"Faith the size of a mustard seed"-Sermon for Proper 22, Luke 17:5-10
Though I am living proof that you can indeed go to church more than once on a Sunday…quite frankly…I am very grateful that anyone comes to this place even just once on a Sunday. And I mean that…for I know that less than 10% of the population of Austin goes to any sort of worship service in any given week…and that you have many options on Sundays to worship in many places who would love to have you present…or, for that matter, not at all…so I mean it when I say that I appreciate the choice to be here and don’t take for granted your participation…and I believe your choice to be here really, really matters…to God, for us, and really for the life of the world.
But, to this end, I do want to invite you to join us at Pepper Rock Park, just a few hundred yards away, after this service at 11 AM for a second service…our annual Blessing of the Animals Service, in honor of the Feast Day of St. Francis. We will gather for a relatively short service outdoors, in what I like to call the great Cathedral of God’s Creation, to give thanks for the beauty and provision of the earth our fragile island home, to remember and claim our roles as stewards and caretakes of the created world that God has lovingly placed into our hands…a world that needs our care and attention now more than ever, and to give special thanks for our animal friends, our pets, who are constant reminders of God’s faithful presence and unconditional love in our lives. So, if time in your morning allows, please do join us. Following the pet blessing, we will also just have some time and refreshments, for animals and humans alike, to enjoy each other’s company and meet each other’s beloved pets.
But, I really wanted to mention the choice to be in church, even just once a week, in the context of our Gospel lesson this morning. For what I think Jesus means when he says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, which is a very little thing, you can then accomplish amazing things…is that big things…amazing things…life changing things…world altering things…almost always start as little things. Like going to church…a little thing really in the context of one’s week…one hour out of the 168 in any given week. But that choice, that may seem inconsequential, when made habitual…that is when that one hour spent in worship and prayer and close connection to God in Christ and with our sisters and brothers in this family of faith…when added to one hour next week…and one hour the week after…and one hour the week after that…begins over time to shape us…a little thing becomes a bigger thing in and for our life…both individually and together.
I have shared before that growing up…my family was in church pretty much every week. And God knows that I, maybe most in my teenage years, fought it. But it did not matter what formal or party was the night before…or whose house I spent the night at…or how much homework I had to accomplish before Monday morning…on Sunday morning I would be, often with drooping eyes, on the second to back row of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church at 9 AM period…and no amount of whining could get me out of it. And, I mean to offer no guilt here to the parents among us. So, I am just speaking for myself. But, as I look back on just my own life growing up in my parents’ home, there is now nothing for which I am more grateful. Just as Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel lesson asked Jesus to increase their faith. That hour spent in church each week…that little thing, indeed, became a big thing in my life…it increased my faith. That is the story…the greatest story ever told…Jesus’ story, over time, was written on my bones…the story that love is stronger even than death…the story that promises that if we lean into one another and care for one another and love one another, especially those most in need of our love and care, we can make a difference in each other’s lives…we can be made whole, make meaning, have a life with purpose…like Jesus’ life…the story, over time became my own. Not to suggest that I have arrived…not to say that I have fully accomplished all that God hopes to do through me…not that I have become as much like Jesus as I hope to become…but still that hour that I didn’t even always choose for myself, such a little thing in all the hours that will make up my life, entirely shaped me…gave me intention and purpose…provided a moral rudder for navigating life in a complicated world…and most of all infused me with an optimistic hope for our shared future…that together, with God’s love sitting at the very center of us, that together our little lives can accomplish great big, amazing things.
The establishment of this church, this family of faith called St. Julian’s, that just last night we celebrated our 10-year anniversary together, this church is a super fine example of what I believe Jesus means when he says big things…almost always start out as little things. A bishop’s dream of a new congregation planted in a growing part of far Northwest Austin…followed by a priest and his spouse answering his call to give it a go…and then a dozen faithful folk taking the risk of leaving churches they were already involved in and loved to create something that did not exist for those who were yet to find a church home…joined by others…just a few at a time…maybe just 20 or 30 adults and children a year…the formation of new ministries just a couple at a time…people sharing generously from their income…pledges from $10 a month to a $1000 a month…over time these commitments great and small…an hour a week for an individual person that is now hundreds of hours spent in worship and prayer and ministry over time in this place…hundreds of dollars generously given by a family in a year that is now thousands and thousands of dollars given over time in and through this place…has become a very big thing…a healthy and vibrant church with hundreds of participants and countless more, who when they needed us very much, were well served, cared for and loved through the ministries we share in this place. And, I see and believe now that what stands before us in our undiscovered future is unlimited potential to do good for God and those who are still yet to be entrusted into our care. We have answered the question of whether we will be here for future generations to bless unknown numbers of people…be a center of transformation for the community in which we are planted…and the answer is a resounding yes!
You see, I think Jesus uses a mustard seed to describe faith not to say we need only a little faith, not to denigrate or make small whatever faith we do have, and certainly not to say that faith is a little or inconsequential thing. Instead, I think Jesus holds a seed up before both his first followers and us today…because within even something as small as a seed is contained all the DNA…all the first nutrients and biological building blocks…to grow something as big and life-giving as a tree…something exponentially larger and more fruitful that what it is at the very beginning. A seed become a tree…a tree that produces oxygen…the very air we breathe…shade from the sun bearing down on us…a tree that provides a home for aphids to birds to small mammals…a whole ecosystem…a tree that produces, every year, countless more seeds…as tiny as the first…that can produce, over time, a whole, great forest. So much life…so much potential…in such a little thing. And just as that seed, once planted begins to grow and thrive and recreate itself many, many times over through the generations, we too, such little things, when viewed against the backdrop of geological time, have more life and potential within us than we can possibly imagine…and it all begins just a little bit at a time. The faithful choice, and a choice made by faith, to plant ourselves in this community faith…to plant ourselves in each other’s lives…to plant ourselves in desperate situations where death itself seems to reign…watered with God’s love…fed by our care and support of one another…has such potential to utterly reshape the world, the communities, the families that we call home. And all this potential begins with just enough faith in the God of love…just a little faith to dare to courageously believe it to be true.
Which puts me in mind of a quote from the late, great Professor of Preaching, Fred Craddock, who once wrote, “Most of us will not this week christen a ship, write a book, end a war, appoint a cabinet, dine with a queen, convert a nation, or be burned at the stake. More likely the week will present no more than a chance to give a cup of water, write a note, visit a nursing home, vote for a political leader, teach a Sunday school class, share a meal, tell a child a story, go to choir practice, and feed a neighbor’s cat.” These are indeed little things…but over time…when we begin to habituate, make a regular and on-going practice in our lives, of doing small acts of love and kindness…and, more so, when we gather together our individual practices of faithful loving…together we can both dream and accomplish big things. Jesus says, “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.” And this may sound unbelievable, impossible, a sort of magical way of thinking…but I, for one, no longer think so. For I was told that planting a traditional, mainline, affirming church in a 21st century world that is increasingly secularizing with significant cultural headwinds blowing against us, was also impossible. But together we have believed it to be entirely possible and together we have made it so.
So, as we together and individually have big dreams for our lives and church and community and families and world…we should remember that seed that Jesus holds before us…such a little thing…but with so much life and potential contained within it…and be encouraged to believe that the same is true for us…that within the life we live and share…watered by God’s love…fed by the care and close companionship and giftedness we share…that our possibilities are really limitless…not magical thinking but a fact that we can actually see in our experience and really see over and over again in human history. Little things…that overtime and when added up…become big things. The power and potential to utterly reshape the reality in which we live together. And it all begins with just enough faith in the God of love…just a little faith to dare to courageously believe…it to be true. Amen.