Summary: Faith is a gift from God, and it's not great faith we need, it's faith in a great God!
“Increase our faith! If only I had more faith, Lord! Increase my faith!” How often have we cried these words? How often have we longed for a greater faith? How often have we wondered if God was really out there, and wondered why it was so hard to believe in him? Indeed, there are many times in our lives – seasons of challenge and suffering – when we may be tempted to roll our eyes heavenward and sigh aloud, “If only I had more faith!” But here’s the thing about faith; it’s not great faith we need, it’s faith in a great God!
Biblical scholar N.T. Wright offers a vivid imagery of faith. He says, “Faith is like a window through which you can see something. What matters is not whether the window is six inches or six feet high; what matters is the God that your faith is looking out on. If it’s the creator God, the God active in Jesus and the Spirit, then the tiniest little peep-hole of a window will give you access to a power like you’ve never dreamed of.” Power enough even to “say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
It seems nearly impossible, doesn’t it? But in God, all things are possible, and our faith originates with God and comes to us as a gift. We just need to take the faith we’ve already been given and deploy it more effectively. Many of us can remember that classic elementary school science project; the one involving electromagnets. You take an old iron nail, wrap a piece of wire around it, and attach both ends of the wire to the terminals of a dry-cell battery. In no time at all, that electrified nail is attracting all manner of paper clips, thumbtacks, and iron filings. In the presence of that electrical field, the nail is changed into a magnet. As long as it remains in contact with that field of electromagnetic power, it will attract other pieces of iron to itself.
But is the nail itself changed? Not one bit. It’s the power flowing through it that makes the difference. And that’s the way it is with faith. We all have it; but every so often, we doubt that we have it. We all get lost in thought, and ask ourselves, “Where’s the faith? Do I still have it? Did I lose it? If so, can I find it again?”
But the thing about faith is that it’s not even a possession of ours in the first place; that makes it kind of hard to lose faith. Because faith is a spiritual power that originates with God and comes to us as a gift. What we must do in our seasons of doubt is to hook ourselves up to God’s battery terminals, so the surge of spiritual energy will flow into us, and then on through us to others.
How often do we marvel at the faith of others in the midst of adversity? Before going to seminary, I was a high school band teacher for a couple of years. In my second year of teaching, the drum major of the marching band was a bright young girl in her junior year. Amy didn’t come from any sort of remarkable background. Her Dad was a mechanic and owned a local auto repair shop. And, as those of you who have ever been involved in school band programs know, it takes a special person to become drum major in her junior year. Amy was bright and dedicated, and she did a great job. Just about a year after I resigned my position as band director, as Amy was about to graduate from high school, her father died quite suddenly; a massive heart attack one day in his shop. He never recovered. Needless to say, Amy and her mother and brothers were devastated. But just the other day, I saw this message on Amy’s Facebook page; she said, “You know what, as I look around, I truly am blessed. I mean, really, I have a lot to be thankful for.” This is the kind of faith we covet. A faith that can say, “I am blessed, I have so much to be thankful for,” even after a father has been suddenly and tragically taken away from us.
And to that, Christ says, “You have that faith, all you have to do is tap into its power and you’re set.” So how exactly are we to connect to God’s faith power? One clue is found in the later verses of the passage we heard this morning, in this parable about the master and his servant. After teaching that faith even as a mustard seed can do unimaginable things, Jesus goes on to affirm that no matter how much we do in faith, we cannot do more than is expected of us. This is part of being faithfully obedient to Christ; we are to act as his humble servant. You see, when we fail to humble ourselves before God in Christ Jesus, it prevents us from fully experiencing God’s love for us, and this is the power that fuels our faith! And so Christ urges us to serve our Master fully – like a slave who has worked all day in the fields and then comes in and prepares his master’s dinner before taking care of his own needs. All genuine service to God is done from gratitude, not to earn anything at all. And Christ’s message here is that when we have done all this, we should not feel as if we have done more than our duty.