Monday, April 28, 2008

Mustard Seed Sized Faith Sermon

Matthew 17:14- 20

April 27, 2008

Mustard Seed Sized Faith

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” As you may have heard my husband talk about on Laity Sunday, this proclamation that Jesus makes about having faith the size of a mustard seed has become a guiding scripture for us as a couple. When we got married we vowed to keep God at the center of our marriage and our family, and this little saying is one that we keep coming back to, one that pulls our attention back to God.

Before Jesus talks to his disciples about mustard seed faith- he comes down from a high mountain. He has just gone up on the mountain with Peter, James and John and experienced the transfiguration- where he was enveloped by a bright cloud and a voice from heaven is heard saying, “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I love; with his I am well pleased. Listen to him!” What a powerful experience- a direct encounter with God. Jesus along with Peter, James and John must have been on a spiritual high as they came back down the mountain. From the highest of highs they come right back down to earth to experience the lowest of lows- a sick child. The boy is suffering from seizures and try as they might, the disciples cannot seem to heal him. So Jesus steps in and heals the boy- but not before he expresses his frustration with those gathered there.

Of course, this is not the first time that Jesus has expressed disgust with the disciples lack of faith. Remember when Jesus was asleep peacefully on the boat and the storm was raging on the water? When the disciples awoke him he asked them why they were so afraid- did they have no faith? Remember when Jesus walks on the water and Peter dares to join him? When Peter starts to freak out and lose his balance on the water, Jesus says to him, “you of little faith, why do you doubt?” There are several other times when the disciples are admonished for not having enough faith- it seems to be a common problem.

Now if you notice, its not just the disciples who Jesus addresses this time- he actually addresses an entire generation. Jesus almost seems to be fed up with all of humanity. Clearly to him, having faith should be a lot easier that what the disciples and others are making it out to be.

Let’s pause from our story for just a minute here to remind ourselves of what faith is. What is this thing that the disciples, and apparently an entire generation are so lacking in? The book of Hebrews has a really nice definition of faith; Hebrews says that, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” To believe that what you hope for will come to pass and to be sure of things that you cannot see- that is the definition of faith. To me it seems that faith is something that comes from within, in other words, you innately have some of it. Also, faith is something that must be practiced and put into action. You can have an assurance that something will come to pass in your life- and have no idea how you are going to get there- I think that is the essence of faith. To believe in a God that you cannot physically see- that is also faith. To believe with all your heart that your child will grow to be a wonderful and talented adult- that is faith. There are so many examples I could name but anything that you hope for, and know in your heart to be true- even if you have no guarantee; that is what having faith is all about.

So apparently the disciples were having trouble being confident in their own abilities. They were lacking the faith to believe that they could heal the boy. But here is something else about faith- I believe it is also something that has to be developed. One detail that Matthew leaves out of this story that the Gospel of Mark leaves in is that this demon, this sickness that the boy is struggling with is the kind that can only be cast out through prayer. Is it possible that the disciples weren’t praying? Were they relying on their own authority and forgetting God’s part in their ability to heal? We can’t be sure, but we can be sure that our own faith is enhanced when we pray, and when we are in community with others who also have faith. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Now that the stage is set for us understanding faith a little more deeply, and know that we know an entire generation seemed to be lacking it, we can turn back to Jesus’ saying about the mustard seed. If we can just have faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus says, we can move mountains. Nothing will be impossible for us, Jesus says. Isn’t that comforting? I like it that Jesus doesn’t say that we need to have a Grand Canyon sized amount of faith, or a swimming pool full. Not a truck-load of faith is required, not a sanctuary full of faith but a teeny tiny mustard seed sized amount. I feel like even on my worst day, I can muster up a mustard seed sized faith. I mean have you ever seen one? Mustard seeds are tiny!

I want to tell you a story this morning about the faith of a young girl. (This story comes from a book, "Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes," by Eleanor Coerr). Sadako was a young girl living in Japan in the 1950’s. Even though she was only an infant when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, at about 10 years old she began to have dizzy spells and collapsed one day on the playground. After a visit to the hospital, she was diagnosed with Leukemia, known by her and her friends as the ‘atom bomb disease.’ Soon after her diagnosis, her best friend came to her hospital room with a gift. It was a small bird folded from golden paper. Her friend reminded her of an old story about a crane. “She said, ‘It’s supposed to live for a thousand years. If a sick person folds one thousand paper cranes, the gods will grant her wish and make her healthy again.’ She handed the crane to Sadako. “Here’s your first one.” (pp 35-36)

Sakado believed with all her heart that if she could fold one thousand paper cranes that she would be well again. Soon, her brother began folding cranes, then her classmates from school, and her parents. The community rallied around her. Sadako lived out her final days surrounded with the people who loved her and who were celebrating life and hope by folding paper cranes with all the faith in the world. Sadako folded 644 cranes

and then she was too weak to fold any more. She knew she was going to die, but before she did, she looked at her family that surrounded her bed and smiled at them. “She was part of that warm, loving circle where she would always be. Nothing could ever change that.”

After she died in 1955, “her classmates folded three hundred and fifty-six cranes so that one thousand were buried with Sadako. In a way she got her wish. She will live on in the hearts of people for a long time,” (pp 63). Eventually her friends, and other young people from all over the country helped collect money for a peace monument that was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Park in 1958. “There is Sadako, standing on top of a granite mountain of paradise. She is holding a golden crane in her outstretched hands.”

Did you notice that Sadako’s story didn’t end in the exact outcome she was looking for? This is an important detail to notice about the story. And it reminds us also of a deep theological truth. Even when we have faith and are sure of what we hope for, it doesn’t mean that what we hope for will come to pass. As I’ve said before, God is not a divine wish granter- not a magician who is here to do our bidding. God is the author of our lives, a loving presence who wants the best for us, but also a loving parent who gave us the gift of free will.

Sadako hoped beyond hope that she would run again, but the reality is that she had leukemia. Without the hope that she had, she might have missed what little life she had left. When she lived fully into the hope and the faith that she had, she was able to spend out her final days surrounded by family, friends and even strangers who joined her in hope. Her life is a testament to perseverance, and faith, and also peace.

So whether you have the faith of a mustard seed, or faith the size of the Grand Canyon- you will not be exempt from suffering and pain in this life. They are an inevitable part of being human. But a life lived with faith is a rich and full life- surrounded by the love of an awesome God. Not every day of our lives will be a mountain-top kind of day. But the comforting thing is that Jesus says that we only need to have faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain from here to there. I pray that each of us would have faith the size of a mustard seed today. I pray that we might be assured of what we hope for, and convinced of what we cannot see. Amen.

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