Mustard Seed Faith in Troubled Times

A Sermon on Luke 17: 3-10

Rev. Thomas Steers

Christ Saviour Lutheran Church, Toronto

We live in worrisome and uncertain times:

The possibility of nuclear war; acts of terrorism;

Large companies that become insolvent;

Living costs beyond our means;

and a culture that ignores or is hostile to the Christian faith.

When we can’t find security in the outside world, we often turn to family and friends.

This is important, and the social network we live in is a gift from God.

But we find, at times, that even these relationships are stressed, or break apart.

Our faith in things around us, and perhaps even in ourselves, begins to fail.

And we’re left wondering where to turn, how to deal with problems and disagreements with those closest to us.

This morning in our Gospel passage from Luke Jesus gave the Apostles and us clear teaching and help.

Our lives center around relationships.

Whether it be family and friends, co-workers, our Church family, or with God.

And because we’re human and imperfect, disagreements and conflict happen.

It began with Cain and Able.

So the way we deal with these issues is important for us, those around us,  and to God and His Church.

Jesus in this passage from the 17th Chapter of Luke is talking about the nature and rhythm of Christian life together.

Christ is telling the Apostles and us how He wants relations among believers in their personal lives and in the Church to work.

And that is through forgiveness for those who say they’re wrong.

That can be a daily, perhaps even hourly, act.

Not once or twice a year.

We can take from this that in a church where there is no forgiveness of other believers, it’s not Christ’s church.

The seven times a day reference makes clear that Jesus knows our imperfections, and He’s saying try to be as understanding and forgiving as He has been with us.

He’s saying don’t be a Pharisee. Remember the command to love.

Christ is talking about how we, as His disciples of today, react to brothers and sisters who transgress as we transgress.

And we see in Luke that Christ is drawing a connection between faith and forgiveness.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, if he repents, forgive him.”

This is a command from God. We allude to it every time we say the  Lord’s prayer.

But you’ll notice the word repent is there.

Often for those who transgress and hurt others it’s a sticking point.

A respected lawyer once told me that having a party say they’re sorry is often the most difficult thing to obtain.

Many times people are more willing to pay money to someone they’ve wrongfully inured, than to simply say, “I apologize. I’m sorry.”

There are times when people won’t apologize, and in fact continue with behaviour that is wrong.

Jesus, here, isn’t talking about these situations.

He’s speaking to us about times when someone admits they’ve wronged you and says forgive me, and we don’t.

Because if ‘sorry’ seems to be the hardest word, ‘I forgive you’ comes in a  close second.

The act of forgiveness must be a constant in the Christian community because absolution is how the world is released from its bondage to sin through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

The failure to forgive those who repent goes to the heart of the problem,   because it’s really a spiritual issue, it’s really a failure of faith, and if you’ve wondered why Christ’s words calling for forgiveness lead the disciples to ask Him to increase their faith, here we have our answer.

If we have faith that God is in control, and that Christ’s death earned forgiveness for us and the whole world, we’ll forgive when those who sin against us say  I’m sorry.

Even though Christ’s words may sound harsh when He says to the Apostles that if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you’ll be able to tell trees to move and they will, what He’s saying is that with the faith that will come to them after the resurrection, after they fully grasp who Jesus is and what He’s accomplished for them, they will be able to do miraculous things.

So Jesus’ words are really words of encouragement, for them and us.

Jesus uses the mustard seed analogy as an example because He’s talking about the hiddenness of the Kingdom of God represented by the mustard seed’s small size.

The small seed that grows into a tree birds can nest in is symbolic of when the small seed of faith grows into the fullness of the Christian Church.

The Apostles, as human beings, have forgotten the incredible power Christ gave them when He sent them on their mission to heal the sick and drive out demons.

Yet the Apostles will be given faith by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to go and preach, and plant the seed of the Church, the seed of faith   for generations to come.

They’ll be given faith to forgive even seven times a day and thus show how true healing in God’s kingdom takes place.

Yet how is an Apostle, or a follower of Christ in today’s world to behave.

Jesus goes on to explain by giving the example of the humble slave.

His followers in His church, and its leaders, are to be humble servants and not tyrants, not unforgiving like the Pharisees.

Humility, service, as well as forgiveness are the marks of Christ.

The stamp of the cross is now to be on the Apostles’ service, and our own.

The table at which we serve other believers was prepared by the giving of our Lord’s body and the shedding of His blood for us.

Yet how many times have we let the hurt caused by others who’ve said they’re sorry prevent us from sharing the forgiveness we’ve received from God?

How long have we held a grudge against someone when they’ve admitted they’re wrong?

One of the most heart-breaking things I’ve seen in families is when this sort of emotional cold war endures until one side is dead, and the ability to either say I’m sorry, or I forgive you, disappears in this world.

Many times when we’re hurt in relationships we withdraw and allow all that anger to store up in our heart.

Jesus tells us to let other people know when they sin against us, to rebuke them, and it may cause a legitimate separation, especially when issues of faith are involved.

But when others express their regret, we’re to forgive them every time.  Even seven times in a day.

God’s forgiveness of us through Jesus is the core of our Christian faith.

It is God’s gift to us that He commands we in turn offer to others.

We read the account of the poor beggar Lazarus and the rich man last week in the Gospel of Luke.

In our situation what we have are the riches of God within us and a poor beggar who admits they’re wrong asking for mercy.

One thing that can unite us, one common ailment we can identify with, is when we see the great mountain of debt we owe God, and see that it’s all been forgiven by God sending Christ to the cross in our place.

If God can forgive us that mountain, we certainly have the duty to forgive our brother or sister the mole hill that at times stands between us and the person who says I’m sorry.

Jesus says have faith and you’ll do great things.

The disciples saw how much Jesus was asking of them, both in leading God’s people but also in this business of forgiveness.

They recognized they lacked the faith they needed, and asked Christ to increase it.

How many of us secretly worry that we’ll have enough faith to get us through the problems and challenges we’ll face in the future?

Will the economy hold together, will my job be there, or will I find one?

Will my health deteriorate, or not improve?

When these worries and doubts come, Christ says to us – have faith!

Like the disciples we realize we’re not up to the task of totally confident living.

But the Holy Spirit has given us enough faith to believe Christ is the only true God, and our Saviour.

The Word of God in His Church, and the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper have been given to us to build and strengthen that faith, and sustain us through this life.

Where the Word of God is properly taught as both Law and Gospel, with the love of God and others as the key commandments, it is the Lord Himself speaking words of encouragement and spiritual healing to us.

Faith isn’t mere positive thinking we cultivate within ourselves.

It’s not something we set our minds to do.

In fact faith doesn’t come from inside us at all, but from outside of us. It comes down from above.

It is the gift God deposited inside us when we were Baptized, and when we first hear the Gospel story that although we were separated from God we’re reunited with Him through Jesus.

Our faith may be as dim as a single candle burning by itself in a dark night, but as long is it is faith, it’s of God.

So even our insignificant faith has great power to save and lead us through whatever darkness awaits in the future.

For in the smallness of our faith in Christ, is concealed God’s power.

Through us He will produce great wonders for His kingdom.

Having faith means seeing we really have nothing of our own.

It comes from God, belongs to Him, and this makes us humble.

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God–not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

That’s why as Christians we don’t boast in ourselves, but in the Lord, in what He’s done.

Jesus’ parable about the servants who come in from the field tired and worn out, and then go about fixing dinner for the master, only later to get their own supper, reminds us never to be proud of what we can do for God.

Because our ability to do good works comes from God’s power alone.

As firemen often say when they rescue someone, “I was only doing my job.”

When we serve the Lord it’s the same.

Jesus turns to us this morning and says have faith.

When you worry, when you’re in pain, when you grieve, look not to yourself,  but to Christ.

And if you doubt that I love you, Christ says, look to the cross.

May the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.