Mustard Seed Faith

From small seeds

It would be all too easy to have something rather pompous, imposing or boring about the detail of what we believe. We're a set-up that encompasses a wide range of Christian belief (like lots of other churches). Here is a sermon preached in 2007 which touches on faith and belief. It will give you a glimpse of where we are coming from and maybe help you in your thinking & believing.

Luke 17.5-10

5 The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' 6 The Lord replied, 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.

7 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, "Come here at once and take your place at the table"? 8 Would you not rather say to him, "Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink"? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, "We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!"

The story is told of Samuel Johnson that when he received a manuscript, and people sent him many, many articles and manuscripts hoping that he would use his influence to get them published, he would send a reply like this:
Thank you for your manuscript I shall waste no time in reading it.

Brilliant answer, because it could be taken two ways:

It could be understood as

This manuscript is complete rubbish – I shall waste no time in reading it.


This manuscript looks like the most important event in the history of the publishing, and I shall waste no time in reading it.

You would only know which way it was meant, if you were present to hear him say it.

It would help us understand the Gospel passage, if we could hear the words spoken by Jesus and the disciples.

The disciples say, Lord increase our faith

Jesus says, If you had the faith of a mustard seed you could say that enormous tree, be uprooted and jump in the sea and it would be done.

You could understand what is happening in one of two ways:

It could be that the disciples say 'increase our faith', because they believe that for BIG things to happen they need to have BIG faith.

For the world to be a better, more God-shaped place, we are going to need some BIG faith and BOLD action.

But that has never been the way God has done things. God seems to have a preference for working with the smallest of offerings.

Remember, it is a young boy and not a giant of similar stature who defeats Goliath. Gideon has his lovely, vast, army of men whittled down by God to a few hundred – before he goes into combat. Jesus tells us that God prefers the pennies of the poor to the mega–charity of the millionaires.

In the reading, he tells his disciples that all God needs in order to do great things is a small amount of faith and trust on our part, which is hard to believe now, and I bet it was hard to believe then 2000 years ago, which is why Luke decided to include this saying in his Gospel.

Mustard seeds

We all tend to naturally believe that BIG is BEST and to really get things done in our world we need what is biggest and best at our fingertips. But Jesus tells us that the most incredible things can happen from the smallest of beginnings, which we know. It is a well kept secret that the history of the world is littered with instances of how small faith and actions make a big difference.

A great example was Trevor Huddlestone. When he was a priest working in Sophiatown in 1940s South Africa, he would always tip his hat to women as he walked past them in the street. One day he tipped his hat to a black woman whom he passed, out walking with her son.

The son couldn´t believe what he saw. Here was a white man treating a black woman, his mother, with respect, as a regular member of the human race. He had never seen it before.

The young black boy was Desmond Tutu who turned out to play a major part in the transformation in the life of that country, but for Tutu it started with a man tipping his hat, the smallest of actions, but it had huge consequences.

Another example is:
Dwight Eisenhower was President of the US in the 50s when the cold war with China and Russia was at its height. There was famine in China and hundreds of thousands of people in the US sent little bags of rice to the President in order to persuade him to send food aid rather than engage in war.

When Eisenhower was being urged by the Pentagon to use the nuclear option, Eisenhower turned to his aides and asked, 'How many bags of rice today?' On hearing the answer, he ruled out the possibility of nuclear weapons.

Looking at the world as it is, it is hard to believe that Jesus is right: that big things are possible with small faith and action, and yet it is the best kept secret of our faith and history.

Mother Teresa said,

'We can do no great things, only small things with great love.'

At its best Christianity is a bottom up, organic, network of ordinary people who believe that the way God changes and transforms the world is not through the shock and awe tactics of empires but through small acts of love, mercy and faith. We do small things with great love; we trust in the power of the God of the mustard seed.

So it could be that the Disciples said, Lord increase our faith, believing that for the world to be a better, God-shaped place it needed BIG faith on their part, because BIG is obviously BEST. Jesus tells them that if they have the faith the size of a tiny seed then mountains and great trees can be moved, for Jesus believes that BIG things happen when small things are done with great faith and love.

But it could also be that when the disciples say, Lord increase our faith, they do so, believing that in order to follow Jesus they need a lot of faith.

Which way?

It reminds me of what people sometimes say to me,

'Oooh I wish I had your faith'.

This makes me want to say – 'You don´t know how small my faith is…'

But that sort of thing is often said as a get out – a reason for doing nothing. It´s a way of letting ourselves off the hook of faith and action.

Jesus, increase our faith, because to follow you we obviously need huge amounts of faith… not so, you start from where you are, even if you have the faith of a small seed, God can do great things through you.

Remember the opposite of faith is not doubt – it is certainty.

Jesus invites us to start now – where we are and with the faith we have – small though it may be. Jesus is not proud. Great things can happen even with the small faith we can muster.

Some years ago a woman died who was considered by many to be a living saint.Her name was Dorothy Day. She started all kinds of activities: a news paper, 'The Catholic Worker', houses of hospitality for vagrants, feeding programs, etc. She would overhear others saying of her, 'She is a saint'.

She would get upset, turn to the speaker, and say: 'Don't say that. Don't make it too easy for yourself. Don't escape this way. You say that to convince yourself that you are different from me, that I am different from you. That is easy. In that case you can go your own way. I am not different from you. I am not a saint. I am like you. You could easily do what I do. You don't need any more faith than you have; get kicking.'

The disciples said, Lord increase our faith, maybe believing that in order to follow him they would need huge amounts of faith.

Not so – Jesus does not let them off the hook. He believes that God starts with what little faith we have and invites us to get kicking, to trust that even with the tiniest amounts of faith great things can happen. For God will always work not through the shock and awe of empires or through the big bucks of billionaires, but through ordinary people with small, mustard seed sized amounts of faith, who trust that big things can happen when small things are done with love and faith.

Keith James
St Anne's Bewdley
Sunday October 7th 2007