October 6, 2019 World Communion Sunday
2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
“Increase our faith!”, the Disciples said. The Lord replied: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed….” We immediately think: Big faith is better than small faith! More is better than less! Who would not like to be able to tell a mulberry tree; “be uprooted and planted in the sea” and then it happens? Or who would not love what Matthew’s Jesus said: “Say to the mountain: “Move from here to there and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”
Would it not be nice? Nothing impossible! Just think how impressed others would be if you could do things like these?
Now there are preachers that suggest that faith would enable you to do wonderful things like these and more. In a South African Newspaper, I read about a preacher who claimed he had such great faith that he could raise people from the dead. People believed him. His church grew, he became wealthy as videos of him raising dead people went viral. But then one particular video showed a so-called dead man breathing rather heavily in the casket just before he was raised. The pastor was charged with fraud. It was in fact fraud and not faith!
Now I do believe that God is able to do marvelous things. The One who created the universe certainly is able to incredible things. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is able to transform ego-centric sinners into people who are willing to serve others! God is able to transform people who are broken and self-loathing into well and self-respecting people. God is able to turn enemies into friends. Now, these in themselves are miracles. The Word of God is clear that faith, great or small, does not turn people into conjurers or magicians. Faith, even miniscule faith like the smallest of seeds, the mustard seed, transforms people into obedient people!
You will note that these words about faith as the size of a mustard seed follow Jesus’ words about people that cause others to stumble. There is thus a huge responsibility for Disciples of Christ to live with integrity and responsibility towards others. Discipleship is about a responsibility to not let others stumble.
And then, and this is important, Jesus says something that really illustrates what it means to be a person of faith: “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive!”
Seven times back then simply meant, unlimited times! Wait! If someone sins against you- you need to forgive that person- unlimited times? This is asking way too much! Who can do that? It is hard enough to forgive once! Who has faith like that?
No wonder the Apostles immediately said: “Increase our faith!”
I am tempted to let that sit for a while: It requires a lot of or big faith to be able to forgive seven times a day – to show unlimited forgiveness!
Yes, faith is not about doing miracles. It is about being able to show forgiveness. The Apostles apparently grasped the difficulty of this action. They were brutally honest. They knew how hard it is to forgive others! Holding a grudge is much easier. They needed more and bigger faith! “Increase our faith!”
Why is it so important to forgive?
You see forgiveness
in the Bible is about healing and restoring relationships. Forgiveness is about
starting over. First of all, God forgives us and through forgiveness our
relationship with God is restored. And verses 7-10 show that we who have
received forgiveness have to do what God has done for us. We have to forgive
others. And when we forgive others, human relationships are restored. Forgiveness
is a key aspect of what it means to be a person of faith.
Unfortunately in our day and age the willingness to forgive is seen as weakness. You are strong when you retaliate! Conventional wisdom has it that if are willing to forgive and not stand up for your rights people to step on you! Forgive them once and they will take advantage of you! We are more familiar and comfortable with such an approach to life. So, we find a way to accommodate our unwillingness to forgive by saying: Yes but…. And then we consider ourselves strong.
The Apostle Paul said that we received a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. We ought not be ashamed of the Gospel that urges us to forgive and not counting how many times we forgive. It is not a weakness it is the power of God! As a matter of fact, this is what God did in Jesus.
Today is World Communion Sunday. It is perhaps more important than ever to remember what it means that all Christian churches across the globe are celebrating the Lord’s Supper today. We live in a world that is in dire need of peace and justice – it is a time when fear divides the peoples of God’s earth. On this day we celebrate our oneness in Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the midst of the world we are called to serve – a world ever more in need of peacemaking.”
Today we show our oneness in Christ. We affirm that there are more important things in this world that unite us than things that divide us. It is significant because it shows obedience to our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The church thus says that the divisions that exist in our world do not have the final word. The message of the church, the theology of Christianity, is that God makes it possible for people to live together in peace and harmony because they are reconciled with each other and with God. It is as simple as that! God created this new entity, the church, to show a divided world that it is possible to live together in love, peace and harmony!
The church is God’s way of saying: “People this is how you do it!” A Dutch Theologian Ytsma wrote: “The church is the place where we practice to tolerate one another: It is the place where hope and despair meet. It is the place where we show the world that it is indeed possible for people to accept, love and respect each other.” We could add, this is the place where it shows the world that relationships are restored through forgiveness.
Unfortunately, history teaches us that the church, as an institution has often worked harder to divide people than to unite people. Whether it was a division based on race, class, economics, cultures, sex or politics, the church through the ages was, instrumental, even a leading force to keep people apart rather than uniting them. Anyone who knows church history will have to agree that our history of reconcilers and uniters is tragically flawed! We cannot and should not even try to defend our miserable failure. We can only collectively confess our sins as we did this morning in the prayer of confession!
But then when we confess, when we say, we are sorry, we repent, something remarkable happens. Some may even call it a miracle. We are forgiven. We are restored and healed. And we get another chance
And in order for us to become part of this restoration and healing we don’t need much faith! Only faith as tiny as a mustard seed. Then we too can forgive, and by forgiving be part of God’s reconcilitary work on this earth! No that is a real miracle! Amen.