A reading from the Gospel of Luke, the 17th Chapter.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:5–10 ESV)
I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life that talk about our faith from the standpoint of the disciples — if a little can do so much, imagine what a lot could accomplish?
If we just had lives that overflowed with faith, if we really, truly, actually believed, we could do more than command the trees or move the mountains! We could change the world! We could maybe even save the world!
With that much faith, there are no limits to what we could do.
After all, the mustard seed is a small thing that grows and gives brith to a tree big enough for birds to build nests and seek shelter in! A tiny thing can become a great thing!
So, if we had more than a mustard seed, imagine — a redwood tree, growing hundreds of feet in to the air! Something for all the world to see!
But … what if that’s not the point of this parable? Yes, Jesus is serious. Even a tiny amount of faith can move things, change things, command things, incredible and amazing and astounding things.
What if we can’t have that faith? What if we can’t have more? What if we cannot even manage something as tiny and unimportant as a mustard seed? What if all the faith we have is something smaller — a grain of pollen, a long chain hydrocarbon molecule, or even two atoms of hydrogen and oxygen that make water. Or even less – an atom’s worth of faith, and not something heavy and complex like uranium, but the simplest and smallest thing there is — one proton and one electron, hydrogen?
What if all the faith we have is so small it cannot be seen, and is more empty space than substance? What if that mustard seed is more faith than we could conjure up in a dozen lifetimes?
What if Jesus’ answer is ironic, a way to tell the disciples that increasing faith isn’t what’s at stake here. Because even that tiny hydrogen atom of faith can do a great deal. Can love, reach out, can heal, can reconcile, can raise from the dead. It doesn’t take hardly any faith at all to live in this kingdom, to do the work of this kingdom, to bear the fruit of this kingdom.
And that’s a good thing. Because I don’t have mustard seed faith. I’m not sure how much faith I have, but it isn’t that much. No trees that can shelter birds sprout from my trust in God, much less obey my command to yank themselves out of the soil and hurl themselves several miles to the sea.
I do, however, have enough faith. Enough to do the work of love, mercy, and grace that I have been called to. That Christ invited me, commanded me, to do when he told me on that horrible day in September, 2001 underneath burning towers:
“My love is all that matters.”
But living in this kingdom, doing kingdom work, bearing kingdom fruit, being filled with even a tiny bit of kingdom faith, is not a thing we’re going to get much thanks for. There are no awards, no bonuses, no trophies, no not even much thanks for our trust, our faith, and our work. Most of use labor in obscurity, unknown by many except by the Jesus who called us. We are unworthy servants doing what Jesus has called us to do — the hard work of preaching, teaching, baptizing, proclaiming, and living the good news of a kingdom that will never end. God’s rule is here and now, in Christ’s love for us, on our love for each other and the world.
This is our calling. This is our duty. This is our love.
This is God’s love.