From the Very Smallest Things

If I were making a list of all of the things that I wish Jesus had never said, this saying about having faith the size of a mustard seed…it would be near the top of my list.  Not because it is wrong…or bad…or anything like that.  But because it immediately makes us think of faith as a quantity…as something you could have more or less of.  

And when we think of quantity…then we, as people who value the gift of faith, automatically assume that we need more.  I mean after all…isn’t more always better than some?  More faith is better than less faith…right?  

I mean, more of anything is better than less of anything, don’t you think?  That’s the way the world works.  “Faith? Yes, I’d like more please.” “Healthy food?  Yes, I’d like more.”  “Vikings touchdowns?  Yes, I’d like more.  Lots more.”   

“If some is good…more is better.”  That is how we think.  Look at restaurant food.  A study by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that over the past 20 years, restaurant portion sizes have grown huge amounts.  A hamburger served today, is 23% larger than it was 20 years ago.  A plate of Mexican food is 27% larger than it was in 2002.  A serving of pop is 52% larger.  And a serving of a snack, like potato chips or pretzels, is 60% larger.  Why?  Studies have shown that portion sizes have grown because Americans simply want more.

If some is good…more is better.  It is the “Supersize it” mentality.  And we all fall prey to it.  And it has had significant impact on our health and well-being.  And it’s not just food.  Our cars are bigger.  Our houses are bigger.  Our airplanes are bigger (even though the seats on a plane are getting smaller. Why?  Airlines want more people on a plane…because more is better!). 

But looking at our scripture text today, it is clear that this drive for more is not a new thing.  Immediately before our Gospel lesson, Jesus had been teaching about the perils of sin.

The disciples response to Jesus?  They immediately shout back to him, “Well then, increase our faith!”  Give us more…”superize it!”  then we won’t be tempted…then we won’t falter… Jesus, go ahead load up our spiritual plate!  If some faith is good, then more must be better!

At first, Jesus almost seems to rebuke the disciples.  He says, “Oh guys, with even a speck of faith the size of a mustard seed…you could tell this tree to go be planted in the middle of the ocean…and it would!”  This may seem like kind of a snarky response.  But Jesus knows something about faith that the disciples don’t.  

Jesus knows that in asking for “more” faith, they are asking for the wrong thing.  Jesus is saying to them that they already have all that they need.  That their faith…the faith they have…is sufficient.  It’s not about quantity.  It’s about quality.  It’s not about how much faith you have…It’s about what you do with your faith.  And this was exactly what the disciples…and we…need to hear.  

Dr. David Lose, in writing about this story, says that perhaps “faith is simply the willingness to do what needs to be done.  I love that.  “Faith is simply doing what needs to be done.”

You are probably familiar with the name “Rosa Parks.”  Rosa Parks was an activist in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  Most historians would say that the modern civil rights movement in the United States began on December 1, 1955.  Because on that day, this unknown seamstress, on her way home from a tough day at work, refused to stand and move to the back of the bus, because of the color of her skin.

Rosa sat down in the first seat that was open…at the front of the bus… where the seats were reserved for white riders only.  

But when more white passengers wanted to board, the driver stood up, turned, and told Rosa to move.  But she just didn’t move. She was tired from a long day of work…tired of being forced to get up and move…tired of it all.   

Later, Rosa Parks said: “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.”[35]

Parks was arrested and convicted.  For her crime, she was fined $10, plus $4 in court costs.  But this event went way beyond that city bus, and that courtroom.  It launched the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 54 weeks, and which was the impetus for the Civil Rights Movement.

It was Rosa Parks.  It was this woman, by herself, who simply wanted to sit in her seat and ride home in peace.  She was the spark that launched a movement that changed…and that continues to change…the very soul of our nation.  

Like a little rudder on a giant aircraft carrier, she was able to turn the ship…move our nation…towards justice.  Simply because she wanted to stay in her seat.  Rosa Parks did what needed to be done.

There are lots of stories about how something, or someone small and insignificant makes a major difference in the world around them.  We can see these stories throughout the scriptures. 

  • Gideon, the weakest guy in the land of Israel, is called by God to defeat an occupying army.
  • When Samuel meets the strong, handsome sons of Jesse, God chooses the youngest, David, over his brothers to become King.
  • God chooses a young, poor woman, living in Israel under the Roman occupation, as the one who would give birth to Jesus.  
  • And Jesus selects a group of poor, uneducated fishermen to carry out his mission after he is crucified.

God has a history of taking what little we have and performing great works with it.

Our faith varies from day to day.  There are days that I am deep in my relationship with God…when I can feel God right here, in the very center of my being.  And there are days when God feels more distant…when I question…when I wonder…when I have to look for evidence of God at work around me.  

But the issue isn’t the amount of faith that you or I have.  Not at all.  Faith is given to us in our baptism, and it is a constant.  No, Jesus is teaching us in our Gospel that the issue is how we use the faith that we’ve been given.  Because our faith…even small as a mustard seed, has the power to change the world around us.  Each of us carry that.   And it doesn’t have to be grand and dramatic.  

500 years ago, Martin Luther wrote about the virtue of a father changing his child’s diapers. (He specifically called out fathers, because with the way gender roles were understood at the time, it was pretty rare for a father to change a diaper.) Luther wrote: “When a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other menial task for his child, and someone ridicules him…God, with all his angels and creatures is smiling.”  (Luther’s Works, vol. 45, p. 50.)

You see, there are so many things that you do each week that would be completely unnoticed…but are completely faithful:  

  • Showing up for work and doing a good job.
  • Listening when someone needs to talk.
  • Getting the kids off to school.
  • Sitting with someone in the cafeteria who looks like they could use a friend.
  • Volunteering at Community Pathways, or Rachel’s Light, or Hospitality House, or one of the other human service organizations here in town.
  • Voting, even when our political system seems discouraging.
  • Writing a thank you note to someone who has done a kindness.
  • Cooking supper.
  • Praying for a neighbor who is having a hard time.

The list can go on and on.  And that’s the point.  Not one of these things is a big deal.  Newspaper stories will not be written about you if you do them.  Songs about your actions will not be sung.  

But it is just these kinds of small, simple acts of faith that we do every single day that make a difference in the world around us…and I’m guessing that for many of you, you’ve never even considered these things to be acts of faith.  But they are.

It is the small things.  Yes, occasionally they lead to a world-changing movement, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  But more often, they are acts that simply change the world around us.  But the thing is, if we all do that.  If we all take the small gift of faith that we have been given and we use it…well…and with intentionality…and we all work within our sphere of influence…well then the world around us will change.  

Jesus gave you faith as a gift.  He gave it because he loves you.  And your faith allows you to step deeply into a relationship with Him, which is, after all, what Jesus wants.  

But don’t fall into the same trap as the disciples.  Never think that your faith is not enough.  Never think that it is inadequate.  Jesus reminds us that we only need the tiniest little speck.  And then, we need to put our faith in the right place.  Not in external things like power, or money, or status.  And not in ourselves and our ability to believe, but in God, the One who gives us life and nurtures it; the one who loves us faithfully; the One we can trust completely; and yes, the One who does the extraordinary with the ordinary…who can start movements, can change the world, and can move mountains.

Don’t feel like you need to ask for more faith.  Don’t ask for it to be super-sized…Instead, recognize that your faith, as it is, is enough.  And put that tiny little mustard seed of faith in Jesus, and watch it grow.  

Thanks be to God!


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