If You Have Faith
Earlier this week, as I was sitting down at our breakfast table with a couple of Pop-Tarts, the TV was playing in the background. I was only half-listening to it as I took my first bite, but I noticed that there was a commercial on for a new car.
And it sounded like this car had all the bells and whistles you could imagine. It had a warning system to detect possible forward collisions before they happened, and another system to let you know if you were drifting between lanes. It had backup cameras, and the ability to parallel park itself. It even had headlights that automatically dimmed when other cars approached. By the time the voiceover announcer said it was a top safety pick by the IIHS, all I could think was, "Duh!"
But there wasn't much time to marvel at all of these cutting-edge safety features before the next commercial began. And that commercial was for an exercise equipment company called Tonal. The commercial began with a voiceover actress asking, “What does the future of strength look like?” From there the voiceover talked about all the benefits of their device. She talked about things like having a built-in personal trainer, a roster of coaches to motivate you, and smart equipment that adjusts to help you get the most out of your workout.
Next, there was a commercial for one of those dating websites but this one was geared toward people over the age of fifty. In this commercial, an older woman begins by saying that she knows that people meet by blind dating but she doesn’t even know where to begin. So a helpful voiceover actress chimes in and tells her that all she needs to do is open her laptop, visit their dating site, and start looking for potential matches.
Now we've all seen these commercials, or other commercials just like them, countless times before. But for some reason, these commercials have been replaying in my head all week long. And I've just kept thinking that even though all three of these commercials were advertising completely different products, they all had the exact same message.
Every one of these commercials said, "You're not good enough."
The car company advertised all those bells and whistles to keep you safe because you're not a good enough driver to do it on your own. Tonal bragged about their exercise machine because your body isn't good enough the way that it is, so you need their help to become who you really want to be. And that dating website all but said, "You need our help because you’re not smart enough to figure out how to date on your own."
And it's not just advertisers who tell us we're not good enough. Your boss does it when she drops an assignment you just turned in back on our desk and says, "You'll have to do better." Your teacher does it when he hands you back a test with a giant "D" written on the top and a note underneath that reads “needs improvement.” Your doctor does it when she tells us that all your pressures and levels are too high. Your coach does it when he says you didn't make the cut. Your in-laws do it when they critique your housekeeping skills, and your spouse does it when you burn dinner or forget to unload the dishwasher.
And worst of all, you do it to yourself. When you look in the mirror you don't see a person created in the image of God, you see someone who needs to drop a few pounds and pluck a few nose hairs. When you look in your closet you see a walking fashion disaster. When you look at your bank account online you see nothing but overdraws. When you look in your refrigerator the only thing that could be described as leafy green are the leftovers you should've thrown out last month.
And since we hear this message over and over again, everywhere we turn, we believe it. Every one of us worshiping together today has felt like we're not good enough."
Every one of us has felt like we’re not good enough.
And since we've all felt like we're not good enough for our spouse and our kids, for our friends and our co-workers, for our bosses and our teachers; we all feel like we're not good enough for God, too.
And I know that's not easy to hear, and it's even harder for us to admit. After all, many of us grew up singing hymns like "Amazing Grace," where we praise God for saving a wretch like me, and "Just As I Am" where we praise God for accepting us in spite of sins dark blot. And we grew up hearing stories about God reforming doubters, bigots, prostitutes, murderers, and worse and then using them to do his work and build his kingdom.
So we know in our heads that we shouldn't feel like we're not good enough for God...but sometimes that's exactly how we feel.
But it may make you feel a little better to know that you're not the first person to feel this way. As a matter of fact, our scripture reading for today makes it pretty clear that the disciples felt the exact same way.
That's right, the disciples – Jesus’ closest followers, the ones that Jesus handpicked to be a part of his inner circle, and the ones that Jesus would send out to spread the good news – felt like they weren’t good enough too.
So let's turn to the Gospel of Luke – or Luke’s biography of Jesus – and I'll show you what I mean. Luke 17, and we'll start in verse 1 with Jesus teaching his disciples. Luke writes:
1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 3 Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4 Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”
Luke 17:1-4 (Common English Bible)
Now in these first four verses, Jesus has set a pretty high standard for his followers. He has told them that if they cause someone to stumble in their faith then they are better off throwing themselves into a lake with a millstone around their neck. And he's told them how important it is to forgive...even if you have to forgive the same person for the same thing seven times in the same day.
And, as soon as the disciples hear Jesus say this, they know they can't live up to these standards. They know that they are going to fail. They know that no matter how hard they try, they’ll inadvertently cause someone to stray, and they know that they won't always be able to forgive. The disciples feel like they cannot be good enough for God.
And how do I know the disciples felt that way? Well, it’s because of what the disciples ask Jesus to do for them in the very next verse. In Luke 17:5, Luke tells us:
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Luke 17:5 (Common English Bible)
Increase our faith! The disciples ask Jesus to help their faith grow, and who can blame them? After all, if they know that they’re going to fall short of the standard that Jesus has just set, if they know that they’re going to cause other people to stumble along the way, they are far better off asking for help than they are waiting to tie a millstone around their necks.
And things don’t seem to get any better when Jesus responds to their request. He doesn’t tell them that all they had to do was ask so that they could receive. He doesn’t promise to help them with their unbelief. He doesn’t assure them that they’re capable of doing everything he has commanded them.
Instead, this is what Jesus tells them this, in verse 6:
6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Luke 17:6 (Common English Bible)
Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” – just an itty-bitty amount of faith – then you wouldn’t be concerned with your ability to forgive one another or to keep from leading someone astray. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could do so much more than that, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
And when Jesus said it, the disciples must have felt like they were two inches tall. Here they were, asking Jesus to increase their faith, and Jesus tells them if they had a minuscule amount of faith that they could do everything he commanded them and more.
But they can’t…so clearly they’re not good enough for God.
And where does that leave us? I mean, these were the disciples that Jesus was talking to. These were the same disciples that walked away from family and friends, from their jobs and their communities to follow Jesus. These were the same disciples that would go on to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the world – and put their lives on the line to do it. These were the same disciples that most of us look up to, and the same disciples we wish we could be like.
But they don’t even have faith the size of a mustard seed, so how small is our faith? And if they weren’t good enough to live up to God’s standards, what hope do we have?
And, after hearing all that, I bet that you’re second-guessing your decision to worship with us today. I mean seriously all week long you’ve heard car companies tell you, “You’re not good enough.” You’ve heard fitness experts tell you, “You’re not good enough.” You’ve heard dating websites tell you, “You’re not good enough.” You’ve heard your bosses and your teachers, your kids and your co-workers, your in-laws and your spouse tell you, “You’re not good enough.” And now Jesus seems to be doing it too.
But here’s the thing, Jesus only seems to be doing it too. Jesus only seems to be telling us that we’re not good enough, and he only seems to be telling us that we’re not good enough because we’re so used to hearing everyone else say it that we’re reading something into this famous passage of scripture that isn’t really there.
Fred Craddock, who was a renowned preacher and professor, explains what I mean in his commentary on this passage when he writes:
The Greek language has basically two types of “if” clauses: those which express a condition contrary to the fact and those which express a condition according to fact.
This is what Craddock means. He means that when Jesus says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he is saying one of two things. Jesus is either saying, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…and clearly you don’t,” or Jesus is saying, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…and clearly you do.”
And Craddock goes on to explain that Jesus is clearly doing the latter. So let’s re-read Luke 17:6 from a better perspective, and see if it sounds any different.
6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, and you do, then you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Luke 17:6 (Common English Bible)
Now that changed everything.
When we first started looking at this passage of scripture, we heard Jesus set a high standard for his disciples, a standard the disciples knew they couldn’t meet. So the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith only to be chastised for having such little faith.
But now we hear Jesus tell them, “I don’t need to increase your faith…you have enough faith to do so much more than I’m asking you to do.”
I want you to let this sink in for a minute. In a world that tells you, “You’re not good enough,” God is telling you, “You are more than enough.”
In a world that tells you, “You’re not good enough,” God is telling you, “You are more than enough.”
And I think that’s why Jesus compares our faith to a mustard seed. A mustard seed is tiny and insignificant. It’s barely as big as the tip of a ballpoint pen…and if you ever drop one you’re never going to see it again. So when the world looks at that little seed, it says, “You’re not good enough.”
But when God sees that little seed, God knows what’s hidden inside of it. God knows that a little bitty mustard seed will grow. It’ll start by growing little roots and grabbing hold of the earth. Then it will spring up out of the ground, and soon a little seedling will turn into a little shrub, and a little shrub will turn into a tree that’s big enough for birds to nest in it.
God knows that a little bitty mustard seed is capable of incredible things. And God knows you are too. And that explains the strange ending to this passage in Luke’s gospel. Because right after Jesus tells the disciples, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, and you do, then you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you,” he says:
“Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”
Luke 17:1-10 (Common English Bible)
What Jesus is saying is that while it may seem impossible to us that we could live up to God’s standards, while it seems impossible to us that we could surpass God’s expectations, while it seems impossible to us that we could actually be good enough for God; we shouldn’t see it that way.
We should see these difficult and even impossible things as mundane, as routine, as nothing out of the ordinary. Why? Because God calls us to do incredible things.
God calls us to do incredible things.
God calls us to do incredible things – far more incredible things than simply telling a mulberry bush to move. God calls us to spread his good news. God calls us to make his love known. God calls us to bring light into darkness and hope into despair. God calls us to feed the hungry, to care for the oppressed, and to set people free from their captivity.
But to do this you have to realize that your faith is bigger than a mustard seed. And when everyone else tells you you’re not good enough, God knows you are more than enough. So the first step you need to take if you want your faith to grow is to put your faith into action.
If you want your faith to grow, you have to put your faith into action.
So, if you want your faith to grow then when you see someone hungry, feed them. When you see someone crying, comfort them. When you see someone struggling, support them. When you see someone who needs Jesus, be Jesus for them. Because God has called you to do incredible things, you just have to know that you are good enough for God.