aith has been defined as “the power of believing what we know to be untrue.” C. S. Lewis tweaked that and defined faith as “the power of continuing to believe what we once honestly thought to be true until cogent reasons for honestly changing our minds are brought before us.” ( Christian Reflections, chap. 3, para. 10 ) A friend and Professor of Mathematics defined faith as “the power to believe in God's power when we reach the blind alleys of science. There is always a step of faith.”
One of Jesus' favorite ways of illustrating faith was with the mustard seed. He used this tiny seed to show how a big thing can come from a small beginning. The size of our faith is not the critical ingredient in Discipleship. Our tiny amount of faith in God is all that is needed from us. Our relationship with God is what the Old Testament called a “Suzerainty” Covenant; or, a partnership between a weak partner and a very strong partner. It is a legal term in today's world, as when a person with a few thousand dollars enters into a business partnership with a partner who puts tens of thousands of dollars into the new business. Often, the weak party has some experience that will be of practical use in operating the new company. For example, a person who has years of experience operating a gas station, but little money, joins with a rich man who has no practical experience but a lot of capitol. Our weakness is made strong through God Almighty's infusion of grace and power. Our contribution to the New Covenant, relationship with Christ is just a tiny, mustard seed sized, amount of faith. Indeed, our willingness is all that is necessary to enter into friendship with God.
In fact, our faith is so small that it is often described as “nothing.” There is no-thing that we can do to enter into partnership with God but present ourselves to Him. We are valuable to God because He loves us. God is our spiritual Father, and as a Father loves His child, so the child inherits a place at the table simply because we are a daughter or son. Thus, Jesus minimized our ticket price by comparing it to the tiniest of seeds.
Our means of Grace is beautifully symbolized by the blood of Christ that was literally poured out on the Cross. This carried forth the blood sacrifice of an animal from the Old Testament Covenant, which was a physical token of the partnership/relationship between our all powerful God, and we weak creatures who have nothing to bring but our tiny faith.
Today, we re-enact the sealing of our covenant relationship with God by receiving the symbols of blood and body. This is metaphorical, of course. When Jesus passed the wine and bread to His Apostles at the Last Supper, He said “this is my body, this is my blood.” Naturally, the Apostles understood that in the Old Testament tradition this blood and body was a symbol of the actual blood and body that would be sacrificed on the tree. The Apostles never touched blood. The idea is repulsive to them. Rabbis bleed animals in slaughter. However, the power of the metaphor, the symbol, is our powerful reminder of the huge price that Jesus paid, and the tiny, nearly invisible, mustard seed amount of faith that we contribute to our potentially giant relationship with the Almighty.
So, in our text when Jesus was asked, “What is the Kingdom of God like? And he responded, “The Kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed, that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Lk. 13: 19, NRSV)
Another time Jesus had healed a boy of epilepsy and the Apostles asked why they too could not perform such miracles and Jesus said: “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matt. 17: 20-21)
We also hear Jesus saying that, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come... but when 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.” (Lk. 17: 1, 3-4)
The Apostles seemed shocked at Jesus' hard command to repeated forgiveness and asked, “Lord, increase our faith!” To this Jesus said, “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.” (v.5) Or, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases this line in The MESSAGE : “ You don't need more faith. There is no ‘more' or ‘less' in faith . If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,' and it would do it.”
Forgiveness is the key that unlocks to door to restored relationships between us and God, and between us and others. Forgiveness could calm the storms in our homes, schools and businesses. It could enable folks to work together.
Jesus is saying that mustard seed sized faith is the beginning of our ability to both receive and extend forgiveness. Forgiveness could make our world new. It could fill that big empty hole in your heart.
A tiny amount of simple childlike faith is all it takes to get started, but as with a seed that is planted, it take sunshine, rain and most of all time for the seed to germinate and grow up to become a 35 foot tall mustard tree. Do we really want Jesus to increase our faith or, do we think that such notions are the signs of weakness? If we start taking this religious think really seriously, we might end up giving chunks of our money away, or volunteering our time, or forgiving folks whom we have judged as unforgivable. Christ likeness might remold the tough character that we have been trying to portray. Our secular foundations might begin to crumble. Faith might unveil a new you!
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor