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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Landscaping with Yoda and Jesus

2013-10-06 Landscaping With Yoda and Jesus

Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' The 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.


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…"

In "The Empire Strikes Back," the best Star Wars movie by far, one of the best scenes by far is when Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker about The Force.

Luke's spaceship, the X-wing fighter, has sunk, and only the tip of its nose shows above the swamp's surface.

Remember it? So good.

Luke says, "Oh, no. We'll never get it out now."

Yoda stamps his foot in irritation. (And that's not easy, when you're a puppet.)

Yoda says, "So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?"

Luke looks uncertainly out at the ship.

Luke says, "Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different."

Yoda says, "No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned."

Luke sighs and turns, "All right, I'll give it a try."

Yoda says, "No! Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try."

Luke closes his eyes and concentrates on thinking the ship out of the swamp. Slowly, the X-wing's nose begins to rise above the water. It hovers for a moment and then slides back, disappearing once again.

Luke says, "I can't. It's too big."

Yoda says, "Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hm? Mmmm."

Luke shakes his head and tells Yoda he wants "the impossible."

Yoda turns toward the X-wing fighter. With his eyes closed and his head bowed, he raises his arm and points at the ship. The fighter rises out of the water and moves majestically toward the shore. Yoda guides the fighter carefully down toward the beach.

Luke stares in astonishment. He says, "I don't believe it."

To which Yoda says, "That is why you fail."


A long time ago, the disciples stood at the seashore and asked Jesus to increase their faith.

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."

To which Yoda might say, "Judge your faith by its size, do you? Hm? Mmmm.

The disciples come to Jesus and say, "Increase our faith!" (Exclamation point). Because - they assume - that if you want to do great things, you have to have great faith, big faith, giant faith, powerful faith.

Jesus declines. He says, in effect, no matter what you're trying to do, you've already got all the faith you need."


You've already got all the faith you need.

That's a hard sell to people like us, who are always asking Jesus to increase our faith.

Any of you done any landscaping by faith lately? Gone out to the yard and said, "You - Bradford Pear - I'd like you better… in my neighbor's yard"?

"You, dandelions. Into the trash bag go thee."

"You, falling leaves. Thou mayest only fall into one long pile by the street on days when the vacuum truck cometh."

Yoda never had landscaping issues. It would be so nice if Jesus were more like Yoda and with just a mustard seed of faith, we could take care of the lawn, remove cars parked in handicapped spots, or just generally have superpowers to do the impossible.

But Jesus is different. Yoda asked Luke to do the impossible; Jesus tells us to do the improbable.

Which is harder? To do the impossible? Or to have enough faith to do the improbable?


To get the full extent of this passage, you have to read back a few verses for context. Why do the disciples say, "Increase our faith!"?

It sounds like they're coming to Jesus with a heartfelt plea to be holy. But in context, it's more of a, "Holy cow! You want us to do what? Well, then you better increase our faith."

So, backing up to verse 3, Jesus says,

'Be on your guard! If 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.'

But Master Jesus, you want the impossible!

No. Jesus doesn't want the impossible. But he does want the improbable. He wants the unlikely. He wants the weird. He wants something that might well be harder than the impossible.

Holy cow, Master Jesus. You better increase our faith.


The beautiful thing about magic is that it's easy. You just snap your fingers and, bing! You're skinny. You twitch your nose - bwam! Your husband has Larry Tate's job. You rub a lamp and whoa ho! You've got a genie and at least three more wishes.

You use The Force and your spaceship is shiny and new.

Like magic.

Magic is easy.

If you've got magical superpowers, even the impossible is a piece of cake.

But Jesus isn't asking us to do the impossible. He's not asking us to move mulberry trees or even mountains. That's magic. That's Yoda-hood.

Jesus wants us to do the harder stuff.

Like, forgiving stupid people who hurt our feelings seven times in one day. Unlikely.

Or, loving our neighbors who never mow and whose dogs poop in our yard and bark all night long. Doubtful.

And like, praying for that one, really obnoxious person who can make our stomach shrivel up with just a glance in our direction.

Jesus said,

'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? ...And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? (Matt 5:43-47).

Are those things impossible? No. Not at all. But they are very, very improbable. It might be easier to move a mulberry tree by shouting at it.

These things are so unlikely because they're really, really hard. They're much harder than snapping your fingers and making everything lollipops and rainbows. They're really, really hard because they cost us. They cost us dearly. They cost us faith in ourselves, faith that we're always right and that we always know what's best. And if that's where we've been putting our faith - and it always is, isn't it? - If we've been putting our faith in ourselves, then that last thing we need to ask Jesus is to increase it. A little less faith, a little more doing, might be the better prayer.


"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."

OK. But if landscaping is the main thing you want to do with your faith, you're missing the point.

Better to plow up the junk surrounding your heart. Better to change the landscape around your grudges and anger and resentment and entitlement and do the hard, heavy lifting around your soul.

Don't believe you can do it?

That is why you fail.

"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."