A Brief Meditation Preached at Zion UCC, Arendtsville October 3, 2010
Recently I joined the Planet Fitness near our home. I can’t say it’s something I really wanted to do. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to think of another way to increase my fitness without exercise. If I come up with something I’ll let you know!
Jesus’ disciples asked a simple request of him: “increase our faith.” Surely it is something we ourselves have at some time or another asked of Jesus. As Jesus often did, he answered his disciples in a puzzling way. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Besides mixing his metaphors, Jesus would also seem to be using a little hyperbole here. Surely he can’t be serious.
As pointed out in several of the essays on this text in the Feasting on the Word series, the disciples made this request on the heels of being handed a really hard assignment by Jesus. He tells them that even if someone sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times a day and says, “I repent,” you must forgive them. To which the disciples reply, “hoooo…we’re gonna need a little more faith for that, Jesus.”
Faith is a big-ticket item in the Christian life. We pray about it, sing about it, we teach our children the Bible stories about faithful people like Abraham and Sarah. We look on faith as the end result of a lifetime of discipleship. We believe that it is like spiritual muscle that we build in the Planet Fitness of Faith. And we tend to think that faith is something that we are responsible for growing and increasing. The point being made by Jesus is quite the opposite.
Someone once said we don’t need great faith, so long as we have faith in a great God. Our faith does not move the mulberry tree. God acts through us to move the mulberry tree. Our faith is our trust that God can move the mulberry tree.
When we think in terms of “my” faith, we tend to overlook the source of our faith. Faith is a gift from God and God grows it…it is not the result of a faith fitness program. Jesus asks us to take our focus off our own strengths and weaknesses, and fix our gaze on God. The Heidelberg Catechism says that true faith is not something we gain for ourselves, but it is a “wholehearted trust which the Holy Spirit creates in me through the gospel.” And yes, God does amazing things with something as small as a mustard seed.
This week we had a “first ever” event at Zion. Our Consistory toured the facility at HACC and then we had our monthly meeting in one of their meeting rooms. The campus is beautiful and well appointed. We were all amazed at how much the program had grown from such humble beginnings. We presented the college with a check for $1000 for the scholarship fund.
Twenty years ago I taught a course at HACC. I can recall meeting with the dean in a tiny office in the basement of the old fire station on Liberty Street. The courses were taught in what was then the high school. HACC was unsure if Gettysburg was the right place for a satellite campus or if it would even survive. Twenty years later, there are 2300 of our county neighbors being served at that campus.
Something great has been grown from something tiny. No one person, or no one person’s vision can do that alone. It is a secular campus, for sure, but one can’t deny that something amazing happened in bringing that about. And amazing things are happening in the lives of those being served.
One of the reasons we went to HACC was to present them with a check for $1000 for their scholarship fund, which has been matched by another $1000 from a member of the community. That represents a mustard seed step, as well, as we have made a decision to use part of that fund for local education and job training assistance. We want to help plant better lives for our neighbors and pray this will be a first step to a larger ministry.
We began something else new this week that was a little risky. We had our first trivia night at Zion. We had no idea how it would be received but it worked well. Money was raised for mission and new friends came to Zion. From little acorns mighty oaks grow.
New ministries are always risky and involve the faith that God will bless and magnify our work. This week I read an interesting analogy regarding risk-taking. If we look at a $100 bill, in terms of actual value it’s about a penny’s worth of paper. But it is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government and it is that from which it derives its power. Our small steps of faith are backed by the full faith and credit of God.
Bruce Epperly says this: “Luke 17:5-6 invites us to think big, and not small, to make mistakes and not worry about failure; God will supply us with possibilities, insights, and synchronous encounters. We just need to have enough faith: to open our eyes to a deeper, more energetic reality than we can imagine. God is luring us by a future vision in which all God’s children, human and non-human, share in abundance alongside one another.”
It is that future vision of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom that keeps us moving, small step by small step, into the creative possibilities unfolding all around us. We all have at least a little faith within us and we all have the ability to plant a mustard seed. In the kingdom, a little faith goes a long way.
 Margit Ernst-Habib, Feasting on the Word, Year C, v4, p142.
 Question 21 in The Book of Confessions.
 Bruce Epperly, Process and Faith commentary for October 3, 2010