Faith is one of those slippery words that we use a lot but we don’t often tie down and define.
Faith…if I just believe something enough it will happen. We identify it with fervour and emotional intensity.
Jesus teaching here is in four sections, a warning, instruction, and then the apostle’s response and Jesus response with an exhortation and a parable about grace.
He then turns and warns his disciples that it would be better for them to die, have a millstone put round their neck and tossed in to the ocean, than make one of these little ones stumble. Down through history there has been conjecture about these little ones… yes, it could be Christians who are weaker in their faith, it challenges us about our children. It does speak to and challenge people in church leadership and who teach, it warns against false teaching. But in the context of what Jesus has been teaching and the attitude of the Pharisees we’ve already seen who these little ones are. This follows on from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man, where Lazarus had been left in his poverty and powerlessness, ignored and neglected and written off at the gate of the rich man. It carries on from the parable of the prodigal son where the older brother had stood off and refused to go in. We need to be on guard that we do not act in the same manner and way.
Firstly faith is not about what we put in, but who we put our faith in. It is about having our faith in Jesus Christ. Secondly, it is about being faithful to that person. In Luke’s gospel to be a disciple of Christ is to hear Jesus teaching and put it into action, to obey it. In the list of old testaent ehro's of faith in Hebews 12 we see that each of hese people lived heir lives faithful to knowing and trusting God.
On Friday as I started to write this message, in my daily bible reading was a passage from the book of Job. Job is a book that wrestles with what happens when trouble and suffering come into your life. In response to one of his friends who had come to comfort him, who represent the wisdom of the day, the pat answers about the innocent suffering, Job outlines his previous life. He had an intimate relationship with God, when he had felt his presence and grace surrounding him, and he goes on to talk about how this manifested itself in how he acted at the town gate. He was a respected elder involved in the judicial process, he talks about how that intimate knowing of God meant that he delighted to care for the fatherless, the widow, the stranger, the refugee, the sick and the poor and see they got justice. Faith here is knowing Jesus and allowing the love and grace and mercy to flow out into our lives, to the prodigals who need to hear a call to come to their senses and need to know forgiveness and welcome home when hey repent, to our gates and the Lazarus who lies there. Increase our faith is asking that we
may be more faithful to the Jesus who has changed our lives.
In response to the apostle’s request Jesus tells them that even with a little bit of that faithfulness, as much as a mustard seed the smallest of all the seeds. I wonder did you notice the mustard seed in the image that we used on the cover of our service sheet and PowerPoint his morning. With such a small amount of that faith they could uproot the mightiest of trees with the deepest roots and cast it into the ocean. Because it is a faith in Jesus Christ, God himself and it is a faith that will be manifest in reflecting Jesus love and concern for the least and the lost. I re watched the films ‘Selma’ about Martin Luther lead march for voting rights in Alabama, and Ghandi, about Ghandi’s movement for Indian independence. It was powerful to be reminded how their dedication to a just principle and the pursuit of non-violence could overcome institutional racism, and entrenched colonialism, and all the pressure, resources and violence that could bring to bear. On a large scale that mustard seed faith removed the proud well established sycamore tree and casting it into the ocean. On a personal level that mustard seed faith can do the same. Faithfulness to pray, to compassion and love, forgiveness and care in Christ.
People respond negatively to the idea of thinking of ourselves as ‘unworthy servants’, particularly in an age where self-worth and self-esteem are important. Can I say It’s not putting ourselves down or grovelling or seeing ourselves as useless. In fact in the parable the servants have done the things their master expected they’ve served well. The reality is that in doing these things we do not earn God’s favour, it is not salvation by works. We are about our master’s work as we should be, because we love him and he loves us, and we know his grace and mercy and we live in a way that shares it with all around us.
Increase our faith- that we may know you more, give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart, that we may hear your word and obey it. That we may be a faithful people.
Increase our faith- that we may see those at our gate, in need both physically and spiritually and with mustard seed faith and a servant heart show them love and compassion that the things that are entrenched and deep rooted holding them down may be up rooted and tossed in the ocean. Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart to care.
Increase our faith- to call people back to the truth, and meet them with forgiveness and welcome when they repent. Give us a mustard seed faith to speak of the grace we know and show it in how we care, love and forgive. To one another, and to all who you call to see as brothers and sisters.
Increase our faith- allow us to be faithful people. Give us a mustard seed faith and a servant heart, that we may people committed to your kingdom on a personal level, as we work in the community and as we face the city and nations gates in good times and when we are faced with things that would make us stumble.