a homily based on Luke 17:5-10
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
Mulberry-moving faith! I like this passage! Faith that produces results.
The disciples request that Jesus increase their faith and Jesus tantalizes them with the
power that even the tiniest amount of faith will produce. He says that if they had faith
tiny as a mustard seed they could rearrange sling a mulberry tree in the middle of the
Mediterranean. Mulberry-moving faith!
I grew up in a congregation that specialized in this kind of faith. We were
encouraged to believe God for the impossible. We marveled at the testimonies of persons
who had been completely healed by believing in a promise from God's Word. From migraines
to mumps, from flu to flabwe believed that faith was the answer. Our faith was
further augmented by cassettes produced by prominent faith teachers. These
teachers told us how get faith, grow faith, affirm faith, release faith, confess faith,
exercise faith, and focus faith like a laser beam upon any target area that ranged from
better jobs to securing a spouse. I especially liked one version of faith that made the
rounds several times. Goes something like this: Faith is a blank check endorsed by God,
drawn from the bank of heaven, to be spent on anythingprovided the check-writer had
sufficient faith. Just fill in the amount. So as a new Christian I wrote out a lot of
those kind of checks. However, it didn't take too long before one of my faith checks
bounced with Insufficient Faith stamped across them+.
I had spent a year working as a youth pastor. During that year I had prayed in
faith for a vehicle and soon became the proud owner of a 1961 Volkswagen van. I still
remember that arid, hot, July day. I was driving my younger brother around in my powder
blue van pointing out that all things are possible if one has faith. But right in
mid-sentence my oil light went blinked on. My brother, concerned, suggested we immediately
stop at a gas station. Seizing the opportunity to demonstrate mulberry-moving faith, I
reached into the glove compartment and pulled out an iridescent orange "Jesus
Saves" sticker and plastered it over that annoying oil light. The warning light was
only a test of our faith I told my brother. Then the sound of grinding metal and the acrid
smell of burned-out pistons filled the van. Twenty seconds later my van made a final lurch
and the motor belched enough smoke to pollute a small town. My dysfunctional faith check
had bounced again and I sat humiliated before my younger brother. I discovered the hard
way that there is more to faith than uprooting mulberry trees or believing that vans could
run on faith instead of oil.
Yet, in all honesty, it does seem that Jesus' response is a blank check to
rearrange the Rockies. Whats the inherent problem with blank check theology anyway?
What if, for instance, God chose to use you in some unique, powerful way among this
congregation? What if God gave you the gift of healing? I can already hear the talk in the
fellowship hall next Sunday: It was incredible; I was standing like this when
suddenly I felt this warmth come down my arms into my hand and out my fingers onto that
guy's bald head. His headache went away just like that.
What would happen to our churches if we had unlimited resources? Suppose someone
left two million dollars to our church--with no strings attached? How would the church
members want to spend it?
"I think we should start a day-care center; that's what this community needs
alright. The reason why we don't have any more children than we do around this church is
because we don't have a ministry to children. Remember what Jesus said, suffer the
little children to come unto me and I will fill their cup right up."'
"Absolutely not. What this church needs is a youth ministry. Why, we could
turn our dormant property into a youth center or something. What about an Olympic-sized
gym and volleyball court? Kids would come from allover the neighborhood to our church
facility. We might even charge a small fee to pay for a janitor to keep the place
"I think we should stuff it all in some CD's and mutual funds for safe
keeping. Never know when that money might come in handy. Look how safe our other money has
been through the years. Still right there where we put it--and with 6% interest to boot.
Safe thing to do with this money is to protect it; and don't use it unless there's an
emergency. (Course, we've never had an emergency in the last 35 years}."
"You have not because you ask not. What I mean is, let's s-t-r-e-t-c-h our
faith a bit! Let's dare to ask God for some big thing. Cmon, whaddya say we invest
our money in a Christian theme park like the one down in Florida? There's not one church
in this area that's done that yet. We would be the first! And could you imagine what that
would do for our community and congregation? We would be so successful that we would
probably have to buy extra land just to park all the tour buses. Listen, this thing has
been highly successful in other parts of the country, so why not in our town?"
"I'm afraid that our $500,000 has already thwarted us from our
purpose--saving souls. I believe God would be pleased if we started a television ministry
to reach untold thousands of people for Christ in our town. We could have our pastor
sitting at his desk, looking intelligent...like Peter Jennings. Then he could share the
gospel in a conversational kind of way conversational style with the listening thousands.
Of course, we could also participate; the choir could sing--though Gladys would have to
go--have you ever heard her? Anyway, let's us not be deceived or kept from our call to win
as many souls as we possibly can for the least amount of money. TV will give us the
greatest amount of bang for the buck.
Unlimited faith, unlimited power. It's biblical, see for yourself. Yet something
is missing, something terribly wrong. Faith, for many Christians is a thing, a commodity
that is developed to secure other things. One writer describes it like this:
I would like to buy $3.00 worth of faith, please. Not enough to explode my
soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the
sunshine. I don't want enough of it to make me love a black man or pick beets with a
migrant. Just $3.00 dollars worth, please.
Another writer describes the high-visibility kind of faith, the powerful kind of
faith when in church and a faith that quietly works in the background:
But how would I react, I wonder
If you pointed to a basin of water,
And asked me to wash the calloused feet
Of a bent and wrinkled old woman day after day
Month after month in a room where nobody saw And nobody knew.
Luke apparently discovered that faith as a thing by itself is as dangerous as some
middle school guys trying out their first cigarette while they're pumping gas. Luke must
have had some run-ins with members of his congregation who had taken their scissors to the
gospel and had neatly cut out all the verses concerning faith. He saw what happened when
they pasted them over every problem that confronted them. No suffering here. Not when we
can exercise mulberry-moving faith. But in the process of this cut-and-paste faith,
something tragic had happened. As persons became more and more preoccupied with increasing
their faith, they became less and less aware of folks around them. Less and less concerned
the needs of others. In the face of hunger and destitution they would do exactly as Jesus
taught. They would say to those who came to them for help: "Go, be filled and
warmed," yet wouldn't budge a finger to help alleviate their needs. So after this
heady little word about faith, Luke moves immediately to include an unrelated subject.
Starts talking about something about servanthood.
"What servant among you, Jesus begins, "comes in from a day's work
and plops him or herself down and asks the master for a menu? The disciples crack up with
snickering. How absurd! How silly. Everyone knows that servants serve and masters master.
No reversals. No exceptions. No changes to the game plan. Half of the Roman empire were
slaves and served the other half. "You're exactly right," says Jesus.
"Servants serve, and masters master." But then Jesus goes on to add," And
that's they it is with those who have faith. I am the master and they are servants."
I think our gospel writer wants us to see that our faith is never an object to use
at our whim and for our whims, but an instrument of service for others. In fact, the more
we serve, the greater character of faith we possess. Someone once said, "We are all
equally privileged, but untitled beggars at the door of God's mercy." Even after
we've used our mulberry-working faith, Jesus says we should still call ourselves doulos,
Colonel James Irwin is an astronaut who formed part of the crew that made the
historic first walk on the moon. He remembered leaving our planet and watching it shrink
in size. He saw earthrises. He experienced the sheer exhilaration of weightlessness in his
famous walk on the moon--seven times less gravity than on earth. On the way home he began
to realize what his unique experiences would turn him into--a superstar:
As I was returning to earth, I realized that I was a servant--not a celebrity.
So I am here as God's servant on planet earth to share what I have experienced
that others might know the glory of God.
Faith is a giver, not a getter. Faith is an action not a discussion. A servant not
a superstar. I am beginning to discover that faith works better when it is in community
with servanthood. We need both to possess either one. And we especially need them both
By faith today, we celebrate a special Eucharist. For across this globe,
Christians of every denomination, race, and culture will be partaking in Holy Communion.
By faith today we brown-skinned Christians. We are Somalians and we are hungry. Our
children are starved. Most of our men have died in battle or run away from their wives.
Gaunt, joyless women silently walk toward the feeding sites with their potbellied
children. Some of our children wear red bands around their wrists. Means they're in the
worst condition. Means they won't live. Maybe until the next hand out of bread, maybe not.
They would like prayer from people with mulberry-moving faith. But they will die without
We are Christians of many different colors. We are Hispanic. Puerto Rican.
Caucasian. Black. We are Middle class. We are upper class. We live below the poverty-line.
We have homes in Florida. That is, we used to have homes before the last hurricane came
through town. We need your faith. But we desperately need diapers and nails and milk and
sheet rock and blankets and oatmeal.
"Increase our faith, Lord!" Jesus promises us powerful, mulberry-moving
faith, but with great faith he calls us to great servanthood. Great faith is a giver, not
a getter. Great faith is an action, not a discussion. Great faith is a servant, not a