Lamentations 1:1-6 – Post-exilic. How lonely sits the empty city, once full of people! She who once was great among the nations is now a vassal. Her greatness is gone.
OR
Lamentations 3:19-26 – The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
OR
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 – How long, O Lord, will I cry to you for help and you will not listen? How long will we cry, “Violence?” and you will not save?

Psalm 137 – By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps.
OR
Psalm 37:1-9 – Don’t worry too much about the wicked. In due time they will fade like grass. Trust in the Lord and do good.

2 Timothy 1:1-14 – To Timothy, my beloved child: I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

Luke 17:5-10 – Parable of the mustard seeds. Undeserving slaves.

Francis, Tyndale, and Mustard Seed Faith

This Sunday’s gospel is Luke 17:5-10 about having the faith of a mustard seed. But there are some other opportunities.

St.Francis of Assisi died in 1226, on October 3, but his saint day is October 4. Francis was born in Assisi as Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, but nicknamed Francesco (“Frenchie”) by his father. By faith, Francis, who said he had “been all things unholy,” renounced his wealth and family, vowed poverty and chastity, and founded an order based on serving the poor.  Preaching on Francis is tempting, because, at his election in March of 2013, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio chose that name, becoming the very first Pope Francis ever. Interesting especially because St. Francis was so critical of the wealth and corruption of the papacy.

Equally tempting is William Tyndale’s commemoration, October 6. By faith, Tyndale translated the Bible into English, even though it was a capital offense even to own an English Bible. Tyndale was a reformer who got what Luther thought he was going to get. Ten years after Luther’s death, Tyndale was strangled publicly, then burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, the same thing Luther did in German of course. Luther and Tyndale actually met. Tyndale read Luther’s German New Testament in 1522 and started working on his own translation of Erasmus’ text into English. When Tyndale’s bishop warned him his translating work was heretical, Tyndale went to the one place in Europe one could work with intellectual freedom: Wittenberg. The first edition of Tyndale’s New Testament was published in Worms in 1526. Thanks to Guttenberg, the Bibles multiplied throughout England like rabbits. The bishops ordered them burned, and Tyndale with them as soon as he stepped foot on English soil. Seventy-five percent of the King James Bible, published 85 years later, owes itself to Tyndale.

Luke 17

Context: Jesus has compared God to a prodigal, lavishly forgiving Father, who loves both the wandering younger child and the belligerent older child. God has a soft spot for the lost in this world. Jesus has told the story of a master who commended a shrewd manager. He has just told his followers that they must forgive even if someone sins against them seven times in one day.

So, faced with all of this, in this week’s gospel, the disciples ask Jesus, “Increase our faith.” To this he responds, “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.”

Mikeal Parsons (Luke, in the Paieia series) suggests that Jesus’ response is a rebuke. The disciples don’t need to “top off” their faith. A little dab’ll do ya’. The mustard seed is a great image for Jesus’ day. Faith the size of a tiny mustard seed could move a gigantic tree. Today we might talk about the energy of a tiny atom, able to power a city.

mustard-seedI enjoy passing out mustard seeds when preaching this text. This size of these tiny seeds drives home the point. Just know that many of them will end up on the floor.

In his speech about not worrying about your life (Luke 12/Matthew 6), Jesus asks, “If God clothes the grass of the field… don’t you think God will take care of you – you of little faith?” Jesus calls them “ye of little faith” (ὀλιγόπιστοι – “little-faith-ones”). This is a bit of a critique. The good news is, you really don’t need that much faith anyway. If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains (Matthew 17:20) or trees in Luke’s memory.

It fascinates me that Paul recalls this saying of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “Even if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Most fascinating, because Matthew and Luke, who record this saying, had not yet been written. So Paul has heard this story passed on by oral tradition, or he read it in some early gospel or sayings source (Q?) that has been lost to us.

The next saying seems to move us into the topic of humility. We are servants, well, slaves (douloi) of God. No one asks the slave to sit at the table. More like, “Get to work.” To focus on this text as condoning slavery would be to miss the point. With the exception of Paul, the New Testament writers experienced slavery as an unalterable fact of life. Luke’s Jesus is telling his disciples to remain humble, to not get “uppity.” Comport yourselves in this life as slaves, not as domineering. Don’t expect accolades. We are simply faithful slaves doing our duty.

Furthermore, he might be saying, “In doing good or in having faith, don’t consider yourselves morally superior to others.” This tracks well with what Matthew’s Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

This text lends itself to talking about faith or talking about humility. What lessons have you learned personally over the years? Pride goeth before the fall? (Proverbs 16:18) Those who exalt themselves will be humbled. Those who humble themselves will be exalted. This calls to mind Jesus advice to not sit at the highest place and possibly be embarrassed and asked to move back. Better to sit back and maybe get asked to come forward. He is, of course, not just talking about banquets, but about a general posture in life.

If you tackle faith, when have been the times in your life you have doubted, only to be surprised? When has faith surprised you? Perhaps we can talk about worry, which plagues many people. How do we name and call out our worry?

How many hours of worry, we
O’er ills that never came to be?

Faith in Luke and Matthew is trusting God, who clothes the grass of field and feeds the ravens, according to Luke 12:24, which never gets read in our three-year Revised Common Lectionary. Trust God.

This passage comes as good news to the majority of our people who have many doubts and questions, and feel that they are not very faithful. It is a great comfort to know that we don’t need to be people of huge faith. We may be ὀλιγόπιστοι, the “ye of little faith,” that Jesus talks about, but that’s okay. All we really need is a little anyway.

I’ll leave you with a short story that I’m sure many of you have used in sermons before. When the great Lundin walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope, he asked,

“Who believes that I can walk across Niagara Falls on this tightrope?” “We do! We believe!” “Who believes that I can push this wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?” “We do! We believe!” “Who will get into the wheelbarrow?”

Faith is no armchair business. Faith is not believing creeds or doctrines. Faith is not assent to an intellectual proposition. Faith is the ultimate trust. Faith is my daughter diving off the kitchen counter into my arms. Faith is putting our trust in God, in life and in death. Faith is Abraham believing God’s absurd promises. Faith is Moses trusting God will free the Israelites, so much that he is willing to stand before Pharaoh. Faith is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, “Lord let this cup pass from me, but nevertheless not my will, but I will be done.” In short, faith is throwing ourselves into Jesus’ wheelbarrow. Jesus’ boat. Come hell or high water.