Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”” (Luke 17:1–10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The cartoon Agnus Day (only found in the large print bulletin today) pictures Ted and Rick. Rick is standing with his cup of coffee, watching Ted frantically searching through his pockets. "What's the matter?" Rick says. "I think I lost my mustard seed!"
"I think I lost my mustard seed!" The disciples are saying that to Jesus. Jesus has tweaked them with the law. He's given them some examples where their faith falls short of God's expectations. He tells them that they will be tempted to sin. He tells them that if they are careless and cause their brothers in the faith to sin it would be better for them to be drowned in the sea. He tells them that they are to forgive seven times a day when there brother sins against them and asks for forgiveness. And they instantly see in themselves small faith. A faith unable to handle the temptations that are coming. A faith that could easily cause others to stumble. A faith that refuses to forgive. "Jesus! Increase our faith! We think we've lost our mustard seeds"
Jesus uses the comparison of faith and the mustard seed. But I want you to look at the text very closely. And listen while I read it again.
If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
What is it that you heard that I didn't actually read? It's likely that you heard "if you had faith as small as a grain of mustard." But that's not what Jesus says. He's referring to the parable he told earlier. Listen to it from St. Matthew's Gospel:
[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”” (Matthew 13:31–32, ESV)
Notice the point of the parable of the mustard seed. It's not that the seed is small. It's that the seed starts small and grows very large. Jesus says the kingdom of God starts very small: a baby born to poor parents in a tiny stable in a tiny town. 12 disciples following an itinerant preacher. The dead Jew bleeding on the cross. Tiny churches dotted all over the Mideast. But it grows to incorporate all those who are called by God to faith, numbering thousands of thousands, a number no one can count, according to the book of Revelation.
So when the disciples say, "Our faith is so small, increase our faith!" Jesus answers with the parable of the mustard seed. In other words Jesus is saying faith is like a mustard seed. It starts small and grows. No one starts with "big" faith. Jesus is not saying small faith moves mountains. He's not saying small faith uproots trees. In fact it's the point of comparison. The disciples are expecting that their faith should be able to avoid temptation and forgive. Jesus says it grows to that. No one with a small faith can uprooted tree and cause it to be replanted in the sea. That's big faith. It comes through the work of God in us.
At first you may think that the last part of today's reading is not really connected to the rest. Jesus is continuing the point. Jesus is saying, do what you been given to do. Faith grows through the work of God in us. As we practice that faith we will see it grow. There will be temptations. We are given to resist them. We will be given opportunities not to harm the faith of others but to help it to grow. We are given to help each other grow in faith. We will be given opportunities to forgive. We are given to forgive.
Jesus is describing this community of faith. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa. First Lutheran Church, Mount Ayr, Iowa. Christians gathered around Word and Sacrament. Christians caring for each other as we see each other's needs. Christians forgiving one another as we have been forgiven by Jesus Christ on the cross. Christians growing together in faith as we receive from God strengthening of our faith through the means that he has given us. Christians doing what we have been given to do in this time and place.
So what have we been given to do in the face of temptation? St. Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, ESV)
and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” (Ephesians 6:17, ESV)
It is the Word of God that resists temptation. In this community of faith we have been given to hear the word of God and apply it to our lives. We resist temptation when we focus on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. His life, death, and resurrection forgive our sins. The gospel is the power of God for those who believe.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16, ESV)
A regular dose of God's word put into our ears is the means of resisting temptation.
What do we do to keep us from causing others to stumble? Practice forgiveness! Forgive as we have been forgiven. Don't give sin the opportunity to fester. The greatest thing a community of faith can do for one another is to forgive each other. We will sin against one another. That's what sinful people do. Jesus commands us to forgive. Don't expect that forgiving is easy. It comes with practicing what Jesus says to do. It comes with doing what is our duty to do. It comes with focusing on the forgiveness that we have received, instead of the sin that we have received. The whole armor of God is the Word of God. In that word, we receive forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, by hearing again and again that Jesus died on the cross to forgive our sins. When we see the depth of our sin and the greatness of the gift of forgiveness for us, we cannot help but want to give that forgiveness to those who sin against us. And in terms of sin, our sin against God is great, and the sins of others against us are small.
Our mustard seed faith is faith that grows. Our prayer to our Lord is this: Lord, make my faith like a mustard seed. It's small now. Make it grow. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.