(Luke 17:5-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14)
There is a beloved hymn that calls Jesus, “the king of love.” SING PHRASE. Yet the love of Jesus is not a namby pamby, sentimental love, but a disciplined, tough love. It is a love that asks us to grow into faithful disciples. This is not an easy thing to do, so his love has to be tough at times. Today’s gospel passage shows Jesus doling out some tough love to the disciples.
One of the challenging parts of being a faithful disciple is discerning where the line is between our will and God’s will, our power and God’s power. We ask that God’s will be done every week when we recite the Lord’s Prayer, and we desire that it be done because we know that God’s will being done is a good thing, but it is easy to get our will confused with God’s will!
When the disciples say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” he reminds them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed – which is very small, so only a little bit of faith – they could say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey them. Basically, he tells them that their faith is insufficient! Ouch! I can imagine them being offended and thinking that he is wrong, that they have a lot of faith. Why else would they be following him and trying to do what he asks them to do?
It isn’t that the disciples aren’t trying hard; they are trying hard – perhaps too hard. But faith isn’t about us; it’s about God. We can try hard, work hard, and believe hard, but we may not reach the goal we are working toward because it may not be God’s will! Faith isn’t about us; it’s about God. Faith begins with trusting God enough to be open to him. Trusting God and being open to God allows God to work in and through us to do his will in the world. Our faith need only be enough – even as small as a mustard seed – to allow God to enter and do God’s thing!
Faith has to do with getting our will out of God’s way so that God can guide us to do his will. If we find ourselves feeling like mice running, running, running in an exercise wheel and getting nowhere, then we’re probably not doing God’s will. It is time for us to stop running, step off the wheel, and listen for God’s direction.
The great Engligh poet, John Milton – whose most famous work is Paradise Lost but who wrote many other things including political works – went blind as an adult. Apparently, his blindness prompted him to ponder his worth to God. He could no longer do as much as he used to do. What is one’s worth, then, if one cannot produce as one used to? Eventually, he wrote a poem titled, “On His Blindness.” He wrote in this poem about his desire to serve his Maker even though he could no longer see. He wonders if God will chide him for not doing as much as he used to. But he concludes that,
“God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Milton’s conclusion: Those who are able only to stand and wait also serve God, for God doesn’t need human beings’ work or gifts. God is sufficient unto God.
The bottom line is: We are human and God is God. When the boundary between God and us gets blurred, we run into trouble. We rob God of what is his and take on more than we can handle. We turn into those mice running, running, running, and getting nowhere.
Now, that isn’t to say that we don’t have to work hard when we do God’s will. We do have to work hard. The parable Jesus tells the disciples to remind them of the boundary between God and them points this out. We, the disciples, the servants of the master, are to work in the field, prepare the supper, and serve the master without thinking we’ve done anything spectacular! It is our duty to do God’s will, and when we do it we have only done what we ought to do. Jesus tells the disciples, “When you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Again, I can only think, “Ouch!” Worthless slaves? That’s a bit harsh now, isn’t it? I think, though, that Jesus’ intent is to remind us of our place: We are disciples of the one who came to serve. Our joy comes not from being the master and being in charge, but of being the faithful servant who does his duty. Martin Luther, one of the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, wrote that it is “only as we discover ourselves as the dutiful servant of all [that] we also discover ourselves truly free.” Freedom, then, comes from losing ourselves so much in doing the will of God that our selves – our own needs, wants, and desires – no longer bind us. And the will of God always has to do with service, as we see in the life of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
It all comes down to trusting God enough that we let God be God and ourselves be human. We trust God enough to let God be the master and ourselves be the dutiful servants. It may feel like we are losing control, but the control we’re losing is an illusion because we aren’t – nor were we ever – in control! Letting go allows us to relax into our proper role, and it allows God to pour his power into the opening we’ve created because we’ve let go.
When we find ourselves measuring how much faith we have, we must realize that we have crossed the boundary between our will and power, and God’s will and power. The life of faith isn’t about us; it’s about God. Faith, then, ends up being an openness to God’s power. It is a willingness to let God be the master, and ourselves to be the dutiful servants. It may not be glamorous, but it’s the only way to be truly free. Amen.
Sermon preached by the Rev. Amy Johnson at the Canton Community Baptist Church, Canton, CT, Sunday, October 2, 2016, the Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost.
 Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCann, and James D. Newsome. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year C. Westminster Johns Knox Press: Louisville, KY; 1994; 544.