Pentecost 20, Common Lectionary Year C
Â©2013 Rev Elisabeth R Jones
I need to begin with a preacherâ€™s confession; while weâ€™ve spent three of the last four weeks in the Hebrew Scriptures courtesy of Jeremiah the Fruitcake, playing with clay in the potterâ€™s hand, grappling with the grief of God, and imagining the ridiculous Dream of God for a redeemed future for our broken planet, weâ€™ve ignored the Lectionary Gospel of Luke. And at our peril it seems!
The last we looked at Lukeâ€™s Jesus he was dropping thoseÂ narrative time bombs about the lost and found: parables of Godâ€™s delight at risking all to go out looking for neâ€™er do wells, and having a party with them when they are found!
Since then Lukeâ€™s Jesus has burned up the miles in his final journey to Jerusalem, and it appears, he has turned up the heat on his rhetoric also.
Reading chapters 14 through 18 you get the distinct impression that Jesus knows time is running out.
The closer he gets to Jerusalem, and to the hell that will break loose when he gets there, Jesus has become more intense, more pointed, and even more impatient. Itâ€™s as if he knows that all too soon it will fall to his followers to carry on his God-given mission by themselves:Â Â to preach Good News to the poor, liberty, Â sight and healing to all who need it, Â to proclaim in action the Dream of God.Â But those same disciples are also aware of the long shadow of trouble ahead, aware of the burden Jesus is handing off to them, and theyâ€™re scared.
Imagine them, singly, privately, even collectively asking themselves, â€œAm I up for this? Am I brave enough, faithful enough?â€
They should be forgiven for demanding of Jesus, â€œRabbi, Teacher, Lord, Increase our Faith!â€
They should be forgiven for asking the question, but it seems Jesus is all out of compassion today.
His response begins as an impatient outburst and dissolves intoÂ an obscure, hard hitting parable that if it werenâ€™t offensive to our post emancipation sensibilities would be frankly incomprehensible.
And hereâ€™s the second confession of the morning: sometimes we preachers have to preach Gospel even when we donâ€™t get it, and today is one of those days. What Jesus is wanting to teach us about faith is almost beyond my grasp. So this comes with a failure warning. Iâ€™ll do my best, but it may not be good enough.
First letâ€™s deal with the impatient outburst about the mustard seed and a mulberry bush. Some of us are more familiar with Matthewâ€™s much sweeter version of faith as a mustard seed growingÂ into a bush big enough to shelter birds in its branches. Luke turns it on its head, and has Jesus shout with exasperation, â€œOh for Peteâ€™s sake, you lily-livered worry warts: even if your faith is only as tiny as a pinprick, you already have enoughâ€¦ toâ€¦. toâ€¦â€ Imagine Jesus looking around for an object to make his point, â€œto take this mulberry bush and plant it in the sea!â€
Now, does that console you? Can you say, honestly,Â â€œOh, okay, cool.â€? I for one am not that easily persuaded. Iâ€™m not convinced that a pinprick of faith is enough to give me the courage to stand up and be counted for my faith in Christ when my safety, security, privilege are on the line. I am certain I donâ€™t have heroic faith to endure the sort of persecution Christians in Nigeria and Pakistan and Indonesia are facing right now. Iâ€™m still with the disciples on this one: â€œLord, increase my faith!â€
Jesusâ€™ failure to treat this heartfelt plea with compassion or patience must reside in his troublesome conviction that faith, by its nature,Â just is, and it is enough. It canâ€™t be quantified, measured out in spoonsful or bucketsful. And while he moves quickly from there into a story to make his point, he leaves me and countless others still stuck on the mustard and the mulberry bush thing.
But if we do follow him, willingly or otherwise to the problematic parable, we ought to catch a glimpse of what this faith is, in Jesusâ€™ eyes: an attitude or disposition towards life that shapes our action. And that attitude of faith is one that assumes, or takes on trust that each of us is here on this earth for a reason. In the language of Jesusâ€™ faith and mine, that reason is that weâ€™re here to put flesh and bones on the Dream of God for a better, healed and healing world.
Trouble is, his story has become so mired in cultural baggage as to be irredeemable. So Iâ€™m going to try a different tack altogether, and offer two contemporary parable which makes the same point.
The first comes from a video clip I saw this week, about the Detroit Mower Gang. Detroit, the wrecked, and now bankrupt city of Americaâ€™s broken dream, can no longer pay for the upkeep of city playgrounds and parks. But an ordinary guy with a lawnmower starts to mow the grass in a neighbourhood play park. Immediately kids come out to play on the swing set revealed by the mown grass. Before long, other guys join him mowing other abandoned city parks, and pick up football and soccer games start toÂ happen, and some of these users join with the mower gang to keep the abandoned city parks usable. No one gets paid, thereâ€™s nothing truly heroic, or even pious about what theyâ€™re doing. They are just doing something simple, meaningful, impactfulÂ to make the world a better place. Thatâ€™s one more mulberry bush planted in the sea!
We have our own parable in the making; tiny mustard seedÂ acts of faithfulness, actions based on a simple belief that weâ€™re each here to make the world a little bit better by our presence. What ordinary, random and intentional acts of goodness, kindness, compassion, justice, mercy, healing have we done between us this week, in our ordinary everyday roles as employees, employers, students, parents, citizens, volunteers?
At the invitation some of the following actions were named by the gathered community:
Participating in the Ride for refuge,Â Â Helping with meals on wheels, Â Hosting elderly women for a birthday tea, Â Visiting a sick friend in hospital, Encouraging investors to invest in aboriginal Â enterprise,Â Â Phone calls to shut-in, Â Retiree mentoring a grade six class,Â Health care professionals doing their work with Â diligence, Many more simple acts of kindness done, some mentioned, many others thought of.
Ordinary acts of faithfulness, based on a trust that we are flesh and bone of Godâ€™s Dream, can indeed be as radical as saying to a mulberry bush â€œbe planted in the sea!â€ Every day faith, lived every day, changes the world! Now, Jesus made us work hard today, but in the end we see it: and this is Gospel!
 Apparently a memorable quote from last weekâ€™s sermon on the Dream of God!
 See Luke 4:17-19. Jesusâ€™ declaration of his mission in the synagogue in Nazareth.
 Another reference to last weekâ€™s sermon â€œThis Dream of God.â€