
America was at the cusp of the first Gulf War, and it was a tense time for an American to be studying abroad. In fact, Karl’s friend from Zambia decided to help by telling everyone that Karl was not only an American, he was a U.S. Marine. He thought that would keep him safer—that it would make him untouchable. Thanks a lot! Karl goes on…
Shortly after New Year’s, my Canadian roommate was on a trip to Beijing, and I was up late, studying for an exam. There was a knock on my door, and when I opened it, was met by one of the Muslim students from Yemen. He stood in the door in formal attire, with his jambiya at his hip. The jambiya is a ceremonial (but very functional) dagger, with a broad, curved blade of about six inches, and is worn by all Yemenis men of age. So, there he stood, knife and all.
Well, I did exactly what you would have done in that situation, at that tense time … I invited him in.
He entered, and promptly did two things—he shut the door behind him, and then reached up and pulled the wire from the two-way speaker above the door. That two-way speaker was a way for the front desk—usually manned by two old Chinese communist party members—both to contact us for any reason, and to listen in on us; which they did. Every now and then we would hear it pop on as they eavesdropped. With the wire pulled, there was no communication, one way or the other.
I didn’t know what to expect in that moment. And I didn’t really know what to do. So, I asked him how I could help him.
- He began by telling me about his family, his wife and four sons who were back in Yemen.
- He told me that he had been separated from them for more than three years as he pursued his degree in mathematics, and that he missed them.
- He had been trying, for the better part of two years, to get the university to allow them to come and live with him, with no success.
- He had come to me, hoping that I would write a letter to the president of Huadong Shifan Daxui, East China Normal University, in Chinese—because a letter in Chinese would be, he said, more respectful, and more likely to succeed.
So, I did. We spent the next couple of hours working over a letter in Chinese, asking that his family be allowed to come and join him. He gave me his words, and I did my best to put them into Chinese.
When we had finished, I gave him the letter and asked him another question, “Why did you come to me? There are others here whose Chinese is much better, who have been here longer and who would do a better job. Why me?”
And he said, “I come to you because I know that you are a Christian. And I knew a Christian would help me.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4197)
I can only imagine the fear Karl had as the student walked into his room. I can only imagine the deep sadness and fear that student must have had, as well. Paul says, “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” God gave us the gift of faith—not so that we can somehow boast that we will go to heaven but so that we can act as God’s agents here on earth. So that, no matter the circumstances, we can live in hope that the little we are able to do for one another, for earth, for the Church, for our enemies is enough to make a difference. To plant a seed. To anticipate a garden that can grow, even in the sea. To expect a mountain to move—rather slowly, perhaps—to make way for the Lord.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church