Sermon Proper 22C 2019                                                                                        The Rev. John M. Atkins


Gospel of Luke 17:5-10

5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “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. 7“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

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They were making their way toward Jerusalem.  I imagine Jesus’ anxiety increased with every mile.  His disciples were unaware that in Jerusalem, Jesus would have several confrontations with the Jewish religious authorities; and finally with Caiaphas, the High Priest himself.  Those confrontations would end with Jesus’ execution.

Jesus anticipated his fate.  So for him, it was of heightened importance that the disciples grasped all that Jesus was conveying to them.  He needed his disciples to continue his movement after his death.  Jesus taught and shared miracles – and all with the hopes that his disciples would understand Jesus’ mission of sharing God’s love and bringing about God’s kingdom of justice and peace.

But the disciples were slow learners.  They felt ill-equipped to live up to the standards of Jesus’ teachings.  With despair in their voices, collectively they articulated to Jesus, “If we are going to live up to the way you want us to live, you must increase our faith, Jesus.”

The original classical Greek text reveals that Jesus became irritated.  Even after accompanying Jesus, seeing God’s miraculous wonders and hearing Jesus teach, the disciples felt like failures – even before they began the mission without Jesus.

Jesus responded to his disciples, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” (Luke 17:6a) God can work through you.  It doesn’t take huge amounts of faith, only a tiny bit of faith in God to make an impact in the world.

Jesus went on to illustrate a master expecting his devoted servant, even after working all day in the fields, to still serve the master his dinner before the servant eats.  “Who among you would do otherwise?” (paraphrase Luke 17:7)  Jesus is saying to his disciples: don’t expect to be pampered, don’t expect the work to be easy, and don’t expect a reward.  Focus on the work God is asking you to do and have a little faith in God and it will come to pass.  Trust that “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end….” (Lamentations 3:22a)

20 years ago, with the support of a Diocese and a little faith in God, I was honored to plant a new Episcopal church outside of Cleveland.  I was given 3 phone numbers of people who might be interested in participating.  In 4 months the church grew to about 75 people.  In a little over a year, we were about 175.  A little faith in God created a miracle.

At my former parish in urban Philadelphia, I made a suggestion one afternoon to our leadership that we host a community meal.  The parish supported it, we gathered a few dollars, and with a little faith in God we began our monthly Community Dinner.  The fits month we had only 15 people from the community.  Then we had 40, then 60, and then 80-100.  Some people came to eat who would not otherwise have food that night.  Some people came to serve their neighbors.  Some people came to get to know their neighbors.  A little faith in God birthed a miracle.

Many years ago, a couple moved into a new, developing part of town.  They had a love for children.  God placed a vision in their minds and hearts and they responded in faith.  The couple established a Sunday School for children moving into this new part of town.  Slowly, parents became interested in the Sunday School and envisioning a new church.  9 years later, the first building was erected for the ministry of St. Paul’s Church, Oakwood.  99 years later, our ministry goes on.  Our teaching of both children and adults to experience and share God love through Jesus continues.  A little faith in God opened the door for many blessings.

What has God placed in YOUR mind and heart?

Paul wrote to his protege, Timothy, “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you… (II Timothy 1:6).  We need to be reminded that, through our baptism, we are connected with Christ Jesus and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit.  We are people of faith in God.  We experience God’s love through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  We know the power of God’s love.  If only we acknowledge the vision God has placed in our mind and heart, and act on that vision with Faith in God, we can help God bless and change the world.  We CAN be instruments of God’s transformative justice and peace, if we say “Yes” to God.

In Jesus’ illustration about the master and the devoted servant, the rhetorical question has a rhetorical answer.  “Who among you would do otherwise?  No one.”  No one, that is, except God.  God does welcome us to the God’s table.  God does feed us from the goodness of God’s creation.  God does nurture our spirits with connections with friends, church communities, and God.  Even though we are God’s servants, God treats us as cherished family and blesses us as we labor for the sake of God’s love for the world.