The Miracle of a SeedWorld Communion Sunday
One of my favourite things to grow is birdhouse gourds. Last spring, I found a packet of seeds at a local hardware store. I’ve only grown gourds successfully one time so my internal doubts began to surface. Where will we plant them? Will they grow in our backyard with sun and shade? How will I support the vines as they get taller? All these questions kept me from timely planting. Finally, near the end of June, I found a spot and took a chance. The seeds grew into an abundance of vines that yielded a few small gourds. I know they will not grow to maturity before the end of the season. But at least I know now they will grow here. I’m reminded that planting the seed is the first step.
The lesson today is about another kind of planting and not being totally responsible for the results.
In the first 10 verses of Luke 17, there are four sections that seem disconnected from one another. The first section is about forgiveness to which the disciples respond in verse 5, “Increase our faith!”
Jesus said, if you have the faith of a grain of mustard seed and you say to the mulberry tree to be moved, it will move. Or like in Matthew you say to the mountain to move, it will move. The point is not the size of your faith but that planting the seed of faith will yield results.
When the church talks about faith, unfortunately it is often interpreted as questioning whether one has enough faith. When something magical doesn’t happen we doubt and question how we have failed.
When Jesus is talking about increasing our faith in verses 5 & 6, which we read, it isn’t a measuring stick for faith: it is not a quantity of faith but the quality of how we live our faith. Jesus explains the challenge to forgive in vv. 1-4 with the instruction that we show the quality of our faith by how we practice forgiveness.
The issue at stake is how we live together. How do we manage to keep forgiving one another over and over again? We do not do it because we have a super-reservoir of faith stored up, but because God gives us what we need to flourish abundantly in a faithful community.
Faith is a lifestyle. Faith allows us to repair and restore our relationships, which, in turn, strengthens our relationship with God and how active we allow God to be in our lives. The challenge for the disciples, and for us, is not to acquire more faith but to receive faith and to live in community with one another.
A question that keeps popping up for me is: What does it mean to plant a seed of faith? To plant it, to leave it alone, to let it grow, to not pretend to be in control of the outcomes.
Is there something, some act, something we do to plant that seed, to be part of the community, and to show love and forgiveness? A seed doesn’t look like much. A seed is small. It looks inconsequential, it doesn’t seem like enough to grow a tree. But when a seed is planted, I must trust the process once I’ve put it in the ground. That is the hard part, the waiting, the time that is required for the seed to do what it has the capacity to do before the harvest comes. We are involved when we plant the seed and participate in the process but we cannot control the outcome.
We often feel we are in control and that we have authority over what happens to the seed of faith, but that time belongs to God. We often think that our faith is minimal and seems inconsequential. Suddenly, we are afraid and hold on to it more tightly because we don’t want to risk sowing our seed of faith when we aren’t sure of an outcome that may be in our estimation not good enough.
We want to know what will happen in 3 months or 6 months, or a year from now. The truth is that having small increments of faith, the size of a mustard seed, will be enough. For example, we are in a collaborative conversation with other Presbyterian churches in Victoria about shared ministry. We don’t know what the outcome will be, but we know the conversation is a small mustard seed of faith. We are involved when we plant the seed, we participate in the process, and it is up to God to grow what we planted.
We live out our faith through growing our relationships. We commune together as a sign we need one another, our collective resources, the gathering with one another, the encouragement and support we get from one another, and the fact that we can’t do faith alone. Faith builds upon what Jesus did in holy communion.
Here we are on World Communion Sunday. The bread and wine, spread before us, are signs of God’s presence and generosity. Also before us are the suffering of the world, the grief of loss, and the restless anxiety of need all around. Together at this table, we acknowledge both, signs of God’s generous presence and signs of deep need because when we plant seeds of faith they come together just as we are today, in this place at the Lord’s table.