Originally composed for Preston Hollow United Methodist Church, Dallas TX
Writings: Lamentations 1.1-6; Psalm 137; Gospel: Luke 17.5-10; Epistle: 2 Timothy 1.1-14
(World Communion Sunday)

Note: this page uses the SP Tiberian and SP Ionic fonts. If you do not have these fonts installed, you will see odd characters instead of Hebrew or Greek letters at points in the text.

Children's Time

Start by holding up a skein of yarn, asking if they know what it is.
(I know they do, as I've surveyed the parents ahead of time).
Then hold up a knitted cap, and ask if they know what it is.
Of course they do (even in Texas, they are needed sometimes).
And then confirm that they know that the yarn becomes the cap.

Then show a three-inch piece of yarn from a latch hook kit
and ask if it is it of any use.
As expected, the answer is no,
other than for making a mess,
or maybe tieing it around the finger for show.

Now show the completed latch hook piece,
turning it over, and showing how all the many, different small parts work together
Noting that, not only do many parts work together to make something bigger,
That like what Jesus says of the mustard seed,
it is also a small seed
that grows into a big plant
and takes it place with all the other plants.

Concluding point:
even the smallest parts matter, because together they do a lot.
Today is World Communion Sunday,
when we remember how all different kinds of people work together to make a "big picture" of the church.

After the children have left

Mark Twain, the great American writer and (sarcastic) humorist wrote:
"Often when we repent of a sin, we do it perfunctorily, from principle, coldly and from the head;
but when we repent of a good deed the repentance comes hot and bitter and straight from the heart.
Often when we repent of a sin, we can forgive ourselves and drop the matter out of mind;
but when we repent of a good deed, we seldom get peace–we go on repenting to the end . . . .
Repentance of a sin is a pale, poor, perishable thing compared with it."

In today’s gospel lesson,
Jesus tells his followers that they must forgive a person who commits an offense –
even if it is seven times in a single day.
No wonder Twain also wrote:
"Most people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand.
The Scripture which troubles me most is the Scripture I do understand."

That is certainly something one should say that about today's gospel –
what an impossibly outrageous, astounding demand Jesus makes!
No wiggle room!
All the more so if you understand that e9pta/kij isn’t just the number between 6 and 8 –
it’s like our “if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times” –
a figure of speech for “always” –
yes, you must forgive always,
even if it’s that forgetful “perfunctory” and “pale” repentance of Twain.

It’s no surprise that the disciples, like Twain,
are troubled by this kind of plain speech,
especially when you realize how much of what follows has been lost in translation.

The only thing they can say is a gesture of dismayed frustration in the light of their inability
pro/sqej, “provide – add or put it – again or further ,”
h(mi=n p/stin, "our faith":
The request is the word we use for replacing a limb that’s been lost (prosthesis) –
a request not so much to “increase” what we have
but “give us again our faith” –
What a thing to say!

The answer is typical Jesus:
stunningly correct even though it’s never the yes/no or affirmation of what any group seeks:

ei0 e2xete pi/stin w9j ko/kkon sina/pewj
since (present tense) you have faith which is a mustard seed. . .

e)le/gete a1n th=| sukami/nw krizw/qhti
you said-and-say (aorist) to this tree, you have been uprooted . . .

(The tense aspects move backwards).

You have the faith– now!
You have by that, uprooted the tree, even before you knew!
Yes, even though your faith is like a mustard seed–
a very small seed–so small that it’s really hard to see–
you have changed the world.

As I mentioned last week,
we need to be careful not to miss the point of what Jesus is saying,
sort of like the adage about missing the trees because of the forest –
the reply isn’t about whether you or I can tell the tree outside the front door to move.
It is about what we have already done by allowing God’s grace to come to us and work in us,
because God’s grace reorders the world.

What is it that Jesus sees that tells him they have faith?
That they ask for it –
the reply is not the easy certainty of “we’re with you Jesus, of course we can do that”
nor the despair of “impossible – we cannot do that” –
rather, they immediately realize their need for God’s grace and say,
“we need faith” –
not an advisor to tell if will play with our target audience
not a poll as to whether it can be done
just faith to act –
and in that confession, they find that they have offered a prayer
that God has answered as they formed it;
even though, as is often the case with prayer,
they find that they’re looking in the wrong place for an answer.

How you see the world, and where you look for answers makes all the difference.
Consider Lamentations, traditionally ascribed to Jeremiah –
all of the warnings we’ve been hearing in the readings of the last weeks have come true.
The city has been destroyed and its people carried away;
the Temple, which many thought of as God’s residence, was plundered,
and it seemed that God had abandoned them.

But in the prayers of this prophet, there was still the mustard seed of faith:
(Lamentations 3.22) for God’s dsx - -
steadfast love (NRSV) or great love (NIV) - -
has no end, and is always there,
and, as with the disciples nearly 600 years later,
is waiting for us,
if we are patient enough to put ourselves aside and hope in God.

Hope in God and moving with God’s grace –
being neither brashly confident that God is our property
nor despairing in our inability to do the seemingly impossible tasks that God asks,
but that seeks to find what God calls us to;
and tries to see the world the way God does,
as Jesus saw the mustard seed,
a small thing, like a treasure buried in a field.

Hope, like that of the prophet, believes and confirms, as Paul wrote:
ei) o9 qeo/j u(pe\r h(mw=n, ti/j kaq/ h(mw=n;
since God is with us, who can be against us? (Romans 8.31)

Who, indeed, can be against us? Let’s look at one example.
Since 1890's we have lived in a society where everything is quantified that possibly can be–
we live by and for numbers and measurements.

Our nation’s founders played until they struck out,
but in games since then, we play by the clock.
We ask pastors, how big is your congregation?
or in business, how much profit?
When we describe people, we tell how tall they are
or how much money they have.
Every day, the media pound us with “how much money do you have?”
and “what can you buy with it that sets you apart?”

So – well – how big a ball of yarn can you buy and knit with?
Big enough that God can’t get through all the tangles?

It’s easy to either feel like a failure, or overwhelmed, by the numbers,
but Jesus has told us that “numbers” don’t complete the measure.
Instead –
we invite guests who cannot repay,
we seek the one that is lost, even if it’s dangerous,
we give big parties to celebrate what’s found –
even when they cost more than the loss.

Faith is not about how much we have, but about what we “see” in the world.

Do we see the varieties of mustard in the market and reflect on God’s love of mustard seeds in all their differences?

Do we see the mustard seed of God’s grace at work in every person?

When we look at the tapestry, do we see the individual pieces, each important to the whole?

Photo by Tim Vermande; latch hook by Tim and Sherrie Vermande.
Mark Twain, “Something about repentance” Letters from the Earth, p. 135.