Faith the size of a mustard seed: A sermon on Luke 17

14188523_1260289087335740_7885670721171133113_oBy the Rev. Anna Doherty

The apostles’ plea to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”

Is, in many respects, exactly what we ourselves want to ask Jesus.

We want to be people of faith, and we struggle with how best to live our lives of faith in the world.

And we never, ever quite seem to measure up to what our faith “should” be.

Either we don’t pray enough, or in the right way, or we don’t spend enough time with the Bible, or in service to others…

or we get caught up in the day-to-day busyness and stress of ordinary life, and we just get too distracted to really be true, good, strong people of faith.

I feel like, for me, it is a constant struggle to live up to what a person of faith “should” be.

And Jesus’ words to his disciples today don’t always help matters.

“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.”

When I hear those words, I think to myself, “My faith must not be quite strong enough, quite right enough…”

…because my prayers are not answered in this way.

Now, I think we all know that the purpose of the life of faith is not to be able to plant mulberry trees in the sea.

The purpose of the life of faith is to bring us into closer relationship with God and to be the people God calls us to be,

people who make God’s glorious kingdom seen, known, and felt.

And so I think that when Jesus utters these words today, he’s not actually trying to make us feel bad for what our faith has not yet accomplished.

Instead, I believe that this is Jesus saying to us, that even small acts of faith have power.

And that it not actually about what specifically we do in our lives of faith, or even how much we do…

… and it is more about who we do it for and with.

For and with God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the name of Jesus Christ.

Put another way, faith is more about relationship than it is about specific deeds.

Because, if we tend to our relationship with God and with one another, a vibrant life of faith, inevitably follows.

Now, it is a flawed analogy, but sometimes I like to think of our most meaningful human relationships as a way of better understanding…

….our relationship with God, and consequently, how we life our lives of faith.

Human relationships are just as flawed as the human beings who make up those relationships, and so they don’t actually fully represent…

….the kind of perfect, unconditional love that God has for us.

But in our healthiest, most loving, human relationships, I do think we get glimpses of how God calls us to be in relationship with God and God’s people.

How God calls us to live our lives of faith.

If you think about the healthiest, most loving relationships you have in your life, how you relate to those people, is in many respects how we are called to relate to God…

…and to one another.

The ability, for example, to express one’s doubts and fears.

And you know that the other person will listen, encourage, and love you in spite of it.

Or the ability to be broken and vulnerable and flawed, and the other person still loves you—

More than that, knowing your brokenness, vulnerability and flaws, the other person helps you to grow stronger, better, more fully the wonderful, whole, person you are.

Or the ability to have fun, to laugh, to joke, to be silly and joyful, and not be ashamed or embarrassed.

And the other person laughs right along with you, you celebrate and are joyful together, genuinely enjoying one another’s company.

Or, to be able to say, I am so mad at you, I am so disappointed in you, I am so hurt by what you’ve done…

…and to know that you can still be in relationship with the other person, even as you truly express how you feel.

That is loving relationship with one another; that is also what a loving relationship with God looks like.

What a life of faith looks like.

Now the specifics of how we get there are different for different people, and in different moments in our relationship with God.

Sometimes prayer, bible study, and devotional acts are how we feel most connected to God, so we do them so that we can grow closer to God and strengthen our relationship with God.

Sometimes, because we feel so strongly the blessing and love of God in our own lives, we are called to show that love and blessing to others in service.

Sometimes just feeling grateful, or being kind, or quiet, or vulnerable…those are acts of faith too.

We have a tendency in our current society to want to measure ourselves, to set standards or specifics.

We do this as a way of holding ourselves accountable, but frankly, sometimes we also do it as a way of comparing ourselves to other people.

And so, when it comes to the life of faith, sometimes the “standards” of faith, real or imagined start to make us feel badly about how we live our own lives.

We start to feel like we don’t measure up, like we’re not good Christians, not true people of faith.

Some people actually give up, thinking that they can never attain the measure of a true person of faith.

Or sometimes, we start to chronically worry about other people’s lives of faith, particularly people we care about.

And this becomes even more true when we ourselves have experienced the blessing that comes from being a person of faith.

We want to be able to extend that blessing to others, and so it worries and bothers us when people we love don’t go to church, or they don’t pray, or we watch them struggle through life…

…without a sense of God’s love for them.

Rather than trying to impose standards of what a true faith “should be”, especially when it comes to people we love…

perhaps the best thing we can do for others is to stay in relationship with them, not to nag, or judge or criticize them…

But simply show them, in our loving relations with them, and through our own loving relationship with God, what our faith has done for us.

And let God do God’s wonderful loving work in that.

The truth is, because faith is primarily about our relationship with God and one another, faith resists the kind of measure we want to give it.

It’s not about how much we pray, it is about who we pray to.

It’s not about how much we serve, but in whose name we serve.

It’s not about how much we worship, but who we worship.

Instead of worrying about the measure of faith, we just go about the business of living it.

Which is not to say, that we shouldn’t work at our faith.

As we know from our human relationships, it takes work, ongoing, constant attention to be in relationship with another person.

So it is with our relationship with God and God’s people.

We tend to it, just like we tend to the people we love most.

But faith doesn’t have to be big and fancy and grand.

It can be the size of a mustard seed and still bring God even more present to us and the world.

The prophet Habakuk today might be said to have faith the size of a mustard seed.

He brings his doubts and fears and anger before God.

But he is still in relationship with God, simply by virtue of being vulnerable and doubtful and angry before God.

And that is all it takes, it seems, for the prophet to be able to hear and know of God’s loving relationship with him and God’s people.

The prophet knows, God’s says “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.”

Faith the size of a mustard seed moves mountains.

Being in relationship with God, provides a vision for what God is doing in the world…

…trust in the promise that God is working in our midst.

Faith really is as simple as that.

If we are in loving relationship with God and one another, then we have faith and trust in God’s promise.

And God’s kingdom will truly come.