Potent Faithfulness

+ A sermon for Pentecost +17C/Lectionary 27C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on October 6, 2019 +

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4,2:1-4; Luke 17:1-10

Audio: LINK

For decades now, scientists and activists have been sounding the alarm.
As far back as 1992, scientists issued a “Warning to Humanity”.
I’ve been hearing these warnings my entire life.
But due to political cowardice, financial priorities, or scientific denial, relatively little has been done to combat the looming reality of climate change.
Within the past year as we are seeing the beginnings of its devastating effects on our planet and its inhabitants, the United Nations warns that we have less than 12 years to achieve a near herculean effort to prevent the worst scenarios from coming true.
And as that dire warning is fresh in our minds, we hear the news of the Amazon rainforest burning, ice sheets melting, coral reefs dying, and the oceans warming.
We hear how the changing climate is devastating whales and polar bears, effecting God’s beautiful creatures whom we are celebrating today.
But despite the overwhelming evidence and the necessary urgency, political leaders in this country and around the world have been tepid at best in their responses.
Much of the actions taken by environmentalists have been limited to individual or local impacts: the increase of hybrid or electric vehicles, the banning of plastic bags or straws, choosing to eat less meat.
And while these changes certainly have an impact, they can seem so small compared to the monumental task before us.

Last August, one 15-year old decided she was fed up with the inaction of those in positions of power and started a solitary protest.

Thunberg in front of the Swedish parliament, holding a “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (transl. School strike for the climate) sign, Stockholm, August 2018. By Anders Hellberg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77270098

Every day for three weeks, Greta Thunberg stood outside of the Swedish legislature as a prophet, demanding that her government take action to combat climate change.
Eventually her protest garnered attention and gained traction worldwide.
Inspired by what began as a single protester in Stockholm, last month’s Global Climate Strike drove between 6 and 7.6 million students, workers, and scientists into the streets of 150 countries demanding that the world take radical action on climate change.
In the face of what may seem like an insurmountable task, one student stood up to be a part of the change and through her witness brought renewed hope and determination to millions of people working together to save our planet and reminding us that we have everything that we need to face this challenge.

Our gospel reading today comes after weeks of Jesus telling the disciples what it means to truly follow him.
He is on his way to Jerusalem—on his way to the cross—and is trying to prepare his followers to continue his ministry after he has gone.
Jesus tells them that they must divest themselves of material possessions, work to build true community, throw banquets for the hungry and outcast, seek the lost and protect the vulnerable, to take up their cross and follow him, and, as we pick it up today, that they must forgive those who sin against them.
All put together, this is no easy task, but must surely seem like an extraordinary undertaking that is being laid upon them.
I can almost sense the foreboding those disciples must have felt listening to what Jesus was demanding of them.
unnamed (2)I imagine that they felt totally inadequate for such tasks as they cried out to Jesus, Lord, “Increase our faith!”
It’s as if they are pleading, ‘help us face these challenges, because we can’t do it on our own.’
It seems to me a well-intentioned and reasonable request.
But rather than praise the disciples for their plea and give them what they had asked, Jesus responds with a promise that is frankly difficult to understand: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he said, “You could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Now, this may make faith sound a bit like magic, that if we believe the right things we can do fantastical feats like planting a tree into the sea or maybe pulling a rabbit out of our hats; as if the goal of following Jesus is to gain the power of distorting the laws of physics.
But I think Jesus is telling his disciples that their request, while well intentioned, is fundamentally misguided.
He’s showing them that they do not need more faith, as if faith could even be quantified, and inviting them to see the power of their faith.
He’s reminding them that faith is less of a noun that we can gain and increase and more of a verb, actions that infiltrate our very being until faithfulness becomes the core of our lives.
He uses the metaphor of a mustard seed, a minuscule seed that grows into a large, unruly, and untamable bush, to illustrate the potency of faith. mustard-tree-sara1
How small acts of following Jesus will germinate and flourish producing big results.
And using a second metaphor, one more grating to our modern ears, he explains how following Jesus in our daily life, how continuing his ministry in our every day actions, is not something that we do seeking rewards or honor, but is something we do because Jesus has commanded us to do so.
How we can glorify God and follow Jesus in our daily lives by doing what Jesus has instructed us to do in small, ordinary ways.

So perhaps Jesus is telling his followers that faithful actions like forgiveness, letting go of what is binding us, building up community, that these seemingly large tasks are no more difficult that doing our daily work, because he is showing us how we can do them.
And in those small actions, we can see the impacts of our every day lives of following Jesus germinate and flourish.
In these everyday acts of faithfulness, our little mustard seed puts down roots and shoots up into the air.
In following Jesus’ example in our lives, our little bush of faith grows stronger and larger to enormous sizes yielding massive results.
That small acts of faithfulness, like demanding that those in power care for our earth, can have worldwide effects.
Jesus is not refusing his followers ‘more faith’ because he is uncaring or does not hear the desperation of their cry, he is showing them that they already have all that they need—they have Jesus, they have his example, they have each other.
What more could they need?

Because while any single one of our actions, any single one of our lives may not fundamentally change the world, Jesus is not putting that burden on any single one of us.
When the apostles, those who have been equipped and sent out to do acts of faithfulness, ask for more faith, Jesus says you, y’all, all of you, already have faith.
This is not a solitary mission, but one meant for a community.
If following Jesus and establishing his perfect reign of justice and peace throughout the world were laid on any single one of our shoulders, we would surely feel crushed by such an insurmountable task.
But Jesus is reminding us that the world will not be changed, that the climate will not be saved through in one fell swoop, through a single individual’s effort, but through a collective force, through individual actions and by a people united in common purpose.
He is reminding us that we are not in our work to bring the Reign of God on earth, but are part of a much larger movement that spans space and time following the example of our Lord, planting seeds in our daily lives and actions that may seem small by themselves, but when collected with the lives and work of God’s people across the globe are bursting forth into a large, unruly, and untamable forest spreading over the earth.

Here at Holy Cross, we hardly need to be told that small actions can yield enormous results.
In this place, despite the constant and overwhelming news about violence and poverty, about corruption and hatred, we choose to remain steadfast in God’s love, committed to lives of faithfulness.
I’ve been repeating since my first days here my awe in the ways this little congregation makes massive impacts on our community.
Just last week, we saw how following Christ’s command and throwing banquets for our neighbors in need made a huge difference in the lives of those hungry men.
We see each spring how friends gathering each week to enjoy each other’s company while they cut and sew and quilt has provided warmth for thousands of people across the globe.
We know how reducing the use of paper and plastic and compositing our food waste does have an impact on our environment.

A few of the apples at Holy Cross’s Apple Cider Pressing event, September 2019

We know how a few apples can bring a community together and how the everyday act of gardening has produced more than 7 tons of produce for the food bank alone.
We have seen how our everyday acts of faithfulness grow beyond what we thought possible and establish this orchard church as a beacon of God’s love in action in our community and the world.
And now as we ask what is next for this little congregation, we ponder what more our little mustard seeds can do.
How a worship space can inspire people to deep lives of faithfulness and connect us to the community around us.
How just a portion of our land could provide housing and hope for untold numbers of our neighbors.
How this little slice of creation can motivate us to protect and care for the whole creation.

mustardseed3This is the life to which Jesus has called us, my friends.
This is how we grow that mustard seed of faith that was planted within us and germinated in the waters of our baptism when we were commissioned as Christ’s apostles and sent into the world to live lives full of faithfulness.
This is the life that is fed at this table where our faith is nourished and grows in Christ who binds us to himself and to the whole communion of saints. This meal that unites us with all the faithful and reminding us that we are not in this by ourselves, but have a whole community working together to bring God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven.
This is a collective life made up of everyday acts of faithfulness whose impacts grow beyond measure until the whole world is covered, until the whole creation is nourished with the fruits of God’s love.
This is the life to which we are called together, led by Christ who calls us here.


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