Scripture: Luke 17: 5-10 (NRSV)
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? 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!'"
What is faith? Is it a commodity — something like an article of clothing — a new dress shirt or a pair of jeans — that you search a rack of clothing for until you find just the right size? "I like this faith and the way it highlights my dedication and devotion but I'm hoping it comes in a larger size to cover up my other belief inadequacies…"
In chapter 17 of Luke, Jesus has just finished warning the disciples about become stumbling blocks to others as well declaring that discipleship not only means summoning other followers to repentance but also offering forgiveness over and over again. It is in this moment that they exasperatedly blurt out, "Lord, increase our faith!" As if it is something that you can get in different sizes or something that needs to grow in order to cover our own struggles and uncertainties.
And Jesus responds by saying, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree…" As Fred Craddock points out, the nature of this particular grammatical construction can actually be read, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed… and you do — so, put it to use." The sentence does not mean one has no faith, but rather that a little faith goes a long way. Far too often I find my own self thinking, "If only I had a bit more faith and could deal with this huge problem before me." But here Jesus reminds us that faith is actually less about having enough belief to cover everything — including our doubts —and is more about the moment by moment practice of breaking down barriers and showing continual mercy.
Christian community then is not really about helping people find a faith that covers and protects them. Instead, those who follow Christ live out their faith by holding each other accountable as they seek to extend God's realm of grace. We remind ourselves over and over again that we must refuse to become barriers to others who need to receive God's free and liberating love. And we commit ourselves to practicing forgiveness again and again even when forgiveness seems all but impossible.
Holy One, pour out your Spirit upon me. May I never become a barrier to any who are in need of your gracious love and may I continue to live a life filled with the forgiveness of Your Servant One — who came not to be served but serve. Amen