New Hope Fellowship Church
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
October 6, 2019
Two of Jamie’s and my best friends in Fort Worth are moving to Virginia. Drew and Jenny Herring. Drew has already moved, actually. At this very moment he is preaching at his new church in Danville, Virginia. This is his first Sunday there as Pastor. His wife Jenny and their four-year-old son Judah will join him there in a couple of weeks.
Jenny and Judah came over to our house Friday night, and we were talking about Drew starting work at the church last week before his first Sunday today. I told Jenny that before my first Sunday as the pastor of Broadway Baptist Church here in Fort Worth, I was already on the news.
One of our members, Mattie Compton, told me she remembered that a few days before I officially started as pastor, she was at a hotel in downtown Fort Worth for a conference, and she was walking through the lobby. A TV was on, and she heard someone talking. She thought to herself, That sounds like my new pastor’s voice. Sure enough, it was me being interviewed on the news a couple of days before my first Sunday preaching.
What had happened was that week the University of the Cumberlands (a school I had never heard of) in Kentucky called and canceled our Chapel Choir’s mission trip there four days before they were scheduled to go.
Because our church had been removed from the Southern Baptist Convention our high school students would not be allowed to stay on their campus and do mission work in the surrounding area. And the Baptist church across the street from campus would not allow our choir to sing there.
That ended up becoming national news, and I was quoted in every major newspaper in the United States before I had even had my first Sunday. And I found myself sitting in front of the bright lights talking on camera to a reporter from the local Fox TV station. That was the first time I had ever been interviewed on TV. I didn’t know then that I would end up getting a lot of experience doing that over the next few years.
But at the time, standing there in front of that camera as I was just about to begin my time as pastor at Broadway, the right word was probably “daunting.” It seemed like a hugely challenging responsibility and task. I prayed, Lord, increase my faith.
At the beginning of chapter 17 in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is presenting his disciples with some unusual demands related to what it will mean to follow him. He makes some really strong demands about caring for weaker members of the community, saying if they cause one of the weaker ones to stumble, it would be better for them if a millstone were tied around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.
And he makes a further demand about forgiving repeatedly an offending brother or sister. Jesus says that if a person sins against you seven times a day and comes back and apologizes each time, you must forgive them every time.
And the right word to describe how the disciples felt about these demands that were being put on them was probably “daunting.” It seemed to them like a hugely challenging responsibility and task.
In response to this, they said to Jesus, Increase our faith! In other words, This is too much for us to handle. Lord, help! Make us adequate to be your disciples. If this is what we are facing, increase our faith!
We all, at one time or another, find ourselves standing before
a daunting task,
a new direction,
an impossible demand,
and we feel a little overwhelmed, and we say, Whoa. This is a lot. Lord, increase my faith.
So how does Jesus respond to this?
When we are facing seemingly impossible demands
when what God seems to be asking us to do seems
way beyond our resources,
what does Jesus say to that?
We need to examine Jesus’ answer very carefully.
Jesus says, 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.
It sounds at first hearing that Jesus is saying, If only you had a little faith, you could do the impossible, but you don’t.
But let’s look at this a little more carefully. The Greek language has a type of “if” or conditional clause that expresses a condition contrary to the fact, like if I say, If you weren’t so angry, you wouldn’t say that. But you are so angry.
But the Greek language has another type of conditional clause that expresses a condition according to fact. Like if I said, If Sharon Patterson is our pianist, then we are going to have great music. Or if a parent said something like, If I am your mother, then you are going to do this. The conditional clause in this verse, is of this second type. It expresses a condition according to fact.
So you could translate what Jesus is saying as, If you have faith (and you do) then you can do anything. Jesus’ response is not a judgment on an absence of faith; it is an affirmation of the faith they already have and an invitation to act and live in the power of that faith.
[Fred Craddock, Luke: Westminster Bible Companion, pp. 218-19]
If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, and you do….
They’re facing the daunting challenge of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus is asking them to do the seemingly impossible and put no limit on the forgiveness that they give to others. So, in response, they are requesting an increase of faith, and Jesus says that even the small faith you have is effective and powerful beyond what you realize.
Theologian John S. Dunne tells of a group of early Spanish sailors who reached the continent of South America after a long, arduous voyage. They sailed from the Atlantic into the headwaters of the Amazon River.
The Amazon was an expanse of water so wide, so much wider than they would have ever expected a river to be, that the sailors mistakenly presumed that they were still sailing on a continuation of the Atlantic Ocean. It never occurred to them to drink the water of the river, since they expected it to be salt-water, and as a result some of these sailors died of thirst. [Philip Yancey, Finding God in Unexpected Places, p. xi]
They died of thirst on the world’s largest source of freshwater.
Quit feeling powerless and waiting to receive more faith, and go ahead and dip into the power of the little faith you already possess. It is enough. The possibilities opened up by the faith you already have, as Fred Craddock puts it, cancel out such words as
“impossible” (a tree being uprooted) and
“absurd” (planting a tree in the sea).
[Preaching Through the Christian Year: Year C, p. 431]
The small faith that is already yours can put you in touch with the power of God. It is time to stop being paralyzed by thinking that you do not have enough. It is time
quit waiting on faith and
start acting on faith.
We had a worship service a couple of years ago for our friend Colleen at the hospice care center where she is staying now. Collen was a fellow church member, in the choir. She hadn’t been able to attend worship for awhile. She doesn’t have a long time left to live, most likely.
We organized a worship service at the hospice care center for her. We invited the Chancel Choir and Colleen’s Sunday School class to eat dinner there and then have the service. 50 people showed up.
The brought Colleen into the big room where we all gathered for the service. She was wheeled in in her hospital bed. It was great to see her. And you can imagine her joy at seeing 50 dear friends from church there for her. That’s why we were there—just out of love for her.
Colleen had told Al Travis some of her favorite hymns. So we sang. Al played the piano, Michael Cox led us. Of course it was mostly choir members there, so it sounded wonderful. We shared communion. We passed around a loaf of bread and a cup. I got to serve Colleen in her bed: The Bread of Life, Colleen. The Cup of Grace.
I did a short talk. I talked about Jesus as the Good Shepherd, saying that even though most of want to be the shepherd, sometimes it is enough to be a little lost lamb and let Jesus be your shepherd. I finished by reciting the 23rd Psalm.
It was all so emotional. As we sang the hymns, Colleen cried. How could she not? Almost everyone in the room cried. Here we are all gathered in this room, and Colleen is there in her bed. She knew, everyone knew, what this meant, what was ahead.
At one point there was a chance for Colleen to speak. What do you think she talked about?
No. What she talked about was love. The love she felt in that room. She said she wished everyone had the chance to feel the love she felt in that moment. She said that we all are loved in that same way, and she hoped we knew it as clearly and as plainly as she knew it right then. What Colleen talked about was abundance, not scarcity.
We were going to sing the hymn “What Wondrous Love is This.” Dr. Cox asked one of the choir members to sing the first verse a cappella, and then we would all join in for the next verse.
He started, What wondrous love is this…. He stopped. It was too emotional. He couldn’t keep going by himself, so everyone joined in together, passionately, strongly:
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this
That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!
When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down
Beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.
To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
To God and to the Lamb,
Who is the great I AM,
While millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing,
While millions join the theme, I will sing.
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on;
And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free
I’ll sing His love for me,
And through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
And through eternity I’ll sing on.
Do you know what I saw in that moment? In the face of human weakness and finitude? It turns out that wondrous love is enough. It is enough. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, and you do, it is enough.
It will be enough.
I don’t know what it’s like
to face death head on,
to know it’s coming.
I can’t really imagine. And to lie there in a hospital bed surrounded by friends in a moment like that. But what I heard Colleen say that night was, It is enough. Even the small faith you have is powerful beyond what you realize.
The love of God,
shared with friends,