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Mulberry-Moving Faith!
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 flab—we 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 anything—provided 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. What’s 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 up."

"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. C’mon, 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 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, servants.

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 today.

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 bread.

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 superstar. Amen.