Summary: Faith as small as a seed is a powerful thing. The essence of our faith doesn't change. It's the same faith that was instilled in us as a small child. We always stay connected to that essential center.

October 6, 2019

Hope Lutheran Church

Luke 17:5-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14

A Faith Sufficient for Living

Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

There’s something about their request that resonates in our bones. I’d like to call it “disciple’s guilt.” We can develop a feeling of inadequacy about our faith. We look around and we see other Christians. And what do we do? We make comparisons! We compare our faith and our devotion with theirs. And we say, “They are such better Christians than I am! My faith is so puny compared to theirs! Look at what they accomplish! They’re so awesome at praying! They really know their Bible! And they go through life so calmly. Me, I’m always frazzled. I’m like an overcaffeinated Monday morning!”

Disciple’s guilt. We should be better Christians! We should have more faith! So we understand the disciples’ plea: “Increase our faith!”

Jesus responds that faith isn’t a matter of magnitude. “You could have a teeny, tiny faith,” he says. “If you have a faith as small as a mustard seed, you can accomplish monumental things!”

Faith doesn’t need to be big in order to be effective. We don’t need a college degree in religion or to have travelled overseas on a mission trip in order to have a capable faith.

Our reading from 2 Timothy today sheds some light. Paul writes this letter to his young friend and associate, Timothy. Timothy came from Gentile stock. He wasn’t a Jew by birth; he wasn’t learned in the Hebrew Bible. But his family became believers in Christ. Both his mother and his grandmother were early Gentile converts to Christianity.

Paul hearkens Timothy back to the very elemental basics of his faith. He writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.”

Paul calls Timothy back to his early faith, the faith he learned at his mother’s knee, the faith he heard discussed around the family dinner table. Paul calls him back to the time when his faith was just a seed, just a young, green shoot, first emerging from the rich soil.

Friends, our goal isn’t about constructing a highly developed and esoteric faith. It’s about staying in touch with the core essence of our faith, the faith we first received as a child.

Karl Barth was one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. He was a learned biblical scholar. He wrote biblical commentaries and tomes on theology.

When he was an old man, Barth spoke at the University of Chicago. At the end of his presentation he took questions from the audience. One person asked him, “Dr. Barth, if you could distill your theology into one sentence, what would it be?” That’s a tall order! Barth replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Barth was a giant in biblical knowledge. But the mustard seed center of his faith traced back to the elements he first discovered in his childhood. The essence of his faith had not expanded one bit.

Jesus once said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” That childlike trust, that total acceptance and perfect confidence – that’s the essence of faith. It’s impossible to increase our faith beyond this fundamental, mustard seed center.

The traditional country song “Church in the Wildwood” expresses the significant role our early faith experience has on us.

There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood,

No lovelier place in the dale

No spot is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the dale

How sweet on a clear Sabbath morning

To listen to the clear ringing bell

Its tones so sweetly are calling

Oh, come to the church in the dale

Oh come, come, come, come

Come to the church in the wildwood

Oh, come to the church in the dale

No spot is so dear to my childhood

As the little brown church in the dale

The song invites us to return to the place where our faith was first kindled. The message creates such a heartfelt resonance because we each have our little brown church. No matter its size, no matter its color, no matter its location – each person can reflect on the significant places where faith was first kindled. We can each name our own Lois’s and Eunice’s. Or we remember our early experiences at Bible camp, when we gathered on a starry night around the campfire. We sang camp songs and our counselors prayed.

These are our mustard seeds. These are the groundings of our faith. And the elemental essence of faith does not change. This is the good treasure that Paul spoke of. It’s Karl Barth’s “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” When we stay grounded in this, then our faith can move mulberry trees and mountains.

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