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Perhaps the folks who put together the lectionary readings overestimated us. The reading from Luke begins with the apostles crying, "Increase our faith!" but we don't know why. Now perhaps you can remember what happens in the preceding verses, but I couldn't.
I heard these words and thought, Maybe they had some form of free floating anxiety. Or, Maybe they just felt like you could always use more faith so they just periodically asked for more. Or, Maybe they felt they were duty bound to ask for more faith.
After opening my Bible, I discovered the real reason was simpler than these but also harder. Jesus has just asked the disciples to do something they know they cannot do. He tells them, "If a person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
No wonder the disciples were crying for an increase. Perhaps they could forgive seven times in a lifetime, but seven times a day? Even Mother Teresa couldn't do that.
The disciples are more like us than we realize. They are willing to do what is reasonable and even exceptional to follow Jesus. They have left their homes and their jobs and their families to travel with their Master, but now Jesus begins to ask impossible tasks and they don't know how to do them. As a matter of fact, they know they can't do them.
When they come to this brick wall, they want him to wave some magic wand. They want him to give them some superhuman powers to do what they know in their hearts cannot be done. They want some blueprint-some clear manual-that offers seven steps for being a disciple.
In short, they want to be transformed, but they don't really believe they can. They have become so accustomed to seeing their world as it is that they cannot imagine the world as God wants it to be. They cannot imagine seeing the people who have wronged them as their brothers and sisters instead of villains.
Here we are a month before the election and most of us have known for a long time if we are red or blue (you know, when they show the map election night and color the states according to which party won). The political experts tell us that our nation has become so starkly divided along ideological grounds. No one is green, but clearly red or blue. So deep is the division that most of the time we cannot even talk to one another much less hear the piece of the truth the other person has to say.
I have a friend who is an ardent Republican and I mean ardent. Once I asked her, "How do you get along with your friends who are Democrats?" and she said, "Simple. I don't have any friends who are Democrats."
We think the world is red or blue, and we cannot imagine that there is an identity deeper than that. Our world so readily gives us labels and we much too readily accept them. Just ask someone one of the hot button questions-gun control, gay marriage, abortion-and immediately when they answer you think that you know who the other person is.
Once we have that identity, it's hard to believe anything else. Yet Jesus says if a person repents seven times in one day, seven times we are to re-see them as a child of God. Jesus calls us to look again at the person who has wronged us and see them as God sees them: not as a villain but as a child of God capable of sin. Forgiveness is not about whitewashing the past; it's about seeing the present in a new light and looking toward a future of redemption. Forgiveness insists that the people are not red or blue. Instead they all belong to the flock with Jesus as the shepherd.
No wonder the disciples cried, "Increase our faith." Jesus is calling for them to see their reality in a new way.
Since they don't know how to do this, Jesus gives them an answer, but it's not the one they expect. He tells them, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you." The disciples want a diagram for getting from point A to point B, but they don't get one. Faith isn't a game plan for solving our problems, nor is faith understanding why things are the way they are. At the end of the day, faith isn't about answers.
Faith is about the love of God through Jesus Christ. Faith is about being grasped by Jesus so that you know in your heart and bones that your life and his life and the life of the world are mixed together. Once that happens, you see yourself and your neighbor and your world completely new. Once that happens, you know that the only thing that matters is that love and that the only reality is grace. Once that happens, you can forgive because you are a new creation; and, therefore, you see everyone else as a new creation.
The hard truth is that we cannot earn this gift nor can we achieve it. It's a gift. All we have to do is open up a little and God does the rest. We need faith the size of a mustard seed; that is, we need a small crack in our frozen hearts and God will transform us.
When we think about how we can change the world, we always despair. But let us remember it's not about us, it's about God working through us. We can do little, but is there anything God cannot do? Our task is to pray for faith and to trust in the giver.
And the truth is, it doesn't take much. A word, a touch, a gesture can cleanse our eyes. It only takes a faith the size of a mustard seed for God to transform us.
Remember in "To Kill a Mockingbird" when the white men come at night and surround the jail where Tom, an African-American wrongly accused of a crime, is held? The men are a mob. They do not see Tom; they only see an enemy-red or blue. They are blinded by rage. Scout, a little girl, watches them. Her father tells her to run away and go home. But Scout doesn't run, and she doesn't fight. Instead she finds the right word that becomes the mustard seed.
Scout looks at one of the men in the mob and says, "Hey Mister Cunningham, don't you remember me? I go to school with Walter. He's your boy, ain't he? We brought him home for dinner one time. Tell your boy 'hey' for me, will you?"
There was a long pause. Then the big man separated himself from the mob, squatted down and took Scout by both her shoulders. "I'll tell him you said 'hey,' little lady." Then the mob dispersed.
The girl whispered the words of grace. She gives the mustard seed of faith that opened the man's eyes and heart and soul. Instead of a red and blue world, it's a world of grace. God whispers those words every day in every place. May we be open enough to receive.
Let us pray.
Gracious God, because we so often lose our way and become blind, open our eyes to see our brothers and sisters as truly our brothers and sisters. We pray for you to open our hearts to your life-giving grace so that we might know more of you and become instruments of your will. We ask these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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