2 Timothy 1:1-14
Preacher: The Rev’d Pamela Rayment
“Would you like to super-size your combo today, sir?”
“How about an upgrade to the new iPhone 7s.”
“Hello m’aam, you know we have a promo on right now, if you buy three, you get one free.”
It seems everywhere we go, we’re being told that bigger is better. That accumulating more, more money, more stuff, is a sign of success and progress. We want and desire more. We stockpile and save up so that we won’t go without, and that, well that makes a lot of sense to us, right? “Save it up for a rainy day,” as the saying goes.
And so, when we hear the disciples say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”it seems entirely normal. Maybe we can hear ourselves asking the same thing, maybe we have asked the same thing… repeatedly!
More faith, equals better faith. Right?
But if that’s what we think, well, we might be disappointed, because when the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, he starts talking about faith the size of a mustard seed. And well, a mustard seed, it’s really, really tiny!
Now this on it’s own, it isn’t overly comforting. It’s not very reassuring at all. Especially when we consider why the disciples make the plea for increased faith in the first place!
You see, just prior to this exchange between Jesus and his apostles, Jesus cautions that ‘occasions for stumbling’ are bound to present themselves. And then he continues saying, “but woe to anyone by whom they come.” Jesus is saying outright that, yes, stumbling blocks to living out the gospel – stumbling blocks to living as followers of Christ, will undoubtedly occur. But he’s also saying to be more concerned with becoming a stumbling block to others. To be on guard, so that as a disciple, one doesn’t cause another to stumble.
Jesus goes on to insist that if a brother or sister in Christ sins against another, but then repents – even if this happens repeatedly, forgiveness is always must, no matter how difficult it is. And it’s after hearing all of this, that the apostles plead, “Increase our faith!” And I’d say with good reason!
They recognize the sheer difficulty of living in the way that Jesus is talking about and so they look to him, to their master, to give them what they need to live this radical life into which they are called. And then Jesus starts talking about faith and mustard seeds, instead of faith and a mountain, or grandest building, or well, anything other than a mustard seed, really!
To make Jesus’ response even more strange, he says that if they have faith the size of a mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would be so. But mustard seeds are tiny, and mulberry trees don’t grow in the sea, and the ask is for more faith, not less faith.
They want the Hummer, not the Hyundai.
They want the upgrade, they want to supersize their faith. But Jesus says that through faith, through the inconceivable strength of faith; faith even the size of a mustard seed, a teeny tiny mustard seed – is enough to be prepared to live out life in unimaginable ways. In ways that often times don’t make a whole lot of sense and that through faith, they are ready for gospel living, for being vessels through which the transformative power of the gospel is shared throughout the world.
He is showing them that through faith they can live in ways that seem impossible, they can love in ways that seem ridiculous.
And we have modern examples of this. Consider Mother Teresa. It’s easy to reflect on her life and point to it as an example of discipleship. She lived out a life that for many of us seems impossible, dedicating her life to the radical care of those otherwise forgotten or cast aside, the sick and the poor. But when we think of her, we probably think something like, “wow, to have as much faith as she did!” We would probably say she had a super-sized faith, but in her memoirs, we learn that for more than half of her ministry,she struggled with faith. In essence, she too was saying, “increase my faith” in times of doubt, feeling overwhelmed and alone. At the same time, she trusted God. And she had a saying that kept her rooted as she lived out the Gospel, even when she was journaling, ‘where is my faith?” and that was: ‘Give God permission to use you without consulting you.’
Faith, it’s a funny thing. Faith, while certainly something we’re involved in, something that we ‘have’, isn’t propelled by anything that we ourselves do, because we aren’t at the center of our faith. It is God, the one who created us who is at the center of faith, and the relationship between God and God’s creation, God and us, is one of love.
To live as a disciple, to live out the gospel, is to live life humbly trusting in God, and so when Jesus responds to the plea “Increase our faith,” in a seemingly odd way, we can hear him saying, “Worry not… Faith the size of a mustard seed is enough, and you have that!”
Jesus is reminding the apostles that it is not by their own power that they will uproot the mulberry tree, it is not by their own strength that they will avoid stumbling blocks, it is not by their own ability will that they will forgive, and it is not by their own merit that they will carry out gospel living. It is only through faith in God that this is possible, for it is God who is all powerful, all glorious and deserving of all honour.
For the apostles, for us, indeed for all who will receive it, the gift of the unimaginable grace of God is extended through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who came among us to serve, not to be served. And this gift of grace marks the dependency of the disciple on a faith that transcends human capability.
So when we feel we don’t have enough faith. When we are overwhelmed by the hurdles we face, when we are shocked by the overwhelming heartache in the world, when we feel unable to forgive, and we cry out to the Lord to, “Increase our faith!” we remember that bigger isn’t always better.
We remember faith isn’t about the size or amount of something that we possess.
And we believe that more doesn’t equal security, because faith isn’t something that is stockpiled in a storehouse so that we have enough when we need it. Rather faith is generously spent, lived out in humility and trust in a just and loving God. Faith is an emptying out of what we have and who we are, trusting in the One with whom we are in relationship in turn relinquishing our illusions of self-reliance, acknowledging that faith cannot be measured, only simply received as a gift of grace and enacted through presence of the Holy Spirit in and among us.