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20th Weekend after Pentecost (C/RCL) Oct. 1 & 2: "A Mustard Seed, a Mosquito and Faith"

Twentieth Weekend After Pentecost (C/RCL):

“A Mustard Seed, a Mosquito and Faith”

Luke 17:5-10

October 1-2, 2016

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ

            “Remember this: If you ever think you’re too small to be effective – you’ve never been in bed with a mosquito.”1

I don’t know her name but she was dubbed “The Shut-In Freedom Fighter.”2

Her mobility was limited by age and illness, so she spent most of her time homebound and alone, but not twiddling her thumbs or bemoaning her fate.  This spunky lady joined Amnesty International to become an advocate for someone, anyone, who had been imprisoned unjustly.  She was given the name and location of a political prisoner unfairly convicted and condemned to sit and molder in an Indonesian prison.  

She had very few details about the case, but was able to contact the man’s family to learn more.  She wrote letter after letter to everyone she could think of, from the president of the country to the prison guards assigned to his cell block.  She wrote and wrote and wrote, waited and waited and waited, over many months, until one day she was finally the one who received a letter.  It was from the man she’d gone to bat for.  He’d been released.  This is what he said:

“They kept seeing and hearing my name.  I was lost.  I was nothing to them.  They had locked me away for years with no cause.  But you wouldn’t let them forget.  Thank God for you, my woman.  You kept my name alive.

      “When they finally released me, they said my file was two inches thick with correspondence.  Most of it was from you.  They said the file was too much trouble for just one prisoner.

      “I owe you my life.  Words can never express my thanks.  May every political prisoner’s file become two inches thick.”

      [The person who nicknamed her the Shut-in Freedom Fighter and recorded her story ended it this way:]  “Now she could die in peace, she smiled, knowing she had saved one person.  Except for one thing.  That last thing he had said.

      “Even yet, she types….”3

            We don’t invest ourselves in hopeless causes.  This woman trusted she could make a positive difference.  She was fighting the corrupt bureaucracy of a dictatorship on the other side of the world, she had no diplomatic standing, but by gum she was going to get this man released!  And she did.  Well, God did – through her.  She accomplished what I would have thought was impossible.  She was God’s instrument for performing a modern-day miracle.  Miracles are God’s specialty.

              I love the parable of the mustard seed, but it is a bit odd.  Here’s the paraphrase from The Message:

5The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.”  6But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.                          Luke 17:5-6

The Lord seems to be saying faith is a little like pregnancy.  There’s no little or lot about it.  You’re pregnant or you’re not.  You have faith or you don’t.  When Jesus talks about faith, it isn’t my belief in my own power to do something.  When Jesus talks about faith, it’s my trust in God’s power to accomplish anything.  So I’m thinking when the apostles came to Jesus their request was: “Help us to trust You completely.” 

            The illustration of commanding the tree to uproot itself and grow elsewhere is strange.  What’s the point?  What good would that do?  Who but God could make it happen?  Well, the point seems to be that Jesus is teaching us, “Faith can do the impossible.”   Apparently even in the first century people knew that the mulberry tree has an incredible root system, so wide that it was common practice to plant a mulberry no closer than 36 feet from the nearest cistern, so that its roots wouldn’t penetrate the cistern, cracking and ruining it.  What would it be like for even a mechanical earth-mover to uproot a tree supported by roots with a 72 foot diameter?  And to do it hands-off, with a verbal command?? 

            Jesus’ point isn’t that deep faith will enable us to levitate trees.  His real and only point is,  “Faith can do the impossible.”  Not because of us.  Because of God.  But God needs us to trust what God can accomplish through us.  Kristiane’s roommate the first 3 years of college was a lovely and bright young woman named Meg, who was accepted into a 6 year program split between Muhlenberg and Thomas Jefferson in Philly.  At the end of the 6 years she’ll have her doctorate in physical therapy.  It’s an incredibly competitive program to be accepted into, and a demanding program to complete.  Over Meg’s desk from Day One of freshman year hung this sign: “She thought she could so she did.”  And she has!  She’s at Jefferson now, in year 4 of her adventure.  There’s a similar saying: “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

            When the Lord presents an opportunity for us to do some good in this world, maybe our sign should read, “They knew God could, so they did.”  Maybe the question we should continually be asking ourselves is, “What would we attempt to do if we knew God wanted us to do it and would not allow us to fail?”  We’ve stepped out in faith with Sandy recovery efforts through the Furniture Bank and the Linen & Kitchen Brigade.  We moved beyond our past experience and our prior comfort level to help host the temporarily homeless through Family Promise.  What else does the Lord want to do through us?  (He’s not finished with us yet!) Will we trust the Lord to enable what He desires?  Do we have faith the size of a mustard seed?  Because that’s plenty big enough.  Just ask the “The Shut-In Freedom Fighter.”  Or are we worried we might be too small?  If so, we should talk to the mosquito.  Amen

                          1Anita Roddick, Founder of The Body Shop, Trinity College of Vermont.

    2Walter Wink, “The Power of the Small,” The Other Side (July/Aug. 1993, pp. 36-41), p. 39.

                      3Ibid.

Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham