World Communion Sunday
TEXTS: Psalm 137 and Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 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 17:5-6)
There is so much to do. “Lord, increase our faith.” There are so many problems. “Lord, increase our faith.”
Today, we live in a world of decreased faith. The problems on all fronts seem to be escalating. We’re fighting wars … well, everywhere… while nervously keeping watch for terrorist attacks here at home. Crime is on the rise, and our society is becoming more violent. Mass shootings are now commonplace—even in Canada! Drugs have infiltrated our elementary schools. Sex has become a spectator sport. Militant atheism appears to be everywhere, and attendance at worship services continues to plummet. Everything is in crisis. At least, that’s the way it feels, sometimes.
Along with the disciples, we might be tempted to say, “Increase our faith.” What else can we say? Well, there might be other options. One is to borrow from Psalm 137:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
Yes, one option is to remember the past, to long for yesterday. To retreat into nostalgia, in other words. Nostalgia is wonderful. But, you know, we do not always recall the past accurately. There was a country song I remember hearing as a child, “In the good old days when times were bad.” It was never easy in the past. There was disease and warfare and discrimination then, too.
And yet we sometimes think, don’t we, that we are living in some kind of Babylon? As someone has observed, Babylon is no longer in Iraq. Babylon has moved west! Babylon is where we live.
Do you ever think it would be better if life were simpler, like it was in the old days? The people in exile—the people who sang that song about weeping for Zion—they felt that way, too.
In exile—in Babylon, where they hung up their harps on the willow trees—God’s people said to one another: “Remember the old days? Remember when we all went to the temple together, and observed the Sabbath, and ate kosher meals, and worshipped the God of our ancestors?”
The people in exile realized that the world as they had known it had come to an end. Maybe ours has, too. The old has passed away. But now, what are we left with? A new world? Perhaps a new world that we are only beginning to discover. It is a strange place, and often, a frightening one. So we find ourselves asking: What is life going to be like in this new world? What will family life be like in 20 years? What will the church look like in 20 years? What will our city look like in 20 years?
If our eyes are open to the world around us, we have some options. We can ask for more faith, or we can cling to the past. Or, there is another option: we can give up. This is despair. Sadly, some Christians choose this option—it is the option behind the Left Behind series of books. It says that God is not going to fix the brokenness of this world; it’s all going to come to an end, and some are simply going to be “left behind.”
So there are these choices before us. We can long for the world of the past, for life the way it used to be. We can give up, and hope that we’ll be raptured. Or we can ask the Lord, “Increase our faith.” How are we going to live in this world?
“Increase our faith,” the disciples ask Jesus. He responds, “If you had just a little faith, you would be able to do amazing things … if you had faith the size of a mustard seed.”
Now, at first glance, it sounds like Jesus is putting them down, doesn’t it? But if we look closer, we see that something else is going on. I’m no Greek scholar, but I certainly have access to people who are—and they tell me that the meaning of verse six is more like this: “If you had just the faith the size of a mustard seed—and you do! You do have faith.”
That makes more sense, to me. The disciples are asking Jesus to increase their faith—as if they didn’t have any. But Jesus knows that his disciples do have faith. Earlier, he sent them out into the villages of the region he was in, and they came back rejoicing, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us” (Luke 10:17). Jesus knew they already had sufficient faith—even if it was only the size of a mustard seed.
Are you familiar with the saying of Mother Teresa? She said, “Our calling is not to do great things, but to do small things with great love.” Our gospel lesson might be saying something like that to us: we do not need more faith; we need to use the faith that we have!
This coming Sunday—October 6, 2019—Christians everywhere will observe World Communion Sunday. On World Communion Sunday, we reflect on the faith that we have. Surely, this faith helps us to see a power that can overcome any obstacles. Surely, this faith helps us to know a love that can overcome any divisions. Surely, this faith helps us to discover an abundance that can overcome any scarcity.
It’s true that often we see mostly obstacles, and divisions, and scarcity. Sometimes it feels like we are singing the Lord’s song in a strange and hostile land.
And so we pray, “Increase our faith.” And Jesus replies, “You already have enough faith. Put it into practice.”
“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.”
The teaching of Jesus projects a vivid image. If you plant a sapling in the ground, you expect it to grow. But planting it in the sea?
Perhaps the meaning here is that God works in all kinds of circumstances, among all types of people, in all kinds of situations. God works even in the midst of people like you and me—however weak we think our faith is.
That’s an important truth to consider, on World Communion Sunday. The needs of the world are so vast—even right here, right where we are. Yet the world extends beyond us, to those who are among the neediest of our brothers and sisters across this planet. We think about devastating floods and earthquakes, of famine and genocide. We think of those who suffer the ravages of warfare—on both sides of every conflict—and we remember families who mourn the deaths of their loved ones.
On World Communion Sunday, we think more deeply about our connection with the church around the world. Today, God’s people are meeting in cathedrals and in private homes. Today, God’s people are gathered as persecuted congregations and as established state churches—as Pentecostal and Catholic; as Evangelical and as Orthodox; as Anabaptist and as Reformed. All are expressions of Christ’s body. All are the fruit of the great commission, that Jesus would be with us to the end of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20). And so he is.
He is with us wherever there is faith—even faith the size of a mustard seed. He is with us in a great processional choir, and he is with us as a few faithful souls gather to sing in a small country chapel. He is with us as an aging woman who is no longer physically able to attend services, and he is with us as a young adult who has been burned by some bad church experience. Jesus is with us wherever there is faith—even faith the size of a mustard seed.
He is alive wherever Christians practice the faith that they already have. It is not so much that we need more! It is that we need to use what we already have!
There is something here that relates to our human nature and goes against the grain. We want more, don’t we? Isn’t that one of the first words a child learns to say: “More?”
I saw a documentary some time ago in which the fast-food cashier asked every customer, “Would you like to super-size that?” And most people would respond, without thinking, “Yes!”
Our spiritual logic tends to work like this: The world is a mess. We believe in God. We believe God wants us to do something. The solution? Increase our faith!
However, our prayer might be simpler, more grounded in a reality to which Jesus points: we don’t need more faith. We need to use the faith that we already have.
The good news, the promise of Jesus, is that even if we plant a tree in the midst of the ocean, it will grow. A small act of faith will work wonders.
On World Communion Sunday, 2019:
- Let the Christians across this planet pledge to live out the gospel they preach.
- Let the Christians across this planet pledge to share with all people the good news about Jesus Christ.
- Let the Christians of this world let go of divisions and judgmentalism.
- Let the Christians of the world forgive.
Friends, we don’t need to do great things. We need to do small things with great love. We don’t need more faith. We need to use the faith we already have!
Through the grace of God, by the power of the Spirit, may it be so.