Thursday, October 6, 2016

From Tiny to Gigantic

2 October 2016 
Proper 22C 

In 1927, the Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre proposed a theory about our universe 
being always expanding, trying to answer and give reason to some strange observations in 
astronomy and physics. Most of us know his theory these days as the big bang theory. In the big 
bang theory, a small singularity explodes into a huge and vastly expanding universe. 

This image, starting with something so small and creating something vast, is the same image that 
Jesus invokes today with the parable of the mustard seed. It is such a good image for us to 
understand when it comes to the work of God in this world. God always starts with something 
small, something ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary. We are part of the larger 
work of art, and yet, each of us is always a masterpiece of astounding value. We all started as 
something so small, and from that tiny beginning, against all odds, we have become interesting 
beloved human beings with connections, relationships, and legacies. God is in the business of 
transformation. Transforming the small and ordinary into the amazing and extraordinary. This 
process is going on around us all the time, but we have to be open to seeing it. We have to be 
able to look at something and say this is not just a conglomerate of color, texture, smell, taste, 
and sound. This is not just a physical object with a simple purpose, but this is a part of the larger 
work of art all around us. Part of God's grand plan. 

The disciples however, are not seeing it. All of the gospel passages we have heard lately, the 
corrupt manager parable, the story of Lazarus and the rich man, today's teaching about doing 
what we ought to do, its hard stuff. Its no wonder the disciples despair a little of living up to the 
task and being able to live the way that Jesus is teaching them to. But Jesus seems to think this is 
how they ought to be living and that it is simply what we are asked to do, not a beyond the duty 
kind of calling. “We cannot guess why the “apostles” ask Jesus to add to their faith. He has been 
teaching some very tough messages about stumbling blocks on the journey of faith and he’s been 
very direct with the religious leaders of the day. I can only imagine, especially after the message 
of accountability, that I, in their shoes, would ask the same thing. I might say, “Jesus what you 
say is hard. It is actually REALLY difficult. Give me faith to do these things … add to my faith.”
” Perhaps having more faith will help them. They don't feel up to it, they don't feel like they 
have enough to go the distance. 

But Jesus' response seems sort of discouraging and condescending and flippant. Because what 
they are doing is what they should be doing and they don't deserve anything extra for that. Yet, it 
sounds like they are barely managing to accomplish that which is regularly asked of them. What 
comes directly before the apostles asking for more faith in the gospel of Luke is Jesus telling 
them that “ if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven 
times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive." Seven times in a day! That is a lot of forgiveness. It 
would be so hard to practice that much forgiveness. Surely I would need some help with that as well. I mean, so much forgiveness would require a lot of faith in God to continue over and over 
again, right? Jesus does see their struggle and he seeks to guide them to better understanding 
through a comparison and a story. He tells them that if they had faith like a mustard seed, they 
would be able to do extraordinary things. 

The mustard seed is a small seed, but once a mustard seed has died and germinated and starts 
growing, the resulting mustard plant is huge and aggressive and takes over everywhere it can. 
What starts with a little bitty seed becomes a gigantic thriving plant. The metaphor then 
translates that what Jesus means is that no matter how small our faith might be, it can spread and 
grow and stretch out beyond what we thought possible. With a little bit of faith, what we do 
matters and our faith will impact the world. Through God, our faith becomes part of God’s work 
of salvation and transformation of the whole universe. 

We have to claim what we have, even if it is only a little bit. Because even that little bit can be 
used by God to do amazing things. Our power to follow through and accomplish our mission 
does not come from ourselves, but stems from God. It is a reliance on God that allows us to be 
able to move through all the hardships that come along with following Jesus. We have to let go 
of all the things we feel we should be doing on our own. Because trust does not mean that we are 
shoring everything up, that we are attending to all the details ourselves in order for everything to 
work perfectly. We cannot accomplish that. And when we try, we only lead ourselves into 
despair. 

We may feel that what we have in the way of faith is lacking. We may feel that our doubts 
outweigh and overwhelm our ability to trust the Lord. But we forget who we are dealing with, 
what we are dealing with. We are dealing with the God of all creation, who made the universe 
and set in motion the vibrations of atoms. God can work with the littlest seed, like a mustard 
seed. With the littlest amount of faith, because the amount does not matter. God, whose name is the breathing out and breathing in of all creation, has already given us everything we could ever 
possibly need within ourselves. It is us, it is our minds, our hearts, that build walls between 
ourselves and our potential. We already have what we need to do what we are supposed to do. 
When we pray, we tear down those walls inside ourselves, brick by brick, so that the abilities we 
have inside can shine out, so that when everything is stripped away, all that is left is God shining 
through. What we ought to be doing is not more than we can handle, because it is not us that is 
handling it. God is working through us. We need to let go of ourselves, our fears, our self-
awareness in order to be shown that God working through us can do more than we could ever 
imagine. We are working with God. The Holy One of Israel. The Lord who lead the Israelites out 
of slavery and through the desert. The God who gave the Israelites the Promised Land even 
though they misbehaved. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and 
Rachel. An awesome God, in the old overwhelming goosebumps sense of awesome. Sometimes 
in the busyness of our daily lives we forget this. Sometimes in the silence of what feels like 
unanswered prayer, this can seem trite. Yet, the God that comes to us through the bread and wine of Eucharist is a God that takes each of us human beings out of something so small, our walled 
off selves, and transforms us into the body of Christ, a new world of love and grace.