I’d like you to take your readings insert and grab a pencil or pen. At the top of the back page, circle the bold print (Psalm 37:8). Now go down to the second reading a few lines below that, to v.3 (2 Timothy 1:3) and circle the words “I am grateful to God.” Then go down five lines to the end of v.4 and circle the words “filled with joy.” You should have three circles. Draw an arrow from the top circle to the middle circle, and then another arrow from the middle circle to the lower circle.
If you get nothing else out of today’s message, here’s something to hang on to: Replacing anger and resentment with gratitude leads to joy. The seed of joy is gratitude.
This time of year plants are putting on seed, so today’s reading from Luke seems timely. 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. In studying the original language what we find is that Jesus is saying, “You do have faith…the size of a mustard seed!”
Well, that doesn’t sound like very much, does it! But what we find in today’s readings is that you have enough faith. It’s enough!
But the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” I can imagine myself saying the same thing! And it’s not just faith we want more of. We have a hard time believing we have enough of anything we long for! In thought, word and deed we betray the deep fear that no matter how much we have, “We don’t have enough.” It’s that deadly fear of scarcity. Paul writes, “Join me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.”
Relying on the power of God. And where is that power of God? Jesus said, “God’s power is revealed in faith the size of a mustard seed. AND…you already have that much faith! It’s enough!”
We live in a society that teaches, “Bigger is better.” Big box stores, big meal portions, big houses, big incomes. But we recognize in Jesus’ disciples our own fear of scarcity: We’re fearful that we won’t have enough money, enough security, enough time…enough love. Even when it sounds like a good thing, we’re afraid of not having enough: Increase our…faith, Jesus disciples begged. How can that be a bad thing? But, if we don’t think we have enough faith, then it’s likely that we believe we don’t have enough wealth, enough security…enough time. This spirit of scarcity may make us blind to what we do have. We may become angry and complaining. We may forget to be grateful. And as our readings teach us this morning, where gratitude is in short supply there can be no joy.
Faith the size of a mustard seed doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough. On your bulletin cover this morning you see a picture of one of my favorite Washington native flowers, the pink monkey flower. It’s a gorgeous plant that grows near water, high in the mountains. Surprisingly, I’ve had a lot of luck in raising this alpine plant from seed. And what does that seed look like? It’s not much to look at. It’s actually smaller than the mustard seed that Jesus spoke of! You can see it on your bulletin cover, underneath that small piece of tape. Can you believe that a plant so big and so beautiful could grow from something so small?
One of the ways we seek to overcome a spirit of scarcity in our worship community is by recognizing the faith of children. You see, faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit given equally to all people. It’s just as present in children as it is in you. They don’t need any more faith. They have enough. Sunday after Sunday they come eagerly to the font. They’re not checking their watches or worrying about a to-do list. They serve at communion, they serve as readers. And they can do more. I want to see them lighting candles, singing, playing instruments. Their size is no obstacle! What counts is their faith, and their faith is just as big as mine, just as big as yours. I can see in children the flower of faith that has emerged from that seed already, just as surely as I can see it in any adult.
You’ve heard me say before that Sunday morning is our practice field. That sounds like a sports analogy—which it is–but can you also think of it as a practice field in which living things grow—as in, a field of flowers or a field of grain, or, a field of mustard plants? Our worship is a field in which many kinds of plants flourish! This field is where we get ready for the rest of the week. Here we remember and practice gospel values, gospel teaching. Here we remember that a mustard seed of faith is enough, because it’s not our power but God’s power in us. What we do here is absolutely essential because as soon as we go out that door we’re tempted toward believing not in the power of God but in the threat of scarcity, and our world has a thousand different ways of convincing us that we don’t have enough.
But on Sunday morning we come to the table, once again assured that God’s grace and God’s love are enough. God’s grace in a bit of bread and the sip of drink…is enough. A few drops of water at the font are…enough. A smudge of oil on our foreheads is…enough. A word of forgiveness is… enough. The faith of children is…enough. This is the place we come week after week and say, “Give us this day our daily bread”—not stockpiles, not storage units–just enough!
Inside a mustard seed—or a monkey flower seed, or any seed!—is a whole universe waiting to unfold. The seed itself is not much to look at but when conditions are right—a bit of light, a bit of moisture—the seed reveals the world that was hidden inside. Think of that: light (candle) and water (baptismal font) are two of the powerful symbols of our faith! The only question is, what kind of soil do we prepare?
What difference does it make? What difference does your God-given mustard seed of faith make in the world? Well, Jesus said it’s enough to uproot a tree and throw it into the sea. It’s a wild example! But I wonder if Jesus is showing us how our fear of scarcity causes us to settle for far less than what’s possible. Having a tiny mustard seed of faith doesn’t mean having tiny expectations of what God is able to accomplish through us!
Something small can be a very big deal, and that can be either a good thing or a bad thing. For example, our nation has come to a standstill over the past week because of something little: Just a few angry people in Congress demanding their way, rather than asking who’s been unable until now to afford health care. Remember, setting aside anger and resentment makes way for gratitude, which paves the way for joy.
What kind of world do you want? What kind of world do you want to leave for the children? A mustard seed of faith is enough to create that world, and we already have that faith. Can the world see the universe hidden inside that seed? Do you think people might notice if the example we set is an attitude of gratitude and joy? Can the world see by your mustard seed of faith the flowering of God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s love?
Let us be grateful that our little seed of faith is enough, not to be wasted on tossing trees into the ocean, but…to transform the world! AMEN