In the Gospel lesson today, 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.'” (Luke 17:6)
The mistake is to think that it’s about us. It’s not about our lack of faith, or the struggles the disciples were facing, asking the Lord, “Increase our faith[!]” (Luke 17:5); it’s not that our hope in the living God measures up to less-than-a-mustard-seed’s worth in the scheme of things. This passage is one time of many throughout all Scripture in which God explains how things work in his kingdom–in the place he wants our hearts to dwell.
Prophets throughout the Old Testament say again and again, “repent! turn back!” And they tell the people to whom they preach that it takes only a little shift to bring God rushing in. God is waiting at the gates, calling out for us, waiting for us to throw him just a mustard-seed’s-worth of trust, and he will burst open the gates and make things change which seem impossible–even things like moving trees and mountains.
There’s another piece to this Gospel lesson today, and it has to do with the way that God’s kingdom works, too. The reality that we see with our eyes every day isn’t the whole story of the world. We learn in Scripture, and often through our experience, that there’s a lot more going on than what we can pick up just by looking around. Living in this broken, mysterious world, we are used to thinking that power means big chairs and high buildings and offices with lots of windows. Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson today that power in God’s kingdom looks nothing like that at all. By his difficult words about the obedient slave, he shows us the example that he himself will live out when he washes the disciples’ feet. The least among us will be the greatest. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. Grabbing for power is helpful for this life, but giving up power is helpful for eternal life. We’ve been hearing this message again and again through the last months’ readings, last week we heard about the Rich Man and Lazarus, recently, the Epistle to the Hebrews was exhorting us to hang on to those invisible things that are eternal. This is the Christian faith. Giving up our grabby attitude toward power, and turning, even just a little bit, toward our Lord.
Timothy, who is a Christian sort of like you and me–he never met Jesus, and wasn’t one of the “12 disciples”–he was just a normal Christian leader, trying to figure out how to be faithful. He is encouraged in our Epistle lesson (2 Timothy 1:1-14) this morning, to claim the gift of God he was given through the laying on of hands.
Each confirmed Episcopalian in this room has had the hands of a bishop on his or her head (and you can trace the hands that were laid on our Bp. Waldo, or any bishop, back to who laid their hands on him, and back all the way to Jesus and the disciples!). You have received this gift of faith; you have turned, even if just a little, toward God, and God has rushed at you! Of course, you don’t have to go through Confirmation for God to know that you’ve turned toward him; just telling God so, asking him to fill you with his Holy Spirit and his power is all you need.
I know I’m sounding a little Evangelical here, but that’s how I was raised, and anyway, we’re in the South, revivals still go on here every autumn. Though Confirmation and some versions of “getting saved” are one-shot deals, stepping into a lifestyle that acknowledges and even assumes God’s kingdom is not a one-time faith door-buster.
We turn away from God again and again, and must turn back toward Him just as many times. We so easily forget that in the world that God rules, in His kingdom, success isn’t measured by where we live, or the sorts of vacations we can afford. In God’s kingdom, which exists right alongside and tangled up with the parts of the world that have turned away from God, we are encouraged to rely on the power of God, to preach always to everyone the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen, that we need not suffer eternal death.
We are to live with the awareness that the Holy Spirit wants to always work in and through us to help others realize and understand the truth and power of our living God. We strive to discern God’s voice, and to obey it.
Good teaching Emily!