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

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Lord Increase Our Faith

2016-10-02 Luke 17 05-06 Lord Increase Our Faith

You've got a part in today's sermon. When I give you the signal, you need to say, in unison, "Lord! Increase our faith!" Let's practice with the scripture.

The apostles said... "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.

I wish. I wish faith in Jesus Christ would increase my faith so much it would give me magical strength. I wouldn't waste my wishes on moving mulberry trees. It would help with groceries, though. Rearranging furniture and setting up tables in the Fellowship Hall. I'd love it if my faith gave me the power to do things like that without messing up my back.

If going to church gave you superhuman power, what would you do? Move trees? Save people from burning buildings? Command the dust in your house to be lifted and planted in the sea?

When I hear these verses, it sure sounds like, "Mulberry Trees, Beware!" No more weeds around this church. As if even the teeniest, tiniest grain of faith makes us able to move plans and leap tall buildings in a single bound. It sounds like magic. That would be OK. I wish. I really do.

In Jesus, God became fully human. Fully human. Not superhuman. Fully human. Not magical human. Fully human. God became fully human so that we might be set free from wishes, especially the from wishes of other people, and even from our own empty wishes.

Fully human people don't waste their faith magically moving trees. Fully human people move wishes; they move them out of the way. Fully human people have just enough faith to move their magical wishes out of the way and get on with following Christ.


"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.

Obedient trees.

I love doing Children's Sermons. It's a lot of fun to get to play in church. It's also the most dangerous time of the morning. Because unlike you grownups, there's really no predicting what those kids are going to do. I remind myself that's OK. They're your kids, not mine.

Jesus talked about a tree being obedient. Really? A tree? What in all creation could be more obedient than a tree? A rock? "Stay!"

If Jesus really wanted to perform a miracle, he would have said, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this child, 'Put down thy game controller and be planted in the bathtub.' 'Turn off thy phone and let thy homework be done.' Now THAT'S a miracle.

Trees are easy. Jesus really should have had kids.

To be fully human is fully dangerous. Because there's no predicting what they'll do. It's a fact we're reminded of everytime we see the news and everytime we read the Bible up to the point of Jesus's death. Fully human is scary. Making people obey, making people do you will, making people fulfill your wishes is equal parts danger and magic. You can't wave your wand or blink your eyes or twitch your nose and see thy will being done. Even if you're 100% faithful in Jesus Christ. Because fully human makes you neither superhuman nor a wizard. If moving trees is your goal, you don't need Jesus; you need a backhoe.

If you want to teach your children well, or teach your parents well, or get along with people well, you're gonna need more than magic. You're gonna need a bigger faith.


In the third Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Half-Deleted Emails (or was it Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secret Tax Returns?)," Hermione gets a time-turner thingy that lets them go back in time and see how things got the way they are.

To unlock the secrets of today's Bible verses, it also helps to go back in time. In this case, about two verses. Look back just a little bit, about a mustard seed's worth of scripture, and you see the very real humanity Jesus had to work with.

In Luke 17:3 and 4, 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."

To which the disciples say in unison,

"Lord! Increase our faith!"

You see, just that tiny seed of context shows you how painfully human these guys are. They don't want their faith increased so they can do feats of strength. They don't want to move trees. They don't even want to move the people who get on their last nerve. The disciples need Jesus to increase their faith because fully human people need fully human forgiveness to live with fully faulted humans, who are - truth be told -  just like us.


When I was in seminary, one of my classmates was a black woman whose response to all ridiculous things was a very loud and spiritual prayer, "Lord, give me strength!"

I wonder if the disciples' response to Jesus was a less a plea for faith than the same kind exclamation as my classmate's. Not a quiet, "Please, Jesus, help me love my enemies." But a heartfelt John McEnroe-quality, "You have GOT to be kidding me!"

Because once you know the context of today's scripture, you see that Jesus isn't talking about magic tree tricks at all. Jesus is talking about yanking out fully human people, he's talking about yanking up fully stubborn people, he's talking about yanking US up by the roots of our grudges. And you know how deep you can dig in and cling to that manure.

Lord, increase our faith! Because you have got to be kidding me! You want us to do WHAT?

Jesus doesn't want us to do miracles. Jesus wants us to forgive. Repeatedly. Fully. Maybe that is a miracle. In that case, Lord, please. Please increase our faith.