Seeds again! This time mustard seeds, itty bitty seeds. Jesus says these teeny seeds are enough with which to do impossible, ludicrous things. Since when, for example, have YOU ever seen the need to tell a tree to jump into the sea? The sea is dark—way too dark—for the tree’s own comfort. The sea is too salty—way too salty—to be the kind of nutrients the tree likes. Why WOULD anyone in their right mind tell a mulberry tree to go find a new home֫—in the sea, no less?
Matthew’s version of this story, by the way, makes no mention of a mulberry tree. Instead, when the disciples ask Jesus why they have been unable to perform a particularly difficult healing, Jesus told them, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Relocating mountains and moving trees—totally ludicrous endeavors. Unless Jesus tells us to do these things.
All right, I’m having entirely too much fun here, making unspoken connections between Luke’s mulberry tree or Matthew’s mountain and Church of the Resurrection’s redevelopment project. I’m guessing that Jesus didn’t intend for today’s preacher, here in this place and now in this time, to kidnap his mountain and tree in this way. Did he? ……………………..
As you know, we are in expedited discernment about options for the long-term future of our church. We’ve had four years of practice discernment to get us to this point, to give us the ability to nimbly choose among several options, none of which ultimately will result by 2022 with a church here in this location. Instead, the options range from “do nothing and gracefully die,” to give this location to our community as the affordable housing that is so badly needed here in Alexandria’s West End. As you might have heard at last week’s Forum, there are also several options between these two extremes, none of which will result in full-scale or dedicated worship space here in this location.
So, with all that in mind, let’s look at our gospel lesson today.
Jesus and the apostles (the original disciples) were walking to Jerusalem. Jesus knew and had told his followers several times that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem. And Jesus had been using the trip to teach his disciples some hard lessons:
- Love your enemies.
- Exorcise demons, heal the sick, and raise the dead.
- And, just before today’s lesson, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
So is there any wonder on our part WHY the disciples would have said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”? They were saying “This is hard stuff. Jesus, if you want me to do these hard things you are telling me to do, you need to give me more faith in the outcome so I can do what you ask.”
- Jesus, if you want me to heal the sick, you have to give me a whole new skill set so I can diagnose the problem and then provide the cure.
- Jesus, if you want me to keep forgiving someone who sins against me over and over, I’m going to need your help.
- Jesus, if you want us to gift our community with affordable housing, you have to give us what we want in the process. And if you DON’T want us to gift our community with affordable housing, you have to assure us that you will send a whole new group of people—generous people—to us so that Church of the Resurrection can continue to exist long after we are gone.
Sorry, there I go again…
The point is, what Jesus asks us to do is really, really hard. And we’re allowed to ask Jesus for what we need to do the really hard things he wants us to do. But we can’t control the outcome.
We want to get from God what we ask for. We get angry with God when the answer is “no.” But today Jesus reminds us that we don’t get to dictate to God what the answer to our prayers will be. This is why Jesus began taking about slaves right after he chided his followers for their lack of faith, right after he assured his followers that they had enough faith with which to act. Slaves don’t get to choose what the outcomes will be—they simply have to do what they are required to do.
The whole concept of slaves is abhorrent to us today. A more contemporary and reassuring way to make Jesus’ point would be to say, “God is God, and we are not. The outcome of our faithful acts is not up to us, but up to God. We simply have to do whatever we discern, in good faith, that God is asking us to do.”
Jesus told his disciples “no” when they asked him for more faith. He told them that they already had enough faith—that only a little faith would suffice. Jesus told them, in essence, that a tiny bit of faith goes a long way. When it comes to faith, Jesus suggests that what we need to do is to act using the faith we already have.
Mulberry trees and mountains, get ready to move! In whatever direction our faith casts them.