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."Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
f I only had more faith. How many of us here this morning have not thought that very thing at some point or another in our lives? It may be the most relatable thing the disciples ever said. Lord, increase our faith.
They had already shown so much faith. Everyone left something behind. They gave up their jobs. They abandoned their families—their fathers and mothers, their wives and husbands, their daughters and their sons. They turned their backs on house and home, all the people and community they had ever known. Everyone left everything behind. And they did it so that they could follow Jesus. They did it because Jesus had called them by name to walk the way with him. They did it because they had faith in him, even if they couldn’t yet understand why.
But as always seems to happen, they began to have doubt. They began to ask questions of themselves. Who was this person for whom they had given everything up? Why could they never seem to lay their heads in the same spot twice? What were these strange words and sayings that Jesus kept repeating when they only wanted him to speak plainly? Who was Jesus that he could make both the religious leaders and the Roman occupiers so anxious? Where exactly was he leading them?
“If only we had more faith,” they thought to themselves, “then we would not be troubled so. If only we could reconnect with the powerful certainty that we felt when we first left everything, then we might remember why it is we are here now.”
Have we not felt the same way? Perhaps we are even feeling it now. It could be in the face of chronic illness, in ourselves or in a loved one. It could be while struggling through the labors and tears of raising children. It could be that we are discovering that we have slowly grown apart from the one we love and are no longer sure that the person we married is the same person we are married to now. It could even be that we are wondering why it is that we go through the ritual of rising every Sunday morning to come and sit here, in this place, to go through the motions of worship. Whatever the cause, when we have come to our wit’s end, who among us has not wished for more faith that we might find renewed strength to persevere and endure; that we might find faith to reconnect with something we once understood?
The sharpness of Jesus’ words startles us. Their harshness cracks like a whip. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, then you could say to this tree, ‘be uprooted and plant yourself in the sea,’ and it would obey.” In those moments when we most need comfort and reassurance, in those moments when we feel our faith is waning, Jesus’ words are a slap in the face, seemingly as though he is belittling us for not having more faith.
At least that is how I have always read them. Perhaps you have too.
But what if his words are not an admonishment? What if the sharpness of his tone is meant to wake us up to the truth?
Lord, increase our faith. We tend to think about our faith as if it is something that can be stored up and measured. It’s as if we think that if our stockpile of faith is large enough, then we can weather any hardship, any illness, any doubt. If our stockpile of faith is large enough, then others will know how great our faith truly is. If our faith is large enough, then even God will know that we are worthy.
But our faith is not a battery pack that can be charged to full. It is not a shield that can be hardened and strengthened against the trials and tribulations of life. It is not a rank that can be seen and admired by others. And it is not a halo upon our brow that needs polishing and burnishing.
What is our faith? Our faith is seen in the many countless things we do, not because we will be rewarded or even acknowledged for doing them, but because they simply need to be done. Our faith is seen in the things we do because we know that they are the right thing to do, even when they are not the easy thing to do. As Professor David Lose puts it, “faith isn’t always heroic. Indeed, it usually isn’t, but instead is simply and humbly doing what needs to be done, big or small, great or mundane, just because it needs doing.”
Think of the many ways you are already living out your faith. Taking the time to ask your loved one about their day. Staying up late to help your child with a school project. Volunteering your Saturday to come here and cook chickens for everyone in town. Giving up your time and your energy to serve on town committees or church vestries. Holding one another in prayer during times of great need and in times of joy. Waking up early on your day off to come here worship God together.
This is what faith looks like. Most of the time these acts of faith seem so small that we barely even notice them. But even faith the size of a mustard seed can work miracles.
The problem is, when we think that it is the amount of our faith matters, then our faith has become about us. But we are imperfect beings. We are inadequate to the vagaries and vicissitudes of life. And if our faith is about us, then it will always be insufficient to whatever challenges we face.
No, my friends, it is not the amount of faith that is important. What is important is whom we put our faith in. If we put our faith in God, then even the impossible will bend aside.
For it is by a thousand acts of faith from people like you and me, a thousand mustard seeds, when our faith is in God, that tyrants have been toppled from power. It is by a thousand acts of faith, when our faith is in God, that empires have risen from and returned to the dust. It is by a thousand acts of faith, when our faith is in God, that the world is changed. It is by a thousand acts of faith, when our faith is in God, that the Kingdom of God is built in our midst.
My friends, the greatness of our faith is not about what we bring to it. The strength of our faith is in what God brings to it. And God is great, and in God all things are possible. As we go forth from this place and face the many challenges we all must face and bear the many doubts we all must question, let us find assurance, not in the greatness of our faith, but because it is God who faces them with us.
Preached by Adam Yates