Luke 17:5-6 – “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
There is a legend from the Orient about a traveler making his way to a large city. One night he meets two other travelers along the road – Fear and Plague.
Plague explains to the traveler that, once they arrived, they are expected to kill 10,000 people in the city.
The traveler asks Plague if Plague would do all the killing. “Oh, no,” responded Plague. “I shall kill only a few hundred. My friend Fear will kill the others.”
Fear, whether real or imagined, can discourage us, overwhelm us and almost strangle us. Today fear is widespread in our society, from the personal - fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of not being loved, fear of change - to the social - fear that war and disasters will go on forever, fear that society will collapse, fear that new government programs will bankrupt the country, fear that the pollution will kill us, and so on.
Those who call themselves Christian are not exempt from fear. We have personal fears, social fears and we have spiritual fears.
There a lot of people who feel that they are not able to do anything important; that they cannot and do not make a difference to anyone, that they are unable to do even a small part of what it is that God asks them to do. They fear that the great work that obviously needs to be done will never be done.
Christians fear that they will let God down, and that God will let them down. When it comes to fear, many Christian folk are in a mess. They have forgotten what their faith is all about. They have forgotten the mighty things God can accomplish.
Do these feelings describe your life - fear, despair, a sense of futility, a sense of hopelessness? Do you find yourself feeling burdened by life and by what it is that God asks of you and, at the same time, wanting to believe - wanting to do what is right - wanting to have the abundant life God has promised us here and now?
We are not the first people to have these fears. Even the disciples had fears. They were overwhelmed with wanting to follow Jesus but fearing that what he asked was too much for them. That fear caused them to cry out to “Lord - increase our Faith.
“Lord, help us believe enough so that we can do what it is that you have commanded us to do. Help us trust enough so that we can live as you say we should be living. Lord, take away our fear.”
And what does Jesus do - how does he answer their prayer? Does he put his arms around them and say “There, there, my child. Don’t worry”? Does he lay his hands upon them and pray and give them more faith as they asked? Does he snap his fingers and grant them a double dose of his Spirit and his faith?
No. Instead he says to them, “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted up and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
This seems like a strange answer but it really is the best answer because the issue for all of us is not: “how much faith do we have?” but rather: “do we have any faith at all?”
Many years ago a shoe company sent one of its sales people to a foreign country to start a business. After a few months the salesman sent back the message: “Coming home, nobody wears shoes here.”
Sometime later the same company sent another sales person to the same far-away country. After a few months she wrote the home office this note: “Send more order forms - nobody wears shoes here.”
The second salesperson saw the opportunity in her situation - not the difficulty. More importantly, she believed in her product. Because of that, she succeeded where the first salesperson failed.
Faith is somewhat like pregnancy. You simply can’t make a valid distinction between having a little faith and a lot of faith any more than you can claim that someone is a little bit pregnant and not really a lot pregnant. If we believe - even a little - even the smallest amount - then we are on the right track.
Our attitudes and the things that we tell ourselves make a huge difference in what we can accomplish. What we tell ourselves about our life situation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we look at ourselves and say “I can’t do it, I am not strong enough, wise enough, loving enough, giving enough, I do not have enough money, power, or faith enough to succeed,” then those things will be true. We will not have enough of what it takes to deal with what is truly important in life.
When we put our trust in God and set about doing what we need to do with an attitude that says, “With God, all things are possible,” then we will be amazed at what we can accomplish. When we have faith in God – even a tiny bit of faith – and when we work toward what God is calling us to do, God’s power will flow through to us and we will be able to accomplish great things.
However, it won’t happen all at once. Faith is like a muscle that needs regular exercise to strengthen it and make it possible to lift great weights. If we put our faith in God, and continue to work, we will uproot that mulberry tree, one shovel full at a time.
The good news of Jesus Christ covers all areas of human life. It speaks of forgiveness and peace and eternal life. It addresses the problems of poverty and of war. It provides solutions to despair and answers to human distress. But, most of all, the Good News tells us that alone we can do nothing, but with God, all things are possible. All we need to do is reach down to that little kernel, that little seed within us and begin to do what it is that we have been called to do and God will do the rest. The key is not having more faith, but working with the faith that you already have.
The old Chinese proverb tells us that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. So, take that step. Follow the commands of God, heed the advice found throughout scripture and believe that what God has promised will come about. No matter how small the step you take, you will be closer to your goal than before.
When you practice the faith, when you pray, when you believe and when you do what God asks you to do, then, in the language of the story that I began with, you will overcome - God will overcome plague and his far more dangerous companion fear. The blessings of life will be more completely yours and our world will be a better place for everyone.
‑ Rev. Pat Beeman is pastor of the Sunnyside United Methodist Church.