October 2, 2022

"A Little Faith Can Go a Long Way"

Luke 17:1-10

How much faith does a person need? That seems to be the question in today's section from the gospel of Luke. As we arrive at chapter 17, Jesus has been instructing the disciples on all kinds of things regarding one's faith-being humble, welcoming outcasts and the marginalized, not being able to serve both God and money and helping the impoverished.

The instructions in today's passage are a challenge, for sure. First comes a warning- that opportunities for stumbling in our faith are bound to come - expect them. But be careful! Jesus tells the disciples not to be the cause of temptation, especially to those who are young in faith. Better to jump in a lake with a millstone tied around you. Don't cause someone else to stumble! Easier said than done, Jesus, but OK. We'll do our best, and if someone causes another to stumble in faith, we'll call them out on it.

Then Jesus raises the bar, saying if someone repents from that stumbling, you must forgive. Even more, if the person sins specifically against YOU and says sorry and truly means it, you must forgive them, EVEN if they sin against you seven times in ONE day!

The original context of this teaching comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In that version, Peter asks the question- "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister if they sin against me? Up to 7 times?" (Matthew 18:21). It's a good question, and if you really think about it, forgiving someone seven times is not too shabby, plus it is a holy number. That's good enough, isn't it, Jesus? But Jesus tells Peter and the others, "No- I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven."

Peter probably felt quite generous and holy when he offered to forgive seven times. But Jesus goes way beyond Peter's smug offer with a math equation. We should be willing to forgive seven times seventy, or 490, or really, into infinity, and that is just with ONE person. Jesus commands us to forgive every person we meet, up to infinity! That isn't a math equation. It is a math PROBLEM! This is forgiveness beyond all measure, forgiveness that never stops.

I would imagine the disciples were overwhelmed and stunned by Jesus' response. This is more forgiveness, more grace than any human being can give or expect to give in such an unforgiving world!

In Luke's version of this teaching, we only have to forgive someone seven times in one day, but that isn't just one day out of 365. We are talking about an even LARGER number than 490, 365X7, or 2,555, but who's counting…Jesus puts no limit on forgiving others when they are repentant. The disciples feel overwhelmed with Jesus' instructions and respond, "Increase our faith!!!"

So, how much faith does a follower of Christ need? Faith, in Greek, pistis, Pistis, meaning trust, confidence, commitment- how do we get MORE of that, especially when it comes to forgiving others? I'm sure most of you have heard this passage before. Yet, if we were hearing this command by Jesus for the first time, how many of us would be murmuring after the service, "Well, that's asking more of me than I can handle. I think I'll try to find a church with less expectations about human behavior!" There is no question we have trouble comprehending such forgiveness, let alone acting it out and passing it on. Saying "I forgive you" without adding conditions and truly meaning it can be one of the hardest phrases to utter- let alone saying it seven times to the same person in one day. That is an awful lot to expect of a Christian, Jesus! Increase our faith!

Jesus responds that faith the size of a mustard seed, known for its minuscule size and the contrastingly large bush it produces, is enough, enough to make trees be uprooted and move. I don't think he was being literal here, but he was telling the disciples a little bit of faith is enough to do something big.

To illustrate his point on faith and forgiveness, Jesus closes his teaching with this difficult for modern ears to hear illustration regarding house servants. Keep in mind that house servants were common in first-century life, and Jesus was using a common illustration to make his point. He begins, "Which among you" the implied answer - "Why, none of us!"

Which among you would say to your house servant who has just come in from doing their expected job would reward them with the special treat of dining at the master's table. "You've done such a fine job plowing the field and tending the flock of sheep. Come sit down and have a banquet meal with me just for doing what was expected of you!" The meaning for us here is plain and difficult, especially regarding forgiveness. We do not get another star in our crown in heaven for forgiving someone. It is expected. Jesus is saying in effect, "Just do your job!" theologian Ira B. Driggers writes, "Jesus offers the servant metaphor as a way of situating his forgiveness directive among the everyday tasks of discipleship. What the disciples hear as an extraordinary case of discipleship is, in fact, quite ordinary. Forgiving the repentant sinner is no more extraordinary than the house servant tending sheep or preparing dinner."

"Wow, Jesus. Again, increase our faith, especially if all of these expectations are in our job description."

It isn't just the amount of forgiveness that is expected of the Christian disciple. It's the world around us! It's the war in Ukraine, and Putin trying to steal land with a sham vote at gunpoint! It's the huge disaster in Florida and the job of helping so many people in distress! It is our divided nation politically! It is people embracing the second amendment as some sort of sacred right while we see people gunned down in our streets repeatedly! It is our divided Christian faith, with some embracing white nationalism and such a deeply flawed leader! Our call is to bring light, hope, and love to a dark, hopeless, spiteful world. Lord, Increase our faith!

Theologian Audrey West writes, "A small seed of faith holds tree-like potential!" Jesus tells the disciples, who are stunned at the amount of forgiveness necessary to be called a disciple, that a little bit of faith can go a long way. That message holds true for us today as well.

If we believe and have trust, confidence, and commitment to God through Jesus, we can act on whatever amount of faith we have, no matter how small or insignificant it seems, and bring glimpses of God's kindom to earth. The most insignificant amount of faith carries extraordinary potential for transforming the world into the image of its Creator!

A little bit of faith can do a lot.

When the war in Ukraine first began, I remember praying and wondering what we could possibly do about it all. Then I heard about Scott Bandoroff and his effort to bring war refugees from Ukraine to Ashland. Initially, Scott wanted us to publicize a fundraiser for Uniting with Ukraine. I reached out in a little bit of faith and asked to meet for coffee to see if we could be active participants in this work.

I found that it took a little bit of faith from Scott to travel to Poland and see if he could do something, anything, to help those coming across the Polish border from the war.

It took a little bit of faith to form the organization, Uniting with Ukraine.

It then took a little bit of faith for the Havurah Shir Hadash and Rabbi David Zaslow to support this worthy effort.

It took a little bit of faith from me to believe our congregation could participate in this effort.

It took a little bit of effort for you to believe that something really could be done and that we could take part in this passage from Leviticus to live out God's call and remember, "The refugee who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the refugee as yourself, for you were refugees in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:34

It took a little bit of faith for Shirley Patton to say yes to housing a war refugee family.

It took a little bit of faith for us to put a Ukrainian Family Support team together- organizing meals, transportation, registering the children for school, etc.

I do think it took a LOT of faith for the Zhivotovsky family to get on a plane, travel for twelve hours, then fly another smaller plane to a new location so different from their own home.

Yet it only took a little faith to make the rest of it all happen.

A little bit of faith is like hot sauce - just a little bit can go a long way!

So, if you feel overwhelmed about the world in which we live, if you wonder how you can ever forgive someone, if you wonder how you can reach out in light, hope, and love in this broken world, you don't need more faith. You have enough. All it takes is a little bit to act upon, which can bring glimpses of God's kindom here on earth. Have faith! A little can go a long way. Alleluia. Amen.

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