Mustard Seeds

Recently, our Pastor gave a sermon on Matthew 17:14-20. In this story, Jesus is up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and when they come down a man approaches Jesus to ask him to help his son, who is demon possessed. The man had asked the disciples to help, but they could not do it, so Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, telling it to leave the boy, and it did. The disciples didn’t understand why they were unable to cast it out, so Jesus tells them about a mustard seed.

Our pastor was using these passages in scripture as an example of how faith works. That it only takes the smallest, really almost microscopic, amount of faith to move whatever your mountain, because nothing is too large for God to accomplish. But as he was telling the story, I couldn’t help but think that maybe there was more to the story, maybe it wasn’t just about how faith works, but also about how misplaced faith never works.

In the story, Jesus says, “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” and I love the Contemporary English Version which states, “You people are too stubborn to have any faith.” When he says this, Jesus is not only talking to the people who are continually hounding him for a miracle, but because they ask about why they couldn’t do it, he’s also talking to his disciples. He tells them they have a faith problem, that they “don’t have enough faith,” and that if they had “faith no larger than a mustard seed, they could tell a mountain to move and it would.” A mustard seed is really, really small, and Jesus tells them that they didn’t have even the tiniest bit of faith. 

Wait, what? They didn’t have faith the size of a mustard seed? That would be like having no faith at all, and they’d been healing the sick and such all day, so they had to have something, right? It occurred to me right then, what Jesus was alluding to. It wasn’t necessarily that they had no faith, but moreover that their faith was resting in the wrong hands. It was misplaced. They had started to convince themselves that they were the reason the miracles were happening, they got full of themselves, and when they came up against a hard one, they lost sight of God, lost faith and gave up. Their faith in their own abilities had begun to eclipse their faith God’s ability, and because of that, they had no faith.

Whenever we forget about the “one who brought us,” failure is always waiting in the wings.  We lose faith, because we realize that we can’t, and we forget that with and through God, nothing is impossible! That’s why he told them about a mustard seed. Saying look you don’t even need a lot of faith. All you need is faith the size of this small seed, because that small seed, when planed in your heart grows into something much larger than yourself – trust me just this little bit and see where it takes you, and what you are able to accomplish, put your faith in me, instead of in yourselves.

It also got me thinking of Lazarus. Jesus wept for his friend, and just before he called Lazarus out of the tomb, he said a little prayer, he said, “Father I thank you that you have heard me. I knew you always hear me, but I said this on account of  those standing around, that they may believe…” And this, to me, is the most powerful example of faith; a simple prayer that doesn’t ask God if He can, but rather states, “I know You hear, I know You can – thank You.”

~SLM

What Love is: A Litmus Test

It seems that the world is upside down right now, that everything is wrong side out and backwards. We want the madness to stop, but we’re at a loss as to how. We say we want to get along, that we want peace and love, but from the virulence and frequency of the bombastic and self-righteous screeds that are posted every day to facebook, twitter and any number of “social” forums, it is clear that most of us have no idea of what we’re doing or why. We want desperately for things to go differently, to head in a new direction, the direction of unity, but it seems we’ve lost our way. We don’t know anything about kindness, tolerance and love, or if we had ever learned, we’ve forgotten, developed a collective case of CRS (can’t remember shit), as if modern life has divorced us from knowing, understanding exactly what it means to love.

So how do we know what love is? It sounds like a simplistic question, but is it really? We think we know what it is; we think love is about the sentiments reflected in a popular song, quotes by the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, a warm and fuzzy feeling about our friends and family, or a heart shaped emoji we use to react to our friend’s posts. But, love is so much more than these, greater than our trivialities. It is the one thing that never fails, and is perhaps the most challenging feet we could attempt in our lives. And, we do know what it looks like, because we’ve been given a litmus test for love, a laundry list by which to check our actions. The test goes like this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We must test everything against this standard, continually asking ourselves; is it patience or is it pride, is it kindness or cattiness, is it truth or rumor parading as truth, does it persistently hope for the best or is it flip and conceited, is if faith-filled or self-filled? If the words we speak (or type) cannot pass this test, if they are unkind, conceited, ill-mannered, selfish, proud, a diatribe of what’s wrong, we are not speaking from a place of love.

Here’s what else we’ve been told about love:

Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18

But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44-45

If we are jealous, act impatiently, are brutish, or delight in situations that prompt us to say “ain’t karma a bitch,” we do not know love. If we take it upon ourselves to “get even” with those who would do us harm, we are not coming from a place of love, but of darkness and hate. What then, do we do with hate? There is no reasoning with it, any brute force or mighty action that can stop it, because hate is not the cure for itself. There is only one antidote to hate, only one power mighty enough to stop it in its tracks: Love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If we love one another, we don’t give up on each other. We aren’t gleeful or smug when evil things happen to others, even when they are our enemies. We continue to hope for the very best with all the patience in the universe, because that is what we have been called to do, what we’ve been commanded to do,  and the example we are expected to set as a follower of Christ.

~SLM

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it appropriate for this post – thank you Danny Gokey for this beautiful song!

Who Is To Blame, Anyway?

Here’s what’s been stuck in my head for the last several weeks: 1 John 1:8 which states “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us.”  We say these words as often as we recite liturgy, yet we seldom take time to analyze them, to really understand what they mean, what we say by reciting them.

When we refuse to admit that we are sinners, we are basically saying that we are blameless, and we can do this in a myriad of ways. We can reject our own guilt, we can deny that we are wrong in our thinking or our actions, or we can hold ourselves guiltless for the events of our lives. If we claim to be blameless, that an action we take, or even the result our actions, the reaction, is not our fault, then what we really claim is that we are without sin. It’s a splendid falsehood, making excuses for our behavior, claiming that we can’t help ourselves, but to act in a certain manner, in irrational and self-obsessive ways, figuring that if we lie to ourselves enough times, the lie will become truth. It’s so easy to make excuses, to lead ourselves astray, to give ourselves a “get out of jail free” card by twisting our perception; by looking at it wrongly and telling ourselves that we are justified in our delusions, because the situation was fostered upon us rather than created by us, or the result of what we have done.

Holding ourselves blameless is the ultimate avoidance of responsibility, of saying that we are not the liar, the cheater, the deceiver, the thief; we are instead the victim or our behavior, not the perpetrator of it.  So, who is to blame, anyway? If it’s not us, who? 1 John 1:10 tells us this: “if we say (claim) we have not sinned, we contradict His Word and make Him out to be false and a liar.” And, for this reason, we cannot have the truth in us, because we must accept responsibility for what we say to and how we treat each other, if we intend to lead truthful and authentic lives.

~SLM