First Congregational Church
October 6, 2013
20th Sunday after Pentecost
"Perception and Faith"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Last week I mentioned the story about a couple of guys and a talking dog. The short version is that the owner of the dog was willing to sell it for $10 because everything that the dog said was a lie. After church, another story was shared that fits perfectly with this morning's message.
Ole took his new dog out duck hunting. They were in the boat, waiting for the ducks to fly in, and finally they arrived. As they came into the pond, Ole took a shot and got one. The new dog jumped out of the boat, but instead of swimming over to the duck, he walked on top of the water, got the duck, brought it back, and dropped it at Ole's feet. Ole can't believe it. So when the ducks came in again, he shot another one. The dog did the same thing - over the water and back. Ole couldn't wait to show off his new hound to Sven.
So the next week, Ole took Sven duck hunting, they waited, and the ducks flew in. Ole took his shot and got one. The dog did just as he did the previous week: got out of the boat, walked across the top of the water, retrieved the duck and dropped it at Ole's feet. Ole said to Sven, "So, vat do ya tink?" Sven says, "Can't swim, huh?"
I was really glad when the Lectionary Study Group gathered this past Wednesday to talk about the passages that were assigned to this day. It was good to appreciate the three other passages that are prescribed for this day. It was also good to have the reinforcement - that the idea of fitting four very different Bible passages together into a short amount of time is not only tough, but not very considerate when there's not enough time to talk about the backgrounds and contexts.
So before we get to the passage for this morning, first we should realize that there are really two stories or points in these six verses. One commentator suggested that maybe the writer Luke put these two little pieces together because they didn't fit any place else - like some of our junk drawers. That idea may make even more sense if you consider the prior four verses that talk about forgiving those who sin against us - and our job to forgive them when they ask for it - even if it happens seven times in a day.
The first part mentions the idea of faith as small as a mustard seed, but we shouldn't confuse this passage with the parable of the mustard seed, which is really about the kingdom of God. Today's mustard seed is more about faith than God's kingdom.
The second part of the passage uses the word servant, although the better word is the word "slave". Our culture is so different from Jesus' day, not to mention what we miss in the language nuances. Back in Jesus' culture, a "slave" was not only a socioeconomic entity but also one wholly devoted to another. In that sense, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert - from the story of Anne of Green Gables - might be considered slaves to Anne. Sandra Bullock's character was wholly devoted to Michael Oher in the movie, "The Blind Side." Many a spouse or friend might be considered a slave with the ancient understanding of the word
Luke 17:5-10 (NIV)
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
Thank you, Myra. One of the delights from last Wednesday was the "revelation" of understanding in the mustard seed. On one hand, it's almost as if Jesus is chastising the apostles for having such little faith; it was smaller than a mustard seed. But on the other hand, perhaps Jesus was using hyperbole to say that they already had faith, that even if it was as big as a mustard seed, good things could come of it.
That point is made so much clearer in The Message. Jesus says, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.' I think sometimes we think there is some sort of faith measuring stick. It's not a stick or tape or any other sort of measuring device: faith is God - and what God can do through us.
Truthfully, I don't know that the second part of this morning's passage is so crystal clear, either. I wonder if sometimes the translators get so focused on their jobs that they forget that the readers of God's holy word are just mere mortals. So here was how Eugene Peterson put it.
“Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”
Barry Robinson or Lion's Head, Ontario brought out the essence of these two micro passages so perfectly. "What you (we) need is not more faith, but fewer excuses." His next paragraph struck such a chord with me, I have to share it with you.
"To hammer home Jesus’ actual point a bit more, Jesus then tells a story that as much as says, “Oh and by the way, WHEN you have forgiven someone seven times with the faith you already have, don’t come trotting back to me like some dancing dog and expect a pat on the head for being such a super disciple. You’ll be doing no more than what you’ve seen me do, and what I do is what I’ve seen my Father do. It’s the family way in the kingdom of God and when you act in accordance with who you are by grace, that’s wonderful but you’ll just have to pardon me if we don’t crank up the angel choir with the Hallelujah Chorus each time you forgive your mother-in-law for telling you for the umpteenth time that you may not be good enough for her daughter. This is just how it goes in life. Deal with it and let’s move on.”
I confess that there is a part of me that has played with the idea of sending this sermon on to our nations senators and house representatives, but then I "got" Jesus' point. It is, however, World Communion Sunday, so I am glad that there is this reminder to faith.
To faith - it is a verb as well as a noun - means having our whole way of perceiving and responding to life transformed by God's unbidden, unearned and unstoppable love. Whether we have brown skin, or light skin, we are young or old, at ease or dis-ease, the reality is that all of us have all the faith we need to allow God to do great things in, with and through us.
As we join the millions that will celebrate our Lord's Supper this day, let us take a few moments to prepare our hearts and our willingness to be used by God.
Let us pray. Today, God, we are reminded again that faith is not about us, but you - through us. Jesus prayed that we might be one: in spirit and mission and communion with each other and you. Help us do that by giving us eyes to recognize your reflection in the eyes of those you give us - whether they be friend or stranger or foe. Give us a mind to accept and celebrate our differences. Give us a heart big enough to love your children everywhere. We thank you for setting a table with space enough for us all! For all the blessings and perceptions you give, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.