Here is a portion of yesterday's sermon on "The Little Things in Life":
"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."
To meet our present moment, to face a world made cynical and brutal by the forces of self-seeking individualism and unrestrained greed masquerading as “success”—to meet the big challenges we face takes big-time faith.
And so we hear from the disciples, who also lived in tumultuous times in Roman-occupied Palestine, saying: Increase our faith, Jesus! The word translated as "increase" here is, in the original Greek, prosthes. We hear that same word echoed in our present day in the word “prosthetic,” a medical device to augment one’s body. So the disciples are literally asking Jesus for “prosthetic” faith: something that can make them bigger, faster, stronger, that will augment their reality, so they are able to do more and be more in their ministry.
Remember that these are the same disciples who dropped their nets, who left their homes and their families at single word from Jesus: Follow. These guys are not faithless doubters. But perhaps they feel like the faith they have is not enough to face the challenges of discipleship. Perhaps they have doubts about whether the Good News is good enough for people to buy into it. Perhaps they aren’t sure that they will be able to do the things that Christ does in the world, because while he makes it look so easy to heal and to forgive, to reach out and to love our neighbors. They know (and we know) how hard it can be.
The disciples want a prosthetic faith, but what Jesus offers them instead is a prophetic faith. If you only had faith like a mustard seed, he says to the disciples, you could accomplish everything you’re asking and more. No doubt the disciples were expecting something grander, something world-changing, something big. But the seed of the Palestinian Mustard plant is, without a doubt, a tiny little thing. Only one millimeter in diameter and around one tenth of one milligram in weight, the mustard seed is remarkably well-suited to convey smallness.
But a mustard seed is not just small. It is flavorful. It is spicy; it can be downright hot! You put mustard on something and you will taste it. St. Augustine put it best, when he said of those little grains of yellow spice: “what is lowlier, but then again, what is more vigorous? What is tinier, but, then again, what is hotter?”
Wouldn’t you like to have the kind of faith that people talked about like that? What would it be like to be a church enlivened with this mustard-like, prophetic faith, faith that is humble and lowly, but nonetheless alive and vigorous? A church that may be small in numbers, but full of warmth? That’s the kind of discipleship Jesus is talking about here: not the kind of faith expressed by hollering at people on street corners, or in the grandeur of a soaring cathedral ceiling. This is spicy-brown faith, the kind lovingly added by seasoned hands, the faith that doesn't announce its presence, until it is burning in your mouth and in your heart.
It can be a bit self-serving to hear Jesus’ words this way in a small church like Union Congregational, but sometimes the Gospel is self-serving. Sometimes it is good news served up just for us. So this morning, I think there is no shame in enjoying the comfort and the confidence that comes from this simple truth: that it’s not the size of your faith or your church that matters: it’s how you use it.