Harrowing Of Hell
October 2, 2016

Faith and the Mustard Seed

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

Here is my question: What if your faith was as big as a pumpkin? Jesus says that with the faith the size of a mustard seed, we can say to the mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea.” That is a picture we can probably get our minds around; it is something Disney could make work on the big screen. It is imaginable.

Now your average pumpkin is 8,000 times larger than your average mustard seed. As Col. Jessep may have said, were the question of pumpkin faith asked him in the movie A Few Good Men: “Son, you can’t handle 8,000 times more faith.” Heck, I’m not sure I can handle faith the size of a mustard seed. But our God is good, and our God loves us, and our God gave us faith the size of a mustard seed—and that is more than enough.

And yet, if you had mustard seed in your shoe, do you think you’d feel it? (You would if it were a pumpkin.) On occasions I hear people say, “I’m just not feeling it?” What they are saying is: “I’m not feeling the faith.” And I get that. That is a place I have been. And yet, I remember my Christian conversion as if it were yesterday. Yes, as you know, I grew up in a Christian household. We went to church every Sunday. Then I stopped going when I got to college, because I was smarter than that.

When I was 26, however, I became a Christian. A lot of things went into that, but at the center of this conversion was a feeling of being connected to God. It was palpable: rich, warm, and beautiful. It was like falling in love. You know that feeling? Like you’re so in love you just can’t stand it, and you always want to be with your beloved? That is the conversion experience. And it made me excited about worship and prayer and study and theological conversation and church; it was just great.

But here is what I know now: that feeling I had wasn’t the feeling of faith. It was the feeling of faith being unearthed in me, turned over and fertilized. It was the revelation of faith; a newly discovered reality that faith was a key, core component to who I was. Conversion is like childbirth; it’s a big deal that sticks with you, and you never forget it. Faith, then, is like raising the child.

Faith isn’t a feeling. It is an action, and more than that, it is action other people see in us. Faith isn’t a feeling, any more than we can feel a mustard seed in our shoe, it is an action that other people see in us.

Remember Mother Theresa? Remember her diaries? There was some controversy about publishing them after she died. Why? Because she had times of doubt. She had times of wrestling. She had times when she didn’t feel that mustard seed in her sandal. She had times when she wondered about getting that darn mulberry tree out of the dirt and into the sea. But you know why those nuns, who knew Mother Theresa so well, decided to publish her diaries? Because they know faith isn’t a feeling, it is something seen by others in the work we do. And what the world saw in Mother Theresa was faith, and it was only faith the size of a mustard seed, and that was more than enough.

Imagine if her faith had been the size of pumpkin? Even Mother Theresa couldn’t have handled that. God made us with faith the size of a mustard seed and that is enough. Enough for what, you might be wondering? To do the entire job God has set before us. To do the entire job that God has set before you for you and before me for me.

That is the point of the second part of this Gospel today. In it we are the slaves, the servant, and God is the one at the table. Now we can like this servant metaphor or not, but if this is the Kingdom of God, and God made all things, then all of this we see and experience belongs to God, and we are here to serve, which means sometimes doing things we don’t like to do. That is the life of faith.

Let me tell you a story about a man with faith the size of a mustard seed. I worked for him. He was a very rich man who, with a couple of rich friends, funded a very effective international relief organization. I remember on one occasion hearing him, in his usual, colorful language, going on and on about a telephone call he had received from Mother Theresa. And he complained he wasn’t even Catholic. He was Episcopalian, and he wasn’t the kind of guy anyone in the world pushed around. I even remember him putting the President of the United States on hold so he could finish a conversation with me.

The only person who made him jumpy was Mother Theresa. On that particular day she called him and asked him to send her $100,000 for some project. He was stomping around and sort of complaining. So I asked him what he was going to do. He looked at me and said: “When Mother Theresa calls, you send the money. I don’t care who you are.” So he sent her the money. It was a mulberry tree in the sea moment for me.

Mother Theresa could make those calls because she had faith the size of a mustard seed, AND she tended the sheep and plowed the fields, AND when she came in the house, she set the table, and served the master.

Here is the deal: sometimes we don’t want to do the whole job. We just want to do the fun stuff, or the stuff that rewards us, like plowing the field or tending the sheep.

A life of faith, though, is doing the whole job whether we feel the mustard seed in our hiking boots or high heels, or not. It’s like when I was a kid, and I came in from playing outside, my mom would ask me to set the table for dinner and I’d say: “I don’t want to set the table.” And she’d say, “I didn’t ask you if you wanted to set the table. I just said, ‘set the table.’ Your life is pretty good. In involves playing tennis, and playing with your friends, and going to a good school in a safe city, and taking vacations all over the place, and it involves setting the table. So set the table.”

That was what Mother Theresa was saying to my boss. You fly around the world on private jets, you have a great house in Florida, and you do many good works, the way you see fit with the resources you control. Send me $100,000 for the poor of Calcutta.

And you know why he did? Because he knew the Gospel; and because he knew he was a servant of God and occasionally he had to just set the table. And you know why else? Because every once in a while he could feel the mustard seed in his orthopedic shoes. And, more than that, when he couldn’t, he knew it was there anyway. And more than that, he could remember a time when he saw a mulberry tree picked up and planted in the sea. He was a man of great faith. His name was Bob Macauley.

You have a mustard seed in your shoe as well, and that is enough. There was probably a moment when you felt is unearthed, but whether you feel it today or not, matters not. It remains there. It is hasn’t left. It can’t. It never will. God planted it long, long ago, at that moment when God thought you into being, even before placing you in a womb.

And that mustard seed was put there so you and I can move mulberry trees into the sea. That is an action, not a feeling. Faith isn’t what we feel; it is what others see us do. Faith is what we do when we come in from doing what we want to do, and set the table for God.