"Faith in a Great God"
Here in the first 10 verses of Luke Chapter 17 Jesus gives His disciples and us four teachings:
1. One is about tempting others, or causing others to sin.
2. One is on forgiving others.
3. One is on the need for us to act on our faith.
4. And the fourth lesson is about how doing all this is really no big deal--just keep doing it!!!
Obviously, though, Jesus' disciples are overwhelmed.
They don't feel up to the tasks.
It's incredibly difficult to be a good role model for others.
It's even harder to forgive others over and over again from some bottomless well of forgiveness!!!...
...and 7 times a day at that !!!
Is it any wonder that the "apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!'"?
How many times have you said that yourself?
I know I have.
It's kind of like, "Jesus, I think I hear what you are saying, but I am just a human being.
I mess up, and may even cause others to 'trip and fall into sin...'
When someone sins against me; I sometimes get mad--really, really mad.
It's hard to forgive!!!
If they come to me and say, 'I'm sorry, I am changing my ways,' I might be able to forgive them the first or second time...
...but if they keep doing it over and over again?
I'm gonna need a faith as big as the Empire State Building in order to be able to follow Your commands!!!"
But this doesn't deter Jesus.
Instead, Jesus answers the disciples and Jesus answers us with kindness, compassion and maybe even a bit of a smile.
"Why you don't need more faith," Jesus says.
And then He takes His thumb and forefinger and pinches them together...
..."Even this much faith is enough!"
In love, Jesus tells us that we already have enough faith to do whatever we need do.
"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."
What in the world does Jesus mean by this?
To understand this verse, scholars down through the ages have wound themselves and their listeners through all the nuances of Greek clauses.
But let's just cut to the chase!!!
Obviously, what Jesus says here is not to be taken literally.
Faith is not some kind of magic trick by which we are enabled to do some amazing landscaping!!!
It's not about saying: "Tulip bulbs, plant yourselves!!!"
"Mulberry tree, dance over to the lake and jump in!!!"
What it is about is God.
We have a great God; and with God anything is possible.
It's not great faith that we need; it is faith in a great God!!!
Cause faith is like a window through which we can see something.
What matters is not whether the window is six inches or six feet high.
What matters is the God that our faith is looking out on!!!
If it's the Creator God, the God Who came to this earth and took on human form, that is, Jesus...
...if it's the God of the Holy Spirit, then the tiniest little peep-hole of a window will give us access to power like we have never dreamed of!!!
Of course, it's the power to love, to forgive, to be transformed!!!
As you know, I had a radical born again experience when I was 18 years old.
During my college years I got off track.
As I have told you, following college I pursued a career as a t-v news reporter, but I was not happy.
I was not satisfied.
I knew I was not doing what I had been created to do with my life.
I had felt called to be a minister from as far back as I could remember, but I had run from it.
After I left the t-v business, I moved back to Syracuse, New York, continued to run from God until I became convinced I had finally lost my faith, and opened up a rock and roll tee shirt shop in a mall.
I called it "Rock Bottom Imports."
And "Rock Bottom Imports" just happened to be situated right next to the biggest high school in the city.
To say the least, "Rock Bottom Imports" was an instant success!!!
After school kids piled into my store.
Before school, kids hung out in my store.
During school, kids skipped classes and came to my store.
On the weekends, parents who used the mall as a "baby sitter," dropped their kids off and they came to my store.
Many would spend entire days in my store.
And I would talk to these kids.
I would listen to these kids.
And these were some very troubled kids.
I sold tee-shirts from every band, including watches with bands' logos on them, hats, gothic jewelry, stickers, patches--you name it!!!
And as I got to know and care about these young kids, I began to become more and more unsettled by how lost they seemed to be.
They started to consider me a friend and would brag about all their exploits: the drugs they were doing, and...and...one thing I noticed in this generation of young folks was that Christianity had become sort of the enemy.
That was one thing which had changed over the decade which separated our ages.
Anyhow, I was making almost all my money off a singer named Marylyn Manson.
He was the biggest new rock star at this time.
Everything else combined didn't compare to the amount of Marylyn Manson merchandise I sold.
He was keeping me in business.
One night, I watched Marylyn Manson perform on the MTV Music Awards.
He started out in a pulpit sort of thing, with an arrow pointing down.
And Manson, who claimed to be a minister in the church of Satan took a Bible, ripped it up, and screamed to the crowd, "Christianity is a scourge on this earth and who would want to go to heaven anyway?
You'd just be surrounded by a bunch of..."
Well, you can fill in the blanks.
Then he started singing his song "Beautiful People" off his "Anti-Christ Superstar" album.
To say I was unhappy about this is an understatement.
This was the guy who these kids, I had grown to love and care about, basically worshiped and wanted to be like.
This was the guy I was making most of my money off of, by selling his junk to children.
At the very least, I didn't want to be a part of the problem.
So, that evening, I made a pledge to myself.
I wasn't sure I would keep the pledge, as a matter of fact, I was pretty sure I wouldn't...
...but I made a pledge to myself that I wouldn't sell anymore Marylyn Manson merchandise in my store.
The next morning I went to work, and I started to think.
I started to think about God, about good and evil, right and wrong in ways I hadn't thought in a long time.
And I felt my faith in God.
And I realized that this wonderful faith is a gift of God.
And over time, as I kept my pledge not to sell anymore Marylyn Manson merchandise, I experienced such a transformation in my life that it is beyond words.
And as I took hold of the mustard seed of faith that had taken hold of me I was reminded what it was like to feel happy, to have a purpose, a mission, to truly love and to care.
Six months later I was in seminary studying to be a pastor.
That was 15 years ago.
Jesus said, "Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen.
It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their necks than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin..."
...Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, 'I am changing my ways,' you must forgive that person."
How can we do that without a spiritual force in our lives that calls us forth and reshapes everything about us?
I've heard that, not too long ago, a popular jewelry item was a mustard seed bracelet.
It had a tiny mustard seed embedded in a clear glass sphere, and the glass acted as a magnifying glass.
Some folks say that mustard seed jewelry symbolized for them God's amazing ability to do big things with very limited resources.
And indeed, God has done and continues to do great things through people who believe in God and act on what God is calling them to do...
...pursuing it with everything in them.
Think of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, which was grounded in churches: nonviolent protesters confronting armed police, dogs, water hoses, and crowds threatening violence.
Or how about Bishop Desmund Tutu confronting the full power of the state in opposing the terrible system of apartheid.
Or how about a little nun in Calcutta named Teresa who has inspired billions through her faith in and love for God and other people?
Unlikely, but profound change has happened and continues to happen because God gives people the gift of faith.
We, of course, must decide on whether we will act on it or throw it away.
You know, having faith in God is a lot different than believing there is a God.
Most people believe that there is a God.
A theologian once explained the difference this way.
He said, "When I say I believe in my wife, I don't mean that I believe I have a wife.
I know that is true.
When I say I have faith in God, I mean that I trust God to be God."
And isn't that what Jesus means--that our faith in God is all we need?
If we trust God to be God, we have all the faith we need.
And our capacity for believing grows --even though it might be as tiny as a mustard seed.
Because as we act upon God's gift of faith, that faith grows within us.
And as Matthew puts it: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.
Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
As we act upon the faith God gives us, God enables us to grow and grow and grow.
And one day we may look out and see that God has done amazing things through the little faith we do have...
...things that are much more amazing than being able to tell a tree to uproot itself and be planted into the sea, and have it obey you!!!
Do we trust that God is big enough to transform our lives one step at a time...
...forgiving us when we make a mistake and enabling us to brush off and move forward?
Do we trust that God is big enough to enable us to forgive someone--even if they sin against us 7 times a day?
Jesus ends in verse 10 by basically saying that this is "our duty" or "our calling" as Christ followers.
It's simply what's expected of us.
It may seem impossible, but it's not.
The reason is that it's not great faith that we need; it is faith in a great God!!!
We aren't called to do it on our own.
We are to just do it.
Don't make a big deal out of it.
Don't dwell on the difficulty of it.
Just do it.
Forgive others again and again.
And whatever you do, carefully nurture the faith that is within you and act on it.
Read the Bible, have a daily devotion time with God--whether you feel like it or not--come to church to worship God in community, take part in the ministries of this church, invite others to come experience God with you.
You will be amazed at how much God can accomplish.
You will be amazed at how great life can be.