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Luke 17_5-10

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TITLE:  Increase Our Faith               SCRIPTURE:  Luke 17:5-10

   

The disciples said to Jesus, "Increase our faith!"

What led to their request?  It was this.  Jesus had said:

   "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come,

   but woe to anyone BY WHOM they come!

   It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck

   and you were thrown into the sea

   than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble" (17:2).

So the disciples said, "Lord, increase our faith."  I am sure they were thinking, "Wow!  That's a lot to ask!  How can we avoid ever causing a little one to stumble?  That’s a tough requirement, Jesus.  Increase our faith so that we can do it.  We can't do it on our own."

Then Jesus said: 

   "If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender,

   and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 

   And 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" (17:3-4).

So the disciples said, "Lord, increase our faith."  I am sure they were thinking, "Wow!  That's a lot to ask!  How can we forgive someone who sins against us seven times in one day?  You are asking the impossible, Jesus -- so increase our faith so that we can do the impossible.  We can't do it on our own."

"Lord, increase our faith!  Help us!  Make it possible for us to live up to your impossible standards!  Save us from being merely human!  Save us, Lord!"

It isn't unusual for people to feel overwhelmed when faced with the things that Jesus said.  The Sermon on the Mount is a good example.  Jesus said:

   "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,

   you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).

"Lord, increase our faith!"  We can't do that on our own.  We can't be more righteous than these super-righteous men.  Help us, Lord!  "Increase our faith."

Jesus also said:

   "You have heard that it was said,

   'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'

   But I say to you, Love your enemies

   and pray for those who persecute you

   so that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45).

Lord, have mercy!  We can't love our enemies.  We have enough trouble loving our friends.  Help us, Lord!  "Increase our faith!"

And then there are the temptations that we face every day.  We face temptation in our workplaces -- the pretty young woman who sits at the next desk -- the handsome man who smiles and says hello.  Lord, have mercy!  Help us, Lord!  "Increase our faith!"

In the movie, Robin Hood, Robin (who is played by Kevin Costner) approaches a young man who is getting ready to shoot an arrow at a target.  Robin asks, "Can you shoot amid distractions?"  That was a good question, because the young man might be asked to go to war with his bow and arrow.  There are lots of distractions in war.  "Can you shoot amid distractions?"

Then, just before the young man released his arrow, Robin reached over and tickled his ear with a feather, and the young man missed the target by several feet.  Everyone had a good laugh at the young man's expense.

But then Maid Marian asked Robin, "Can you?"  Can you shoot amid distractions, Robin?  Can you do what you were challenging this young man to do?

So Robin takes his bow and arrow and prepares to shoot at the target.  But just as he releases the arrow, Marian leans over and blows playfully into his face.  Robin not only misses the target, but his arrow almost kills a bystander.

Lord, have mercy!  "Lord, increase our faith!"  Temptation overwhelms us. Lord, help us!  Lord, save us!

But it isn't just base temptations -- sex, money, and drugs -- that threaten to undo us.  It is also the temptation to do good things.  Thomas a Kempis put it this way.  He said:

   "The devil is continually tempting thee to seek HIGH things,

   to go after honors."

I am reminded of an old cartoon.  The devil is standing in front of an executive's desk.  A window looks out on the executive's domain -- factories, smokestacks.  The devil is obviously trying to find the executive's price.  He asks, "What about your picture on the cover of Time magazine?"  Thomas a Kempis says:

   "The devil is continually tempting us to seek HIGH things,

   to go after honors."

Lord have mercy!  "Lord, increase our faith!"  Lord, help us!  Lord, save us!

It happens even in churches.  Someone gets an idea about how we could do it better, and starts rolling over other people in the attempt to change the church to match his or her vision.  Too many times, we are tempted to say, "My way or no way!"  People like that offend other people, who then leave the church -- sometimes for another church, but too often for no church at all.  The people with the Big Idea -- convinced that they are doing the right thing -- split churches and make life difficult for all of us.

Lord have mercy!  "Lord, increase our faith!"  Lord, help us!  Lord, save us!

When the disciples said, "Increase our faith," Jesus responded with these words.  He said:

   "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" (v. 6).

That isn't how we wanted Jesus to respond.  When the disciples said, "Increase our faith," we wanted Jesus to increase their faith.  We wanted him to wave a wand over their heads and endow them magically with great faith.  We wanted him to say something clever that would "buck them up" -- that would give them sudden insight -- that would increase their faith.

But Jesus didn't do that.  Instead, he told them what would happen if they would grow in faith.  He told them that they wouldn't have to become spiritual giants.  They wouldn't have to possess towering faith. All they would need is faith the size of a mustard seed, one of the world's smallest seeds.  If they could develop even that tiny bit of faith, they would tap into God's power so that they could say to a tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and the tree would do that.

Jesus didn't mean that literally, of course.  He didn't mean that we could SHA-ZAMM a tree to make it jump out of the ground and plant itself in the sea.  He was using what is called hyperbole (pronounced high-per-bow-lee) -- dramatic language -- exaggerated language.  He was using the image of a tree jumping out of the ground to teach the disciples something important -- that even tiny faith could give them great power -- that even tiny faith could help them tap into God's power.

But I would like to draw your attention to an important fact.  Jesus did give the disciples the great faith that they wanted.  He just didn't do it on the spot.  They asked, "Increase our faith," but walked away with little more faith than they had come with.

It would not be until the resurrection that the disciples would get the boost in faith that they were asking.  After they saw the risen Christ, they became men and women of huge faith -- world-changing faith.  Before the resurrection, they hid in a locked room for fear that the people who killed Jesus would come after them next.  After the resurrection, they left their locked room and went out into the streets of Jerusalem, where Peter preached a great sermon and the disciples baptized three thousand people (Acts 2).  They went on from there to plant churches in place after place.  These ordinary men and women, even though small in number, started something that affects us even today -- even in (mention the name of your town).  The faith of those men and woman allowed them to tap into God's power and to change the world.

They asked, "Increase our faith" -- and Jesus did that.  It just took awhile.  Jesus didn't wave a wand over them.  He helped them to grow into faith.

And so it is with us.  We, too, want Jesus to increase our faith.  We, too, want Jesus to make it possible for us to tap into God's power so that we can make a difference -- a positive difference in our world.

Jesus does that -- but he doesn't wave a wand over us.  He helps us to grow in faith.

We are growing in faith right now -- right here in this worship service -- singing hymns of faith -- listening to the scriptures -- feeding on the Eucharist -- rubbing elbows with people of faith. 

Jesus helps to increase our faith in a thousand different ways.  He increases our faith every time we make a decision to act in faith.  He increases our faith when we read the scriptures -- or pray -- or talk about spiritual things with another person.  Sometimes Jesus increases our faith by letting us fall flat on our face -- by letting us suffer the consequences of our actions.  He sometimes hands out Tough Love, but only to help us grow.

Every day is an opportunity to grow in faith.  Every day is an opportunity for Christ to help us grow.  Every day is an opportunity to exercise our faith.  And once we have faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed, Jesus promises:

   "You can say to this mulberry tree,

   'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,'

   and it will obey you."

It might take a lifetime of growing in faith before you see that happen -- but Christ promises that, with God's help and a little faith on our part, everything is possible.

Morning Has Broken  UMH #145

Great Is Thy Faithfulness  UMH #140

My Hope is Built  UMH #368

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