Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 17th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 5th verse.
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
All mighty God, we thank you for your word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that word, we pray that your spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your spirit through the reading and proclamation of your word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Mountain Moving Faith”
A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member. Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. Until the church doubled the parking lot size, they would not be able to use the new sanctuary. Unfortunately, with its undersized lot, the church had used every inch of its land except for the mountain against which it had been built.
They would have to move the mountain out of the backyard to build more parking spaces. Undaunted, the pastor announced the following Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain moving faith.” They would hold a prayer session asking God to remove the mountain from the backyard and to somehow provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the scheduled opening dedication service.
At the appointed time, 24 of the congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three hours. At ten o’clock, the pastor said the final “Amen.” “We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone. “God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this time too.” The following day, as he was working in his study there, came a loud knock at his door. When he called “come in,” a rough-looking construction foreman appeared, removing his hard hat as he entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from Acme Construction Company over in the next county. We’re building a huge shopping mall. We need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove and pave all the exposed areas free of charge if we can have it right away. We can’t do anything else until we get the dirt in and allow it to settle properly.”
The little church was dedicated the following Sunday as initially planned, and there were far more members with “mountain moving faith” on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week! (Author Unknown).
Wow. At first, listen, that story sounds like a fantastic fulfillment of a saying Jesus liked to use during his ministry. Both Matthew and Mark record him as saying that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. In the Gospel for today, Luke records Jesus as saying, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Either way, he chose to say it, the message was the same: With just a little faith, great things can be done.
It’s no wonder, then, that the disciples said to him, “Increase our faith.” Is it any wonder that the pastor of that small mountain church called for those with “mountain moving faith” to come pray? But the point of Jesus’ illustration does not support such conclusions. His point is that the amount of faith you have doesn’t matter. Lots and lots of faith aren’t necessary, but rather any faith at all, even a tiny bit like a mustard seed, is enough. But enough for what? How about enough to move trees or mountains or even human hearts?
The size of faith doesn’t matter because God is the one doing the moving. If my faith moved the mountain, then the bigger the mountain, the more faith I would need to move it. The bigger the obstacle, the more strength I’d need to climb it. The more serious the sin, the more faith I’d need to have it forgiven. That kind of thinking kind of makes sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at all. God is the one doing the work through faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our lives. Does it matter if I have a bigger key ring than you do? Because we can both open the door with that one little key. And once the door is open to God, he can move the mountains, trees, and even our hearts.
So, what Jesus is saying to his disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they had the smallest amount of faith, they could do great things. Great things like what Jesus tells us in the gospel for today.
Things like being especially sensitive to people new to the faith, and so Jesus says, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2).
Things like offering Christ-like forgiveness again and again, if necessary, and so Jesus says, “Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Luke 17:3-4).
These things don’t seem like such great things until you have to do them, and the apostles didn’t think they were able. But they were. They already had what they needed and faith, so they just needed to let God move the mountains and the trees and even their hearts for them.
And so do you. Like the Apostles, you also have what is needed. You also have been given the gift of faith by God. Why else would you be here? You are here to read God’s Word and be nourished by his body and blood because the Holy Spirit created faith in you at your baptism. You are here because that faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, has moved you to pray, praise, and give thanks to the one who loves you and has given himself over to death for you. You are here because of a faith that only trusts what God has done to give you eternal life; as Paul reminds us in the 2nd lesson that it is “God who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9).
Faith certainly can accomplish great things, and since, as I have already said that faith is the reason you are here and faith is the reason you are a child of God, then faith is also the reason that you can do the same things as the apostles. You also can be sensitive to people new to the faith. That means always living your faith. Don’t act righteous and holy on Sundays, and the rest of the week, you live as the heathens do. What would someone new to Christianity think if they knew you from church but heard you take the Lord’s name in vain? And in the same way, what would a new Christian think, or any Christian for that matter, think if after we hear Jesus tell us to forgive and forgive and forgive, and then after we feel someone has sinned against us, we refuse to forgive?
I think all of us have to admit that at one time or another, we are guilty of conducting ourselves in an un-Christian manner, and more often than not, we are guilty of holding grudges and refusing forgiveness. The worse part of this is the fact that what I have mentioned so far is only a small list of how we sin in thought, word, and deed each and every day, and because of the things we say and do, we are deserving of an eternity spent separated from God in hell.
But praise God that he doesn’t treat us according to what we deserve. Praise God that despite our sins, he has given us faith—even as small as a mustard seed. And God working through the faith he has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required. God working in us through faith can move mountains, trees, and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is powerful because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful. He defeated death, destroyed the devil, and swept away our sins by his mercy. Through faith in Jesus, God can even do the impossible: save sinners like you and me.
And so that brings us back to that little mountain church story I told at the beginning. At first, it seems to be a good illustration of the mountain-moving powers of faith. But in the end, it never happened—at least, that’s what the resource I got the illustration from says. And I’d tend to agree. According to this text, God didn’t need twenty-four people with big faiths to pray. Nor did the pastor’s belief make that contractor show up in his office. God moves mountains, trees, and even human hearts through faith so tiny as a mustard seed. In fact, the whole idea of “if you really, really believe, then it will happen” is disproved by this text. But let’s not twist these words to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take this Christianity stuff, faith, and prayer and study any more seriously than we already do. Realize that since you already possess more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family, your community, and even your world, the question ceases to be “Why can’t you?” and is now “Why won’t you?” God moves mountains, trees, and even the stubbornness of our own sinful hearts.
Father, thank You that according to Your Word, You have given us all a measure of Your faith—Mountain Moving faith. Hallelujah!
And it was through that same faith that Abraham became the father of many Nations, and it was not because he lived like a saint and did everything right, but because You made something out of Abraham even when he was a nobody because he dared to trust You.
Father, I pray that we will all have that same kind of faith and trust in You—the faith to trust You to do what You said You would do.
Even though things in the natural may seem hopeless right now, help us not to focus on what we can’t do, Lord, but on what Your Word said You would do for us.
Help us get a revelation that we must mix our faith with Your Word. You said Your Word is near us even in our mouths, and we have been given the power and the authority to speak to our mountains, and Your Word, like a hammer, will break into pieces the rock of most stubborn resistance. Amen.
Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Christopher Raiford.
Lots and lots of faith isn’t necessary, but rather any faith at all, even a tiny bit like a mustard seed is enough.