Mustard-Seed Faith

October 7, 2007


Luke 17:5-6

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. (ESV).


Walking generates power. Every time you take a step, you generate six to eight watts of energy? But then — poof! — it dissipates into the air. An architectural firm in London is now looking at ways to capture that energy on a large scale and turn it into electricity. For example, 34,000 people walk or dash through Victoria Station in one hour, rushing toward their trains. That is a lot of steps. “If you harness that energy,” says the firm’s director, “you can actually generate a very useful power source.”

According to Fast Company magazine (Staedter, Tracy. “Good vibrations,” September 2006, 34), this architectural firm is working to develop vibration-harvesting sensors. These sensors would be implanted in the structure of train stations, bridges, factories, or any other building frequently rattled by commuters, vehicles, or machinery. The devices could capture the rumblings of all this activity, turn them into electricity, and then store the electricity in a battery. Sounds interesting, but the point is that there is power in small steps.

In today’s passage from Luke, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” It sounds like a reasonable request. I have often thought much the same. I have often thought, “I need more faith. I could be a better Christian if only I had more faith.”

But what does Jesus say? The disciples think their faith is too miniscule to make a difference, so they ask Jesus to enlarge it. But Jesus says that they do not understand the significance of small steps or small faith. He says, “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” (Luke 17:5-6).

If you are a literal minded person, you might ask, why would anyone want to cast a perfectly good mulberry tree into the sea? But that is not the point. The point is the power of faith, even of a small faith.

In other words, Jesus does not buy our complaint that we need more faith in order to live out God’s call for our lives. Moreover, he is not willing to be some kind of magician who waves a magic wand and gives us faith that we think they need. He says, use the faith you have. Even if it is very small, it will be enough.

Have you ever seen a mustard seed? Probably not. They are hard to see. Each mustard seed is about 1 mm or .04 inch in diameter. That is about the thickness of a credit card or a paper clip. That is minute.

So what does Jesus mean when he talks about mustard-seed sized faith? Faith does not have to be huge to have an impact. Faith does not have to make the news to make a difference. What we need to do, what the church needs to do, is not to worry about how big our faith is, but how we are using the faith we already have.

Today is World Communion Sabbath. It would seem appropriate therefore to ask how the church is doing in its call to make Christ real in the world. How are we doing at promoting peace and love?

Not very well. There is war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pick up a newspaper, and you feel almost overwhelmed. There are bloody demonstrations against the government in Myanmar. There was a shooting at the University of Memphis, reminding us of the shooting at Virginia Tech. A couple of weeks ago, we had a gang shootout here in York, and a young man was killed. How does a Christian respond to this? Truth be told. Usually we don’t. we hide our heads in the sand and do nothing. We pretend that the problems do not exist. As long as there are no bulletholes in my bedroom walls, as long as it was not my son that was gunned down, we do not care.

But you realize that Jesus is not going to accept that response. Jesus had a word to say in favor of peacemaking and peacemakers. In the Sermon on the Mount, he called peacemakers “children of God” (Matthew 5:9). The Apostle Paul reminds us that God has “reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2Cor. 5:18).

The key is to start small, and work for peace in our own families and communities. It would be hard to find a more striking image of Christian reconciliation than what took place last year in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A group of Amish men and women took a stand for forgiveness after a gunman slaughtered five young girls at a schoolhouse. The most impressive thing about the Amish response to the murders was the way that these peace-loving Christians reached out to support the gunman’s widow and children.

Greg Jones, dean of Duke Divinity School says, “Such exemplary acts of witness stir the imaginations of the larger world. We need our imagination to be set on fire by stories that show that what we think is impossible or unrealistic is indeed possible — if we have the courage to cultivate habits of reconciliation.” Habits of reconciliation. Those are small steps that can have a huge impact.

Last February, a delegation of thirteen Christian leaders from the United States traveled to Iran to meet with political and religious leaders, with the goal of easing tensions between the two countries. At a time in which political leaders of the two countries are reluctant to talk, such outreach by church leaders is a simple step in the right direction.

Now if you want to be cynical, you might say, “Big deal — a visit by thirteen Christian leaders. That can’t do much good.” And maybe not. But Jesus insists that faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a tree and toss it into the sea. Even a small amount of faith can have an enormous effect.

Let’s face it, you and I are not likely to have an opportunity to go to Iran and talk about peace. No one is likely to consult us about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one is looking to us for peace initiatives for Darfur and Myanmar. So we ask, what can I do about promoting peace and love in the world? Jesus answer is: a lot.

Remember my earlier example of 34,000 people walking through Victoria Station generating energy without giving it much thought. In the normal exercise of their daily lives, these people collectively can produce a significant amount of usable energy.

This, then, is a symbol for the church. We, as the body of Christ, who number over a billion worldwide, ought to be making a difference simply by the way we live everyday.

If Christians around the world simply practiced the faith they profess, the world would be changed. Of course that is easy to say and hard to do. Christianity is an easy faith to die by, because it gives us assurance for life eternal, but Christianity is not easy to live by.

Reconciliation is part of Christian living. Our mission as obedient servants of Jesus Christ is the peaceful settling of disputes, the overcoming of differences, and the re-establishment of friendships.

None of us can do all of this perfectly, but if most of us did some of what Christ demands of us, we could generate a ton of world-changing energy. Jesus started with just a few followers. Those few turned the world upside down.

What could we do if we only actually lived what we say we believe. Whatever we do for Christ, whether it’s giving money to the church or giving our time to help those in need, is not going to make the lead story on CNN, but that does not mean that what we do is not important. Our best efforts are just small steps, nothing spectacular in themselves, but when combined with the efforts of other faithful people, they can have a powerful impact.

Getting back to reconciliation. Talking is a mustard-seed-sized faith effort. Everybody talks. It does not seem like much. But reconciliation often begins when we look for reasonable solutions to problems through conversation. Abraham Lincoln, when he became president, took the bold step of including political rivals in his cabinet. He kept them where he could talk to them and that was a major factor in keeping the Union together during the most trying times of the Civil War.

Unfortunately, when we have a dispute with a person, the first thing we do is stop talking to them. Sometimes that is all right for awhile. Everybody needs to go to their separate corners and let their tempers cool down, but then we need to come back together and talk to one another. The healing begins when we enter into conversation with our enemies, and look for solutions to our common problems.

Another small step toward peace and reconciliation is made when we show empathy for others. when we work to understand their feelings, situation, and motives. When people are suffering, what they need more than anything else is for someone to acknowledge that they are suffering. Bad things happen to people, and they become angry and frustrated and discouraged, and what they need most of all in the midst of their troubles is for someone to really listen.

Now I do not mean this kind of halfway listening that we usually do when other people talk about themselves. Most people never really listen at all to other people. They may hear the words the other is speaking but they are not really listening. To really listen is to give that other person your undivided attention. You take them and what they are saying seriously.

Now that does not sound like much, but you would be surprised how much good you can do by just listening. And sometimes when arguing with another person, when I have got beyond my own ego and got around to actually listening to what they were saying, I have realized that I agree with them. Or even if I disagree with what they are saying, by listening, I can come to understand why they are saying it. And sometimes that can be a basis if not for friendship at least for acceptance.

I remember a conversation that I witnessed. One lady just exploded verbally all over another lady, just chewed her out real good, and then stormed off. I was stunned, embarrassed that I had witnessed this confrontation. I thought the other lady would be angry and offended, but she turned to me and in a very mild tone said, “You just have to understand that she has a lot on her right now. She is going through a lot of bad times.” Through her contact and dialogue with the first lady, she understood. She certainly did not like being chewed out, but she was able to deal with that and accept the other lady.

So the ability to listen to a person and find out where they are is a powerful weapon. It is our best tool for settling disputes, overcoming divisions, and re-establishing relationships. It is a small tool for a mustard-seed faith, but it can work wonders.

Exercise the faith you have then take a few small steps maybe you will find that you are a wonder-worker.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

HOME About YARPC Sermons Prayer Center

Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Last Modified: 01/14/12