Luke 17: 5-10

Back in 1986, our church offered a production of a children’s musical called,
“The Greatest Gift of All.” Our daughter Jenny was 3 and she was placed on a stage, in a row with other boys and girls, wearing a Christmas package as a costume! In their neat line they attempted to sing the song “Good Things Come in Little Packages.” Charming! We have it on videotape. Sometimes that saying is true: good things can come in little packages. A woman might be dreaming of getting a new car from her boyfriend, but if the small box she receives has an engagement ring in it, could it be “the greatest gift of all” for her? Conversely, when our son Chris was hoping for a car at Christmas, I had arranged to get him a sporty older car. He looked outside Christmas day. No car. I gave him a small box. In it was a key; one that opened the door of a car we had parked down the street! I also know men whose lives were changed by Jesus, who were so thrilled to receive a little pocket cross when they claimed Christ as Savior. They carry it wherever they go. Today we are asked to consider if having a little bit of faith—the size of a mustard seed—is enough to start a fire of faith. On one of my first cold campouts in Missouri when I was a Tenderfoot Boy Scout, other boys and I were challenged to start a fire with flint, steel, and bits of dried brush called tinder. The goal was to get a substantial, hot fire on which to cook, starting with just a spark. With hungry Patrol members standing around, we began to take flint to steel. Three Tenderfoot Scouts were given the task. I can’t say which of us actually produced the spark, but I saw it land on the dried brush; we gently blew on it, and a small flame appeared. Later we cooked on that fire, started by a tiny spark.

I once heard a woman say to another as her husband faced a cancer diagnosis: “I’m not worried. I have faith that God will heal him.” To that, her friend replied: “I wish I had faith like yours!” This week, the Apostles (the 12) hear Jesus give a lesson on when and how to forgive another person. And then he says, in essence, “When you have even the faith of a mustard seed, you can forgive.” Jesus just told them that if a person who had wronged them over and over, turned back and said “I’m sorry and I’ll not do it again,” then they must forgive them each time. It’s a tough action to take without faith. If you have ever been betrayed by or hurt by another person, you may know how difficult it is for you to come to a point when you can say, “I forgive you.” Perhaps you never have been able to forgive another who has hurt you badly. The Apostles must have sighed and said, “Lord, increase my faith” meaning, “I need lots more trust to give my desire for revenge over to God, and then be able to forgive the one who hurt me.” And Jesus says, in so many words: “You don’t need mountain-sized faith to believe God will give you a bridge over troubled waters, you just need a drop of faith (or as a cook might say, a ‘pinch’ of faith to make it happen.” Do you know how much is in a “pinch?” I don’t either, but I’m told it’s a very small amount!

Now, let’s remind ourselves that Bible stories and parables are best taken seriously but not literally. For example, only in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus say the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds; in our gospel of Luke today, there is no mention of size. But don’t we read that when we hear this story? I know I do, so I created a children’s sermon about small things. In fact, botanists tell us that orchid seeds and cypress seeds were actually smaller than mustard seeds in Jesus’ day. So we say to ourselves, “Don’t argue the facts with Jesus! Just listen.” For example, if you read a recipe that says add, “a pinch of salt,” do you know how much to add? How much is in a pinch? That much I’m told (showing pointer and thumb pushed together. How much faith do we need to forgive another? Just (picks up mustard seed) that much.

Did you hear the result of the trial this week when the white female police officer opened an unlocked apartment door that she thought was her own and shot twice, straight into the chest of a black male who was standing in the apartment, only to discover it was actually his apartment and she had shot the man dead? After the jury reached a verdict of 10 years for Amber Guyger, some felt outrage and expressed it. Others were stunned by what happened next. The brother of the man who was killed asked to be heard. The judge permitted it. He took the stand. The man said to the woman who killed his brother, “I forgive you,” and “Your honor, may I have permission to give her a hug?” The judge paused, then permitted it. They embraced with heavy tears as the brother of the slain man said softly to one who had shot his brother, ‘I forgive you.” “Lord, increase our faith!” And Jesus looks into your soul, and he looks into mine, and says to us: “Hmmm. There’s enough faith in you already! Use it!” And then do we step out in the faith we are told we have, or do we pull back? We are reminded of the faith the Amish community in Pennsylvania had when they immediately forgave the man who walked into one of their schools and shot 10 girls. “Oh Lord, increase our faith!” we cry. “Do we have enough faith to forgive like that?” Sikhs in Wisconsin also forgave a white supremacist who entered their temple, killing six and wounding four. Oh Lord, would we have the faith to do that? And when young white man appeared at predominately African American Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, he pulled out a gun and shot 9 people who welcomed him to their Bible Study. Later they announced that they forgave the man. “Oh Lord, do we have that much faith to forgive like that? Do we have the faith of a mustard seed?”

Let me close with a prayer from Francis of Assisi. Let us pray:
Lord make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sew love.
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master:
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.”

Jeffrey A. Sumner October 6, 2019

At the end of this service, ushers or the pastors will hold a bowl containing mustard seeds at each of the Narthex doors, and at the double doors of fellowship hall. You are welcome to look at them, touch them, or take one with you as a reminder of today’s lesson about faith.