Luke 17:3-6 NRSV
As Luke begins his gospel by addressing Theophilus, I want to begin the sermon this morning addressing Luke.
Thank you for your careful investigation and for the very orderly account you gave us so that we may know the truth concerning the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. However, on this World Communion Sunday, on the behalf of millions of Christians spread across this globe, and especially on the behalf of a handful of Christians here in Farmville, North Carolina, I would like to voice a concern that many of us have. (Sounds pretty tactful so far, don’t you think? Because here comes the boom!)
Luke, my dear brother in Christ, you are killing us. I mean, brother come on! For five weeks now you have been asking us to do some very big things! You have told us that if we want to be disciples of Jesus it is going to mean losing ourselves, denying ourselves, being a community that is always more concerned about others, about the outsider, than we are about ourselves. It means having a strong passion for the poor, those we regard as “the least of these.” You have even told us that following Jesus involves a cross and we are going to have to carry it! Brother, come on!
Luke, during these five weeks, we have listened as you have shared some pretty outlandish parables of Jesus. And yes, although some revealed that there is nothing in this world that can separate us from the grace of God, which was rather comforting, they also re-emphasized that Jesus wants us to extend this same grace and to all people, which, quite frankly makes us rather uncomfortable. And last Sunday, you even had the audacity to bring Hell into it. You warned us that if we continued to believe that we were more blessed and favored than others, one day, we might find ourselves in flames begging one of those “others” for a sip of water!
So, come on Luke, enough already. We simply cannot take it anymore. We just can’t handle it. You are asking far too much from us! Being a community of love and forgiveness for all people is just too messy, too hard, too risky, and takes too much of our time. There’s just so much pride we can swallow at one time. And besides, we have enough of our own problems to worry about.
We have our own kids to take care of. Luke, I am not sure if you know about these things, but we have these things called soccer, football, volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and dance. And some of our kids have special needs, and then on top of that, there are our parents who are getting on up there in age with their own special needs. And did we mention that we have full-time jobs?
Oh, yes, there are some of us who are retired, but we too have our own needs. The truth is some of us are just too tired and too old to keep doing all these things that Jesus demands. You ask us to deny ourselves and carry a cross, when just trying to survive each day is like carrying a cross.
And Luke, have you seen our church lately? Have you seen how small we have become these days? We just don’t have the resources that we once had. So many good people have passed away. We have lost too many hard workers, too many teachers, too many people with some deep pockets, if you know what I mean. And have you seen our building? It is over 100 years old! So many repairs, renovations are needed. It is about all we can just do to keep it up.
So Luke, with all due respect, if you really need us to do more than we are doing now, if you want us to be more that we already are, if you really want us to reach out to others, sacrifice, be a community of love and forgiveness for all, and on top of all of that carry a cross, then something is gonna have to give. You are going to have to find a way to give us some more faith, because there is just too little left here. Sincerely, your friend and brother in Christ, Jarrett Banks
After Jesus finished speaking about the need to forgive people who have wronged them not once, but seven times, the disciples, like a crowd of exasperated members of a small, struggling old church in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, said: “Come on Jesus. You are killing us. Enough already. We simply cannot take it anymore. We just can’t handle it. You are asking far too much from us! If you really want us to do more, you need to “increase our faith” (Luke 17:5).
It is then that Jesus responded with some very good news: “If you had the 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.”
And to really understand just how good this news is we need to understand something about the Greek language and the use of the word “if”. In the Greek, it is used two different ways. One is to express a condition contrary to a fact, “If I were you.” The second way is to express a condition according to the fact, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Here, Jesus is using the latter. In the original Greek, Jesus was saying: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed,” (And you do have it) then you can do some very big and miraculous things!
When the exasperated disciples got to a point when something just had to give, when they just did not believe they had enough of what it takes to be the people Jesus was calling them to be, they said: “Then, Jesus, increase our faith!”
Jesus responded: “Here’s the good news! I don’t have to increase it, because it only takes a little to do some very big things. And since, by the grace of God, you have a little, (you would not be following me if you didn’t) although your numbers are small, although you have very little left in the tank, in fact, I know that some of you are currently running on fumes, I have already given you what you need to do some very big things. If fact, as small as you are, as frail as some of you are, as uneducated and misinformed some are, although you constantly misunderstand what I have been teaching you, although some of you will even betray me, others will deny me, and when the going gets tough all may desert me, I have given you all that you need to change the world!
Night is falling. Jesus has been teaching out on a hillside. And the crowd that showed up that day, well, they were getting hungry.
The disciples with a little panic in their voices insist: “Jesus, there’s a thousand hungry people out there. We need to send them back to town so they can buy something to eat.”
Jesus asks, “But tell me what do you have?”
“Jesus, something’s got to give because we have very little. Just a few loaves and two miserable little fish.”
Jesus takes what they have, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it. And, the good news is: it is enough.
However, that is not the end of the story. Although that would be enough, there is more. We read where “all ate and all were filled.” They were all fulfilled, all satisfied. They just didn’t receive something to “tie them over” until they got back into town. They ate until they were full and satisfied.
But the story doesn’t even in end there. They took up what was left over and 12 baskets were filled. The truth is: there was not enough. There was more than enough. There was not only fulfillment and satisfaction, but there was a surplus. The good news is: This is simply the way it is with Jesus.
All of ye of little faith, those of us who complain that we are just too small, too old, too tired, to transform this church, to transform this community, and to change our world, this good news that Jesus always gives us more than enough is not new news to us.
Let’s take just a few minutes now and think about it. Let’s go back in time several years. Remember that time before the divorce or separation, before the diagnosis, before you lost your job, before the flood, before the tornado, before the miscarriage, before the accident, before your child was lost, before your spouse died. During that time before the pain, before the grief, imagine that God came to you in a dream and revealed every hardship you would have to endure in your life. How would you have responded?
I know how I would have responded. God, you are killing me. There is just no way. Come on God, enough already. Something will have to give. There’s just no way I can do it. I simply do not have what it takes. If you really want me to make it, Lord, you are going to have to increase my faith!
And Jesus would say, “I don’t have to. I have already given you what you need.” And guess what, the good news is, and we knew it all the while, Jesus is absolutely right.
On this World Communion Sunday, we have gathered with Christians all over the world around a very small but very holy table. From this table, we take into our hands what may be one of the smallest, tiniest pieces of bread that we have ever held, and we put what resembles a mere crumb into our mouths, and we eat it.. And then we take the smallest of cups, and sip the smallest amount of juice. It is just a small taste really, but the good news is: it is enough. No, the good news is: it is more than enough. Amen.