Over the last four months or so, we’ve gotten the chance to get to know one another. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask any pop quiz questions. Those were always terrifying for me in school.
Part of that getting to know each other process as allowed you to learn some things about me. For me, part of that has been for you to get to know some things about me, my life, as well as examine who God calls us to be through these passages that we’ve looked at together. You know I like to laugh at bad jokes and, yes, I don’t use my notes when I preach. It’s not that big of a deal.
You have seen a little bit of who I am as a pastor and leader. That is important for you to listen to, because it is easy to try to fit a new pastor into a predetermined box that is comfortable for us to understand than to pay attention to who is this pastor and why did God send them here. So, we’ve looked at some passages, and admittedly, many of them have been difficult. They are difficult, because I believe the faith in Christ calls us to engage the difficult in a way that leads to deep discipleship. They are difficult, as well, because it gives you a chance to know me and where I believe God might be leading us.
Because deep down we are all still asking this question: Who am I? That is a deeper question that goes beyond my love for bad dad jokes, sarcasm, and presidential history. It goes beyond getting to know my family, Abbi, Noah, and, now, Little Fry. It goes beyond stories about my life and little struggles. It is the deeper question of what is this pastor really about?
I get that is an important question. It is an important one for me and for you. Because we have each been brought together, by God, for a common purpose. That is not to keep a building open or put a smile on everyone’s face. It is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in our corner of Huntington.
There are things I want you to know about me, especially if you have gotten that sense already. I believe there is more that brings us together than divides us. I believe God is capable of doing more in our lives, and in our church, than we often believe is possible. I believe there is more potential in our church, in the Methodist movement, and the Wesleyan movement, than we often give credit or believe possible in our season of division and discontent. I believe that growth is possible as we seek to engage our community with grace, hope, and mercy. I believe that the church should be a place where we can talk about hard and difficult things in a loving way. I believe Jesus asks more of us than we often think is capable.
I believe in the church. I believe in us. I believe, sometimes, we need the faith to believe that. Because it is easy to focus on the negative, the struggles, the divisions, the you’re-not-doing-it-the-way-its-always-been done-before, and forget what we are here to be about. That is to love God and make disciples. Do we have the faith to do that work?
That is a question posed to us by our passage from Luke 17:5-10. In it, Jesus is talking with the disciples after confronting the Pharisees. We’ve been looking at a series of difficult passages and callings by Christ to those who would follow him. He is asking them if they have the faith to believe what God can do in them and through them.
Faith is a common theme throughout Scripture, but so is this analogy in the Gospels. At several points, we see Jesus define either faith or the kingdom of God as being like a mustard seed. This small seed that grows into one of the largest plants. A faith that is as small as a mustard seed has been described as being able to move mountains or even, here, pick up a mulberry tree and move it into the sea. What does Jesus mean by this?
Perhaps we need to see what Jesus was asking the disciples to do before this analogy. Jesus tells the disciples of the need to forgive. When we are focusing in on forgiveness it means that when we look at someone who has caused us pain or harmed us in any way that we choose to look beyond it and seek reconciliation and a renewed relationship. In this instance, Jesus says that we are not just to say “I forgive,” and hold onto a grudge, the anger, or frustrations, but that we are to forgive completely – seven times seven, a symbolic representation of the completeness of forgiveness.
Jesus has given us another ask to do something that seems hard and impossible to do. That is the nature of following Christ. The life of Christ is more than about sitting in a pew, reading a few passages of Scripture, or saying, “I love Jesus.” It is about a complete dedication into the life of Christ witnessed throughout Scripture. It is a life where we are to share the gospel with all people. It is a life where we are to give witness to love and grace. It is a life where we are to forgive those whom we cannot bear to forgive. It is a life where we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. It is a life where we are called to love God and make disciples.
This is not an easy life where we simply say, “Yes,” and have it all figured out. It is a challenging and difficult life that calls us to give everything that we have to it. Perhaps, then, that is why the disciples ask Jesus to “increase our faith.” They are, essentially, admitting to Jesus that they do not believe they have the strength or confidence within themselves to do what Jesus is asking.
We can resonate with that, can we not? We know what God desires of us, as individuals and, even, a community and we believe we cannot do that. We will think less of ourselves, our potential, and possibilities. We’ll see negatives, before we can claim the possibilities. We’ll see struggles, before we can see how God is at work in us and through us. Maybe you can resonate with that, because I know that I can, because every time I step in the pulpit – OK, my holy circle – and every time I step in the office I worry if I can really do what God is asking me to do on this day and in this place. Maybe we all ask that in some way: Can I do this?
That is where we need to hear Jesus’ response to us. He gives us the story of the mustard seed. He says if we have even the littlest bit of faith, we would be able to do more than we could ever imagine. If we had the faith of a mustard seed, we could move mountains or mulberry trees. We could do what seems impossible to us. This is not about claiming some odd or magic ability. It is about claiming how God is at work in the world and desires to use us.
All because of the power of faith. Scripture paints the picture of faith as the ability to trust in the promises and confidences of God. It is to claim how God is presence always in our lives. In Luke, faith is also the leading moment that guides people into action as a response to their faith in God. Faith leads people to live into the promises of God and claim what Jesus leads us to accomplish.
We often think that if we had a bigger faith, more confidence, or a deeper understanding of theology, then and only then, could we do the big things for God. We even think the bigger the church the deeper its ministry and reach into a community. That is not Scripture. That is our own insecurity coming out. You don’t need a seminary degree. You don’t need to have it all figured out. You don’t need to be the ordained elder. You don’t have to have the largest church. You just have to have the confidence of God to know that God loves you and desires more in you than you think is possible. This happens when we claim faith as the hope of God that enables us to be the people of God.
The smallest bits of faith – the smallest amount of trust in God – is enough for God to use to do mighty things. God is willing to use us to do amazing and difficult things to share hope, love, and grace in our lives, our communities, and around the world, The smallest amount of trust in God can be the force that leads to deep transformation in our lives that leads to us being used by God to bring forth new life in the world. The smallest of faith in God can do more than what we think is possible, because God is more than what we think is possible.
Faith can do this, because God believes in you more than we often believe in ourselves. I know when I struggle with whether I can do the things that I know I need to do, it is the confidence of knowing that God is present and is here that helps to go forward and push forward, even when it is difficult, challenging, and, yes, overwhelming. The same is true for each of you. When we struggle with believe if we can be the people of God, there is God believing in us and saying that you can move mountains and do the impossible.
The same is true for us as a church. When we think we are too tired, too old, too divided, too anything to do more than what we are doing, when we think we don’t need deep and systematic change to make room for new people, when we believe less in ourselves there is God. There is God calling us to see that there is always something for us to do to share hope with someone. There are always things that we can build upon that can be the engine for growth and hope. God sees, perhaps, more in us than we often see in us.
Faith, even a small faith, is the very trust in believing that God can use someone like us to bring hope into the world. Faith, even a small faith, is the confidence of knowing God is here and God is leading us into the deeper as a people and church, so that we can be whom God has called us to be in this time and this place. Faith, even a small faith, is everything.
The question for us to think about is this: Do we have the faith to see that? Do we have the faith to see that God sees more in us than we do? And, are we willing to claim it and live into the impossible possibility of God?