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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

More Please - 10/02/2016

When I hear something like this … when I hear the apostles say to Jesus, demand, really, “Increase our faith!” my mind will often turn to music from “Oliver!” That's the musical based on Charles Dicken's story Oliver Twist, a tale of hungry and lonely orphans, crime and child labor in the backstreets of London in the early 1800s.

At the beginning of the musical, we meet Oliver who has come to this cold, cruel and overpopulated orphanage. He's so hungry that he gobbles down the gray gruel the children are served without even really noticing how disgusting it is. It's not much food, so when he's done and still hungry, he goes back to the scary grown ups in the room for seconds. “Please sir, I want some more,” he says as he holds out his bowl. And the grown ups smack him right down, singing “Oliver, Oliver, never before has a boy wanted more.”

This musical affected me deeply as a child. It taught me that sometimes “more” or an increase, is exactly what we need … for the orphans that inspired Charles Dickens to write this almost 200 years ago … and for the lonely and homeless of all ages … more food, more love, more hope, more of pretty much everything but hunger and cruelty would make a world of a difference.

So sometimes, “more” is exactly what is needed. Sometimes “more” is even what we should be fighting for.

But “more” and our efforts to amass “more” can trip us up too. I saw too many examples of how this has taken over the lives of some when I was a hospice chaplain in the south suburbs of Chicago one summer. I attended the weekly team meetings on client care. When we got new clients, we would go over a checklist, mostly of things you would expect.

How was the person dying? Who were the caregivers, family and loved ones involved? Was an aide needed to help with things like hygiene and cleaning? Where there pets in the home? Recently a new question has been added to these checklists: Are there signs of hoarding? They ask it because it often affects how well the hospice care can be delivered. It can be hard to get through the house and it can be an unhealthy environment for the hospice team because of things like mold and fire hazards.

It was eye opening to realize this hoarding disorder happened consistently enough to add it to a standard checklist.

I think these two ends of the spectrum illustrate well that “having more,” or wanting something to be increased is a motive that runs deeply throughout the spectrum of the human experience. Regardless of whether we are feeling compelled to help those who do need more, or we are somebody who needs more, or we feel like we've lost control over our desire to amass more and more of what we think is important, we can see how we often measure things and place value on things based on how much of it there is.

We don't have to look far in our consumer-centric culture to see this. It is our familiar and in the messages we get from all sides. More money is better. More square footage is better. More toys, more knowledge, more beauty, more friends on Facebook, more credit, more perfection … more, we are told in word and deed, is so often better.

And I wonder if the apostles demanding that Jesus increase their faith shared a similar point of view? They too had people in need of food and shelter and community in their world. Some of them probably experienced those needs themselves. And they also saw how clear it was to spot those who were powerful and wealthy, the well fed and well housed – they were the ones with more … more money, more food, more of pretty much anything you can imagine

So what Jesus is saying here is quite counter intuitive, to what we are used to hearing. In a world that continually screams more is better, Jesus is saying when it comes to faith, that gift from God that holds the promise of eternal life and the promise of stirring our lives into the activity of the Holy Spirit – when it comes to that, more is not the measure. Our faith is our faith and it is beyond earthly measures and earthly expectations of what it does in us.

If faith had a size, Jesus says, and it were as small as this mustard seed, it could command the trees on the hill across the street to uproot and replant themselves in the bay. And if that is the case, then the gift of faith we have from God is perfect and is always exactly what we need – regardless of whether we feel it is as small and compact and full of potential as a tiny little mustard seed or as wide open, expansive and active as the whirling universe.

When you think about it, this is what we embody, what we act out each time we come to the table. Our plate of bread and our cup of wine is abundant, and we each receive our portion. So far I haven't experienced anyone receiving their portion of this gift from God and then saying, “Please, may I have some more?” We may come back to this table over and over again, but each meal is enough in itself to nourish in us the promise of God's eternal love – all contained in that small piece of bread and that whisper of wine.

Jesus' response – about the power contained within faith being as small as a mustard seed – is something that may both excite us and convict us. It opens our eyes and our hearts to an important truth about the Kingdom of God that Jesus has ushered into this world.

For one thing it frees us from the impossible task of trying to correct judgments on the size or depth of our faith. Like when something goes terribly wrong in our lives, or it seems like God is not hearing our prayers and we think: “If only I was a person of greater faith, then this would not be happening to me.” What Jesus is saying here tells us that's not how faith works.

It also changes the way we might judge one another based on how much faith we perceive someone else has. It changes the way we might hear things like “Oh ye, of little faith,” or “Have a little faith, why don't you?”

As we typically see with our good teacher Jesus, it changes a lot.


But there is something more going on here in this reading and it becomes clearer as the dust settles in the wake of Jesus' mustard seed and mulberry tree imagery. It is the revelation to the apostles – and us – about how God works this gift of faith in each of us.  Instead of worrying about and figuring out how to increase our faith we are invited to live deeply into the faith we have. We are invited to let this be our freedom from how we measure and value things on earth. We are invited to let our faith inspire us to be servants of God in this world.

This little snippet we have today is part of a chapter that holds several pointers from Jesus on discipleship. As they are making their way toward Jerusalem and the shadow of the cross over them becomes more and more defined, Jesus is transforming his apostles into disciples – servants of God's will in this world who are filled with the power of faith in ways seen and unseen, imagined and unimaginable.

Here's the bigger picture of how Jesus instructs the apostles in chapter 17. It tells them – us – how to be a good servant (or slave) of God.

First,, disciples don't cause others to sin or be separated from God. “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble,” Jesus says. (17:2)

Second, disciples embrace a life of forgiveness – even when it's so obviously repetitive. “... 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.” (17.4)

Third, disciples recognize that faith is not measurable in human terms and could even seem quite insignificant. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed ...” (17:6)

Finally discipleship is not about the “what's-in-it-for-me” mindset of worldly ways. Being a disciple – a servant of God, and for us Christians, a follower of Jesus –  is our response to God's promise to love us, care for us, and even die on a cross for us. “Do you thank (or reward) the servant for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

In other words, Jesus says to us, God's servants today, don't purposely or inadvertently put yourself between someone and God; practice radical forgiveness; recognize that the gift of faith is so powerful that even if is the size of a mustard seed, it can bring about the impossible; and finally: just do it. Just go out there – trusting in how God has created you, what Jesus has taught you – and be God's servant in a world that that cannot measure faith, but surely needs “more” of God's disciples.

I'd like to close today with a  prayer that a few of us shared at a meeting this week. It seemed to speak powerfully into these disciple-lives, servant-lives we strive to lead.

Let us pray.

Gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Additional Prayers, “Those seeking deeper knowledge of God,” page 76)

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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