Sermon for Sunday, October 2, 2022 || Proper 22C || Luke 17:5-10
“Increase our faith!” That’s what the disciples say to Jesus at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. They are worried that they won’t have enough faith to do what he has commanded in the bit right before our reading today, namely forgive someone seven times. The disciples don’t think they have enough faith to do something like that, so they say: “Increase our faith!”
But Jesus doesn’t seem to be concerned with how much faith they have. He reaches for the smallest item available, a tiny mustard seed, and says, If you had this tiny amount of faith you could do amazing things. By using such an exaggeratedly small thing, Jesus says that the amount of faith doesn’t matter. Thinking of faith as a unit of measure makes no sense. I wouldn’t say, “Last year I had 25 faith, but this year I have 27.” Faith isn’t a statistic.
Jesus tells the disciples about mustard seed faith in order to help them see that it’s not an increase in the quantity of faith that matters, but an increase in what faith does, in how faith shapes our lives. Let’s look at two ways this morning. First, faith in God sharpens our vision. Second, faith in God motivates our action.
I’ve had blurry vision since middle school. My parents brought me to the optometrist, who noticed my nearsightedness right away. He prescribed glasses, which I hated wearing, as any eighth grader would. My desire to keep people from knowing I needed glasses was so great that I skipped trying out for the high school baseball team. I couldn’t see fly balls without my glasses, but I was unwilling to put them on.
There is another sort of lenses that I fail to put on just as often as I did with my glasses in middle school. These are the lenses of faith. My glasses sharpen my vision of objects in the world around me. The lenses of faith sharpen our vision of the God who is present in and around all things.
My glasses (well, contacts) don’t give me the ability to see; rather, they give me the ability to see well. When we put on the lenses of faith, we see the world with clearer eyes. Our sharper vision allows us to see God’s directing movement between us and those people, places, and things with which we interact. We stand forever in God’s presence and God moves with us down the paths of our lives. Faith sharpens our vision to catch glimpses of this movement.
Here’s an example. A few weeks ago, my father officiated at a funeral for a man he did not know well. After speaking with the family, he realized that the deceased and his wife had grown up in southeastern Connecticut. They had attended St. Mark’s. In fact, they had gotten married at St. Mark’s in the early 1960s. My dad called me and asked me to look in our records. I found the notation about their wedding, took a picture of it, and sent it to my dad. He printed out the notation and framed it for the family. And this small act connected him to them while he officiated the funeral, making the service all that more profound. Now, we could see this whole thing as a simple coincidence. But seen through the lenses of faith, we can discern God’s connecting creativity at work, leading to deeper relationships and deeper outpourings of love.
This leads us into the second way faith shapes our lives. (Well, there are more, but I only have 10 or 12 minutes, so…). The second way: Faith in God motivates our actions. My father could have learned of the connection between the funeral and St. Mark’s and just shelved the tidbit in his mind. But he saw the situation through the eyes of faith and realized how he could, in this small, mustard seed way, make God’s love more visible for grieving people.
Faith in God sharpens our vision. Then faith in God motivates our action. In many of the stories about Jesus healing various people, Jesus speaks of their faith making them well. Now if we subscribe to the “quantity” notion of faith, we might be tempted to think that Jesus healed these folks because they reached a certain statistical threshold on the faith scale. But the mustard seed reminds us that the quantity of faith is less important than the action of faith. The healing stories, therefore, are really about people whose faith motivated them to the action of seeking out Jesus in the first place. The Gospel writers recorded those healings because of the sometimes heroic, sometimes simple action of faith.
Again, when Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he is not speaking about quantity. We do not have a collection of faith in the same way that we have collections of baseball cards or teapots or old comic books. Faith is not something we can store up in a safe deposit box. Rather, we have faith the same way we have energy. Energy propels us to run and work and play; faith propels us to love and serve and forgive. Indeed, faith is the energy that motivates us to participate in God’s work in the world.
And like energy, faith unused can begin to fade away. Like Langston Hughes’s “Dream Deferred,” unused faith can “dry up like a raisin in the sun.” This is why we come to worship. This is why we meet one another at the table for the nourishing food of Holy Communion. This is why we do spiritual practices that keep us in contact with God and with other faithful people. God gave us faith to motivate us to love and serve God. As exercise is to energy, our participation in God’s work is to faith. And the more we allow our faith to motivate our action, the more resilient our faith becomes when we are confronted with difficult and demanding situations.
Faith in God sharpens our vision. Viewing the world through the lenses of faith shows a deeper layer of reality, the eternal reality of God’s presence. Then faith in God motivates us to act, to live lives full of God’s love and grace, to bring God’s gifts to other people and call God’s gifts forth from those people. Faith in God motivates us to participate in God’s healing and reconciling work in the world. Faith is not a static thing. Faith is not a statistic. Faith is the great gift from God that shows God’s faith in us. Faith is the catalyst that kindles all of our other God-given gifts to shine. And a mustard seed is all we need to see and to act upon God’s movement in our lives.