Luke 17: 1-10 “ The Mustard Seed” by Rev. June Fothergill
I have always loved World Communion Sunday and not just because I get to share my international doll collection! I love the picture of the diverse and varied people of the world gathering today around the communion table of Christ. My relationship with Christ Jesus has given me a vision of a world where differences of culture and language are celebrated because our oneness comes from our common worth. Jesus didn’t teach that we all have to be the same but that we are invited to form a community of grace that is inclusive of the diversity of our human family. He showed us this by living, eating with and teaching those who others had outcast. As followers of this Jesus we are always figuring out how to live together lovingly in the midst of our diversity. I think that in the passage we read today, Jesus is inviting us to form an alternative community, a way of living together based upon grace- a flow of truth telling, repentance and forgiveness.
First of all Jesus said straight up- “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come.” Now Jesus doesn’t say we will stumble! But we all know the truth. We do stumble in our lives. There are times when we say the thing we wish we hadn’t, when we neglect to love, when we respond in greed or selfishness, when we let our fear rule or our prejudices judge. We all stumble sometimes.
Yet interesting to me is that Jesus doesn’t seem too worried about our individual stumbles in this passage. Rather he quickly goes on to show great concern for the possibility of us causing others to stumble! This passage is not so much about our individual morality but the kind of community Jesus wants us to build together. Make sure you don’t cause others, especially the vulnerable to stumble! Jesus is warning us that our choices impact not just ourselves but our community. What do the youth and children learn from us by our actions and words? What does the unbelieving world think of the church? Have we caused people to stumble, to turn away from faith and Christ?
I remember the conversation I had with a young man in Canyonville about why he no longer attended a church. He had experienced the community of church as a place of power plays and hurt feelings. He wasn’t too sure he wanted to try it again. It made me sad. Did someone need a millstone? I am sure that Jesus does not mean for us to go out and find some millstones. No, but he does want us to take his words seriously. As his followers we influence others! We may stumble but we need to be certain we don’t cause others to also stumble!
But what are we to do? Is the answer to try to be perfect and kick out anyone who isn’t? NO Is the answer to ignore the problems and just pretend everyone is doing OK. NO Instead Jesus tells us to create what I call a community of grace. Jesus says if anyone sins, “ you must rebuke the offender and if that one repents, you must forgive them. “ In Matthew, he lays out a whole process for doing this but Luke keeps it straightforward and simple. Right?
Let’s face it, it’s complicated! How do we confront or rebuke someone with compassion? What if the persons doesn’t “ get it” or has their own complaints? What if the person needing the rebuke has social/political power? Jesus is showing us that he wants us to form a community where truth telling, repentance and forgiveness flow. Yet, sometimes the timing doesn’t always match. Sometimes some one is ready to forgive but the offender is not ready to repent. Sometimes the opposite. Sometimes people get stuck in pain and grief and bitterness. Sometimes cycles of abuse and violence seem to keep graciousness from even being seen. Sometimes forgiving too early seems like a cop out that minimizes the hurt and harm done. Whew what a complicated web we weave!
So what does this flow of grace look like? Is it practical? I think it is, but it’s not easy. . In Jesus’ teaching today the offender doesn’t repent until someone confronts the behavior. This is something we need to remember, so though sometimes we know when our behavior has hurt someone else, often times we don’t. For the flow of repentance and forgiveness to happen, we need to know this. This kind of speaking the truth to one another in love takes courage.
I have found that using the process of non violent communication helps me have the tools and courage to do this. We can chose to express to someone the sinful behavior we see, how we feel about it, how it affects our human needs and request for someone to change their behavior. Repentance then would mean that someone agrees to make a change. So when that happens we are asked by Jesus to forgive the person, to give them a chance. If you’d like more information about how to do this form of confrontation, I hope you will sign up for the class we are offering Oct 15th.
But Jesus isn’t finished. He also tells his disciples- And if the same person comes back to you 7 times and says, I repent you must forgive. In other words this is not just a matter of a special occasion but an ongoing practice of the faithful community. Confronting, repenting and forgiving are to become a regular part life- how we do things here. 7 times a day! In his exaggeration Jesus is depicting a cycle of grace. A way of being together that lets repentance and forgiveness flow.
When the disciples hear about all this, they too likely think of all the complications. How hard it is to truly live this way. Their reaction is: Ack! Lord give us more faith! And to be honest, I’m right there with them. Jesus, this forgiveness business is just plain hard. I have seen people struggle al l their lives to forgive and let go of deep hurts. I see a society that still hurts people over and over, so when can they have a breather to “ forgive”? I see people with power and privilege who don’t even realize they need to repent and people who are vulnerable who are taught that they are worthless. I see the battered woman letting her beater back into her life because she has been taught to forgive when he repents, yet the cycle in not one of grace but of violence. Oh Lord- it’s just so complicated and messy- our real human lives. We need more faith! More insight! More love! Please!
Jesus’ answer surprises and disturbs us. He says- If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed ( remember those?) you can tell this mulberry tree to uproot itself and go into the sea.”
Huh? Why would I want to move a mulberry tree? I imagine that there probably was a mulberry tree nearby, maybe they were even standing under it for shade. So Jesus looks around for some way to open us up to a new way of seeing and being. His outlandish image jolts us out of our world of measurement. “ Give us more” into a new way of seeing- from Measurement to miracle. Your mustard seed faith is enough! You are enough. It’s not about counting how many times we show grace ( 7x) it’s about just doing it. It’s about trusting that what God has given us- our faith is enough.
All we need it the mustard seed of faith
For finally, what is the purpose of the seeds of faith? In this passage Jesus doesn’t talk about planting the seeds. But of course in other places he does. In other parables he talks about the mustard seed once planted growing into a bush where the birds can nest. In another he talks about a sower going out to sow the seeds and having a variety of outcomes. Seeds are made to be planted or eaten and in either case they change/ die and produce growth and nourishment. So it is that Jesus reminds us that the seeds of faith in our lives, those small seeds that are enough have a purpose. They are not to be horded or put in amber but to be scattered, used, shared. They are the seeds that give us the courage to begin flows of truth telling, repentance and forgiveness in our churches, our families, even our world.
Where have you planted or seen planted God’s seeds?
Seed planting story On this World Communion Sunday, I think of how my father’s friendship with a Japanese man just after WWII planted the seed in my life of interest and respect for people of other cultures. This man Zeni Yamamoto was present at my baptism.