First Lesson: Lamentations 1: 1-6
Responsive Reading: Psalm 137
Second Lesson: 2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 17: 5-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith! “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.”- Luke 17:5-6
Many of us know the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Jack seemingly had nothing going for him in life. Jack was poor. Jack didn’t have a father around. All that kept Jack and his mother living was a cow that Jack foolishly sold for magic beans. Upon hearing this news, Jack’s mother was irate! Jack is sent off to his room without any dinner for the evening. How could Jack trust in silly little magic beans when his whole life was on the verge of collapsing? We will get back to Jack’s story in a little bit.
Now let me ask you all a question “What the most important determining factor for success in life is?” Some of you will say brains; others of you might say good looks, whereas others might say natural talent. This spring, I read a book by author Angela Duckworth entitled Grit. Duckworth’s thesis is the most successful people in this world are those that possess the ability to see the world regarding long-term action. People with “grit” say “What might be impossible today or even tomorrow might become reality someday.”
Let me give you an example of how grit works. 1666, Isaac Newton is walking outside his garden in Cambridge, England. He sees an apple fall from the tree. The Apple is seemingly tugged by an invisible force. This simple incident led to Newton devising his theories of gravity which explain everything from the falling Apple to the orbit of the Moon.
Here’s what is often not told about the story. Newton filled notebook after notebook with scribbles trying to sort out his theories. He spent weeks regarding exact movements on a pendulum. The time from when the famous apple fell from the tree until Newton published his theory was twenty-one years.
Isaac Newton didn’t see the world change merely because he was smart. Isaac Newton saw the world change because he kept persisting and believing in the face of obstacles. Newton didn’t see the world merely by what he saw outside his door today.
Now what I want you to do is picture the story of Jack and the Beanstalk and Sir Isaac Newton. Now, let’s look at our Gospel lesson for today from Luke 17.
The Disciples come up to Jesus with a request “Increase our faith.” Here’s what had been going on in the Disciples life, they had been following Jesus around for quite a while. The Disciples began inevitability trying to compare themselves to Jesus and ending up feeling not good enough. Plenty of people can relate to the Disciples’ emotions.
When I was in seminary, I knew a girl who grew up outside the Lutheran Faith. As she was growing up, she kept hearing that if she were a Christian, she would persevere in her faith. She would never doubt if she had “truly saving faith.” Then in the churches, she went to she heard people give testimonies. These people thought they were saved for 20 years (But apparently they weren’t) then God finally gave them some super dramatic experience that saved them. The young woman I knew had a hard time believing that her faith was enough. She was like the Disciples in Today’s Gospel lesson wondering whether their faith was enough? Are there really signs of “saving faith”?
Jesus in our lesson for today seeks to answer this question. Jesus uses the example of a mustard seed. Mustard seeds were one of the smallest of seeds, yet mustard seeds could produce plants that rose 8-10-12-or even 14 feet tall. Jesus’ point to the Disciples is that even the smallest amount of faith can produce the greatest of outcomes.
Let me tell a story as told by an unknown author. Once upon a time there was a small bird named Tasoo that lived in a vast jungle. Then one hot summer day, a terrible wildfire erupted within Tasso's jungle. Flames soon began to engulf many trees and animals living in the jungle. The other birds took this fire as a sign to get out and fly as high into the sky as they could and move as far away as possible. But Tasoo loved her home and couldn't stand to see it burn to the ground. So Tasoo began to fly, all day and all night, back and forth to the river, filling her beak with water so she could drop it onto the raging fires. Tasoo’s venture might have seemed pointless to some. But eventually, her determination led to her heavenly father shedding tears as her action moved him. For even though Tasoo was small, her faith in her homeland paid big dividends!
Tasoo’s story is how faith often works. In the words of Robert Farrar Capon: Faith can make the absurd reality. To illustrate this, Jesus speaks of how having faith as small as a mustard seed can cause mulberry trees to jump into the ocean.
Here’s a story of small one small bit of faith can make a huge impact on the world around us. In Sweden in the middle of the 1970’s lived a Holocaust survivor named Hilde Back. Hilde didn’t have much money at all living in Sweden as a refugee and working as a pre-school teacher. Hilde Back though decided she needed to try to change the world for the better. So one day, Hilde came across an ad for sponsoring a child in Africa. Many people had mocked these ads, thinking of them as a scam, they wondered if real children actually existed on the other end. Hilde though wanted to make a difference. So every month, Hilde would put a few dollars in an envelope and send it to a boy named Chris from one of the poorest villages in Kenya. Chris’ village didn’t even have any electricity, a village where people only spoke tribal languages that no outsider could understand. As Hilde kept sending her couple dollars, she had no idea what type of difference it was making in Chris’ life. Chris soon became a star student and moved on from his village and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School. Chris used his degree to get hired at the United Nations as a human rights advocate. Eventually, Chris and Hilde’s story comes to the attention of an American filmmaker named Jennifer Arnold. She films a documentary about them entitled A Small Act which ends up at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah half a world away. This story so moved audience members that they soon began to write out checks to give to Chris and Hilde. They collected over $90,000 over a ten day period. Then a mysterious benefactor pledges $250,000 to the cause of African education. Like the story of Tasoo the story of Chris and Hilde indicates how even the smallest act of faith can have life-changing results.
Here’s the point that Jesus is trying to make to the Disciples in our Gospel lesson for today. Faith doesn’t need to be revealed in spectacular signs in your life. Faith is rather revealed in simple means and simple acts. As Lutherans, our faith comes to us via ordinary means such as water, wine, wheat, and word. Jesus is telling the Disciples and Us on this day “We do not need greater faith because we do not own our faith.” Faith like salvation does not progress from cold to lukewarm to toasty to red hot. Faith is not merely what exists in our heads. Faith is rather what God gifts to us. Faith is the means by which God chooses to sustain not only his people but also his creation. What we need to take home this morning is how mustard seeds can ultimately change the world.
Greg Carey is a New Testament Professor who grew up in the Bible belt. Greg Carey though did not grow up in a church. When Greg Carey was twelve years old, he had to spend a week in the hospital with a hip injury. During this week, Greg received two visits. One visit was from his aunt and uncle’s part-time pastor and the other visit was from the local youth group. A few years later, when Greg Carey became a Christian, he could not shake how those visits were the mustard seeds of his eventual conversion.
A couple of years ago, I was talking to my colleague Pastor Brostrom at Faith Lutheran; I was lamenting how we’d have kids that would show up for Wednesday night confirmation, but you’d rarely see here on Sunday mornings. I like the Disciples was beginning to doubt whether my approach was wrong. Pastor Brostrom then gave me some very wise counsel when he said: “This might be these kids only exposure to faith growing up; you need not worry and let God plant his seeds.”
This advice probably can be related to plenty of our own relationships. We might have kids, grand kids, or neighbors for whom we might like to see them consider or re-consider their faith. We often assume that we need to be able to answer every question they might have or be perfect role models before we can even open our mouths. All we can merely do is plant seeds. These seeds might be an invitation; they might be a visit or a phone call; they might be a listening ear, or it might be sharing how your faith shapes your world. Miracles can occur when we plant the smallest of seeds in those around us.
We all struggle with the nature of God’s timing. We all the struggle with not seeing seeds grow faster. Like the Disciples in Today’s Gospel lesson, we all have times when our faith feels vulnerable and flawed. Eventually, something happens. The magic beans begin to grow! Jack on his beanstalk encounters his golden goose. Isaac Newton develops his theories of gravity. Tasoo the bird puts out a wildfire. Hilde Back begins to save a whole continent; Greg Carey becomes a Christian. These stories illustrate what Jesus means when he says Faith even as small as a mustard seed can change the whole world. Amen
 “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 23.Sept.2016. Web. Sept.26.2016.
 Lehrer, Jonah. “The Truth About Grit.” Boston Globe Online. 02.Aug.2009. Web. Sept.25.2016.
 Lehrer, Jonah. “The Truth About Grit.”
 Luke 17:5-10
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P.321
 Luke 17:6.
 Casanas, Gabriella. “Film chronicles how 'A Small Act' changed lives.” CNN.com. 14.Jul.2010. Web. Sept.26.2016.
 Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. P.321.
 Carey, Greg. “Commentary on Luke 17:5-10”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, MN. 3. Sept.2010. Web. Sept.25.2016.
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.