This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached on Sunday, October 2, 2022. The gospel text was Luke 17:5-10.
Now, right before this passage, Jesus had given his disciples some hard commands. He just told them they had to avoid being a stumbling block to anyone, and he told them that if someone wronged them, that they had to forgive that person seven times a day. The disciples thought those were hard challenges, and I agree! They probably didn’t feel equipped to fulfill those commands. I don’t think I would have felt any more equipped. Forgive someone seven times a day?
But I like their response at the beginning of today’s reading. The disciples don’t say to Jesus, “Forget it, we can’t do that,” like I might have done. Instead, they say, “Increase our faith!” I feel like what they’re saying is, “If you just give us some more faith, then we can do it!” Sounds like a reasonable request, productive and hopeful!
But listen to Jesus’ response. “More faith?” he says. “What do you mean, more faith? If you had as much faith as a grain of mustard, you could say to this mulberry tree, be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you!”
It seems like Jesus is telling them, “There’s no such thing as more or less faith.” I guess it would be like if I said, “I need more pulpit in order to preach today.” What would that even mean? I have a pulpit. You either do or you don’t. What’s “more pulpit?”
It reminds me of a scene in the movie This is Spinal Tap. That movie is a fake documentary about a fake heavy metal band called Spinal Tap. In one scene, the guitarist of the group, Nigel Tufnel, is showing the director of the documentary, Marty, the special amps they have for their live shows.
Nigel points out a unique feature of the amps. “The numbers all go to eleven,” he says. “Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven.”
Marty says, “Oh, I see. Most amps go up to ten?”
Nigel says, “Exactly.”
So Marty asks, “So does that mean it’s louder?”
Nigel says, “Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? If we’re at ten, and we need that extra push, you know what we do? Put it up to eleven.”
Marty then asks, “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number?”
Nigel is befuddled, and just says, “These go to eleven.”
Nigel seems to think you can have more maximum volume just by adding numbers to the amp. That’s not how it works! Just adding a number doesn’t make a difference. The maximum volume is what it is, based on the hardware in the amp. And its seems that faith is like that too.
You can’t get your faith to go to eleven. It’s just faith.
So if faith is something we can’t get more of, then what exactly is faith? How does it work?
I think Jesus gives us a clue about that right here in the example he gives. When Jesus talks about the mustard seed, there’s a Greek word in Luke’s gospel that can be translated two ways. The way you heard it today is this: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” which is a very, very tiny seed after all. But those Greek words can also be translated, “If you have faith like a mustard seed.” It might not be about the size, but about some characteristic of the seed. Maybe Jesus actually meant to imply both. Maybe faith is a small thing, and maybe faith is also like a seed.
Let’s think about that. Imagine I hold an acorn in my hand. Not as small as a mustard seed, surely, but still quite small compared to what it turns into. This little acorn, if it’s planted in the ground and receives the soil and water it needs, will become an enormous oak tree, tall and strong and sturdy, not too different from the mulberry tree Jesus talks about.
So let’s say I want to have an oak tree in my yard, and all I have is this acorn. It wouldn’t make much sense for me to say, “Oh, if only I had more acorn. Jesus, give me more acorn so I can have the tree I want!” Of course not. One acorn is plenty. More acorns wouldn’t give me a bigger or better tree. It might give me more trees, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I just want a single, good, strong oak tree. One acorn is enough.
One tiny seed is enough. Now that seed still needs water. It still needs soil. It still needs sunlight. And it still needs lots of time. But it doesn’t need any more seed. It has all the seed it needs. It is all the seed it needs.
Because what a seed has is potential. What a seed has is possibility. What a seed has is promise. And maybe that’s what faith is. Perhaps faith is potential. Perhaps faith is possibility. Perhaps faith is promise.
And perhaps all of us have all the faith we need. All the potential, all the possibility, all the promise that we need. We don’t need more faith than we have. We just need to do what the seed does. What does a seed have to do to grow into a tree? It needs to surrender. It needs to let go of the need to be a seed, and allow itself to receive. The seed surrenders, and allows itself to receive, to receive the soil, the water, the sunlight, the time, and through that it grows and becomes a mighty tree.
I invite you to surrender. To surrender to God, and allow God to provide you with the nourishment you need. Allow God to provide you with the warmth you need. Allow God to provide you with the time you need. And by doing that, you will grow. You will become the mighty tree you were called to be.
I invite you to surrender today. Today, let go of your desire to have more. Let go of your desire to be better. Your desire to understand more. Your desire that things would be different than they are. Your desire to be exactly what you are right now. Surrender, and trust that God has plans for you to be bigger and stronger and transformed into something amazing. Surrender, and allow God to tend you, to prune you, to care for you, to inspire you.
And grow. And grow and grow and grow.