Not even a mustard seed worth of faith

Luke 17

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “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. (Read the whole passage)

Today, we continue hearing the stories of Jesus ministry and work from the gospel of Luke. Two weeks ago Jesus told the parable of the dishonest manager and the generous God. Last week it was the familiar story of the rich man and poor Lazarus. But today, it is the disciples who cause the action. They have been following their master for a while now, seeing him teach and preach, watching him heal the sick and lame, being amazed at his miracles and exorcizes. And despite seeing all this, they still want something from Jesus.

The disciples come to Jesus and make only a simple request. “Increase our faith”. It doesn’t seem like much. All they want is maybe a little show of power from Jesus. Maybe some power of their own to heal minor diseases, maybe not lameness and leprosy, but limps, sore backs and bad acne. Maybe Jesus could let them exorcize some minor demons, the ones that make the floor boards squeak or that make single socks disappear.

This hardly seems like an unreasonable request, Jesus is God in flesh after all, he could easily make the disciples better believers, super followers or something. The disciples just want a little more certainty, a little more assurance, a few more benefits for being faithful.

“Increase our faith!” the disciples ask.

Jesus does not take this well.

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could make mulberry tree be uprooted and plant itself in the sea. It would obey you!”.

So obviously the disciples don’t even have a mustard seed worth of faith. The tiny barely perceptible mustard seed, the seed that grows into an unwieldy bush and causes gardening headaches. Not even faith the size of a tiny, useless seed.

Jesus sees right through the request, he sees to the heart of the matter. The disciples want some control in this whole God business. They want power, assurance, confidence. They want what we all seek in the darkest places of our hearts, to be like God.

Increase our faith!

We have made that request, issued that demand, prayed that prayer just like the disciples. Increase our attendance, increase our budget, increase our volunteers we have all said as churches. Increase our morals, increase our nation, increase our respect for the past has been a a favourite refrain of politicians.

And privately many of us have probably prayed this prayer. “Increase my faith, give me something to hold on to, let me know that you are real God.”

Jesus scolds the disciples, and sometimes it can feel like God ignores our simple requests. And sometimes all we want is something to hold on to, something that will satisfy our uncertainty and our fears.

Yet, whether it is a selfish request of God, or a demand for control, or an honest prayer in desperate moment, the rebuke that Jesus responds with can hurt.

Jesus says that If we had the smallest amount of faith you could do great things… and yet we cannot do them.

And even more we are reminded that “Increase our faith” is about us. It is about our need to have some kind of say in this God stuff, to make faith a little more “take” than “give”, to have some part in our relationship with God.

And when we dig at that need, it soon becomes clear that it is rooted in the same insecurity that made Eve grab the fruit,

the fear that made Abraham send his wife to be the concubine of a King,

the rage that made Moses kill that Egyptian,

the desire that made David lust for Bathsheba,

the resistance that made Jonah run from God’s call,

the reactiveness that made Peter strike off the ear of the servant,

the pride that made Paul persecute and kills Christians,

the confusion that made all the disciples hide in the upper room even when they knew Jesus was risen from the dead.

We ask, we demand, we pray, Increase our faith, and it comes from the Old Adam, Old Eve within us, the place of pride, fear, control. The place of Original Sin.

And even so, just as Jesus has been reminding us week after week, Jesus reminds us again.

We are not in control. We are not the ones who have the power. We are not God.

Jesus talks about mustard seeds and mulberry trees and then goes on to talk about a master and a servant. And not to tell us that we are slaves or subservient. Jesus isn’t trying to make us feel small. But rather Jesus reminds us that we have a role in this God stuff, and it isn’t to be God.

The greek word (pistuo) that we often translate as faith, is almost better understood as trust.

“Increase our trust” we might say.

And yet we know that increasing trust is not something the truster can do. Trust can only be increased by the one who is trustworthy.

Faith or trust is not a power we wield, or a control we have or even something to hold on to. Faith or trust is what God places in us, it is the wild and untamed relationship that God wants to meet us with,

faith is what God holds us in,

what God grabs us with,

what God places beneath our feet.

Increase our faith.

Jesus reminds us today that faith is not something that we own or control or have power over.

Because God’s faith is in us.

Because God’s trustworthiness is complete.

Because faith is a gift we receive.

A gift bestowed in Baptism.

A gift fed and renewed in the Lord’s supper.

A gift shared in the Body of Christ that is the church.

God is the one who creates faith, and we are the ones in whom faith is created.

God is the one who gives faith, and we are the ones who receive it.

God is the one in whom faith rests, and we are the ones who are held and rest in God.

Jesus reminds the disciples and us of our roles in this faith stuff. The disciples want – we want – power, assurance, something to hold on to. Increase our faith, we ask, we demand, we pray. And Jesus steadily reminds us week after week that God is the one doing the work here. We might want some control over our relationship with God, we want some input, but God’s love doesn’t need anything from us. We are simply the ones who are loved. We are the ones who are loved, and in whom God’s love meets the world.

Increase our faith we ask today.

And Jesus says, if you had faith you could do great things. But faith is what God has in you, that is what in you truly need.

Amen.

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