Increase Our Faith!

 

Meditation on Luke 17:5-10

World Communion Sunday

Oct. 6, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton, OH

 

faith to uproot a mulberry tree

 

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. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

 

***

 

We hosted our community dinner, once again, last  Thursday night. Thank you to all our faithful volunteers who continue this compassionate ministry to our neighbors in need. When I went downstairs to help, volunteers were busy cooking Rice Krispie chicken, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, fresh fruit and tossed salad, and homemade desserts. It was a feast!

We didn’t have as many people from the community come to the meal this time, perhaps because it was the last night of the fair. Maybe about 25 or 30 came, including some families with young children. I wasn’t disappointed. I know that whoever came were the ones that the Lord wanted us to serve and be Christ’s Body for the world. Amen?

I’m not a cook. Jim loves me, anyway. My passion is for serving food, hospitality, and seeing the joy on people’s faces. My job, this time, was spooning out the mixed vegetables. I didn’t see a lot of joy when I offered peas, broccoli, squash, carrots and cauliflower! In fact, some people avoided me altogether. Skipped right over me. I became like one of the carnies, selling chances to win a bunny at the fair. “Broccoli and cauliflower here!” I called. “Eat your cruciferous vegetables! They’re good for you!” One man asked me what that meant–cruciferous. He thought I was making it up. It’s really a thing. Cruciferous veggies include broccoli and cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, watercress and radishes. The name “cruciferous,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is a classification for members of the mustard family. The word comes from the Latin cruciferae meaning “cross bearing,” because the four petals resemble a cross.[1]

I did a good job coaxing people to eat their colorful vegetables, picking out the peas for some of them. What is it about peas? I don’t know. Except for this one boy that scrunched his face, crossed his arms and said, “No way!” After I finished serving the veggies, I spooned them into take-home boxes for some members of our congregation and then some onto my plate. By this time, they were cold. I was wondering if I was going to have a hard time eating them; I wanted to set a good example–and not be a hypocrite!

You will be happy to know that I ate a well-balanced meal that included one of Grace’s lemon cookies. Have you ever had Grace’s cookies before? I wanted a piece of Texas Sheet Cake, too, but if you snooze around here, you lose! I sat down to eat at one of the long tables and got to talking with four dear ladies from the community who had stories to share. As I listened, time flew by.

L. was born in Los Angeles at home– where third base is at the Dodger’s Stadium now! Her father helped deliver the baby while he was on the phone with the doctor. L. couldn’t wait to go the hospital, she said. The doctor who came later told her daddy that he had done a fine job delivering the baby. He couldn’t have done it any better! L. lived with her family in California and Texas before she moved to Coshocton with her husband to be close to one of their sons, who had moved here, got married, and had a baby.

I asked L. to tell me about her husband. He wasn’t at the meal. “He has trouble with anxiety,” she said. “He doesn’t like crowds.” She has been a full time caregiver for him for decades, since he was diagnosed with a debilitating mental illness years ago. They lost two children to foster care because of his illness, when it was untreated, before they have the medications that help him to be more like the man she married, she said.

“Why did you stay with him?” I asked, “when they took your children away?”

“Faith,” she said. “I have faith. And he was sick, so I couldn’t leave. I had made promises when I married him.”

The conversation moved to happier things after that, stories of generosity, kindness, healing. Hope. L. brought the other 3 women, one in her 90s, celebrating a birthday this month, and another with a walker, and a younger neighbor who smiled and said she was doing well with her medication and friends like L., who took in her cat when he wasn’t getting along with her dog. L. added, “We split the vet bills.”

Then we looked up and realized that most of the room had emptied out. Only a few volunteers remained, gathering trash, wiping tables, turning off the fans. L. laughed. “I guess we’re the only ones left,” she said.

As I walked them out of the church, I watched L. help her 3 neighbors, one of whom had never come to our community meal before, but L. had invited her and drove her here. I had this uncomfortable thought, then. I wouldn’t be as kind and forgiving as L. Not in the things she has had to endure. And I remembered what she said to me, as I pretended to eat the cold vegetables on my plate and wished that I had, instead, a slab of Texas sheet cake.

“You can’t love without God,” she said. “You can’t be good.”

***

That must have been the problem that the disciples had, when, as our passage begins in Luke 17, they ask Jesus to increase their faith. Just before this passage, Jesus tells them that if their brothers or sisters in the Lord sin against them seven times a day, but repent and ask for their forgiveness, they should forgive them. Seven times a day, the same person hurting you with their words and actions. This was happening amongst the disciples while Jesus was trying to teach them how to minister to people in need, revealing the Kingdom of God through His ways of love and peace.

It’s no surprise that the disciples weren’t getting along. Remember Judas Iscariot, the one who would betray Jesus, was still in their midst. And Judas aside, some of the disciples had favored status. Jesus had a kind of inner circle in Matthew, Mark and Luke, chosen to be with him in private moments, while the others are left behind. Remember when Jesus goes up on the mountain and meets with Moses and Elijah and is transfigured? Who is with him? Simon Peter, and the sons of Zebedee– James and John, fishermen who faithfully dropped their nets to follow him and become fishers of people when Jesus said, “Come.”

Even in the inner circle, there were problems. Ego. Competition. In Matthew 20, beginning at verse 20, “ The mother of Zebedee’s children (James and John) came to Jesus with her sons. She got down on her knees before Jesus to ask something of Him. He said to her, “What do you want?” She said, “Say that my two sons may sit, one at Your right side and one at Your left side, when You are King.” The other disciples hear about this later and are angry with the two brothers.

Now, in Luke 17, Jesus tells the disciples, when they ask for more faith, that they have enough! If they had faith like a mustard seed, one of the tiniest seeds of all, they could change the natural world, saying to a mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey.’ Then he tells a parable, which doesn’t sound like good news to us in the 21st Century with this disturbing talk of slavery, but it is. He compares the job of the disciples to the life of a slave, who has no rights and doesn’t live to be served, but to humbly serve the master, expecting nothing in return. The message to the disciples is, “Trust God and obey His Word!”

None of us can be like that humble slave, obedient to God all the time. None of us can be good, without God’s help. We struggle to forgive and give of ourselves and our resources. The good news is that we have the Lamb of God who became sin for us. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of faith, the author and finisher of our faith, the Righteous One, who emptied himself and became a slave, though it cost him his life, being perfectly obedient to God.

***

Friends, we often feel that are lacking something in our lives. We always want more. We think we need more to be happy and faithful. But Jesus assures us that we have enough! If only we would live in obedience to God. We have a treasure placed in our hearts, the Holy Spirit, granting us the power to forgive and faith to move a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea!

Today on World Communion Sunday, Christ’s followers around the world partake of the bread and cup together. We remember and give thanks to the One who died so that we would have peace with God and one another. Though the Church struggles with divisions, on this day, we gather as one, united in His Body, filled with his love. In the act of eating and drinking the bread and cup, we are confessing our faith. We are saying to one another, “As I am forgiven for all my sins in Jesus Christ, I forgive you! Seven times a day and forever. I forgive you!” Afterward, we are sent out to be Christ’s Body for the world, revealing the Kingdom by serving in ministries of compassion, such as when we gather around the table with our neighbors at the community meal. Breaking bread, listening to stories, sharing peace, hope, and healing in the Lord.

Everyone is invited to the community meal–to eat and to serve. It’s strange to me that so few church members come. I know what Jesus would do. And if you do come–I hope you do–don’t judge our neighbors as having less than you do. Some have faith like a mustard seed, with power to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.

Surely we, who have seen the grace and goodness of God, have enough faith to forgive and live in peace. Surely we, who are so rich with blessings too numerous to name, can trust in our faithful God to give us all that we need as we open our hands to feed the world.

Let us pray. Holy One, great is thy faithfulness! Thank you for your forgiveness for all our sins through your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for revealing your love and for pouring into our hearts the Holy Spirit that provides all that we need to minister in your name and do the great things that you have planned for us. Help us to be obedient and love one another. Stir us to use the gift of faith, powerful enough to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it into the sea. In Christ we pray. Amen.

     [1] Holly Larson, “The Beginner’s Guide to Cruciferous Vegetables” at https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/the-beginners-guide-to-cruciferous-vegetables

 

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