Every week, people gather and say to their pastor, “Increase our faith.” Jesus’ disciples came to him with the same request (Luke 17:5-10). Jesus looked at them kindly and told two of his most difficult stories. The first tells us of faith’s extraordinary power. The second links that power to daily and mundane work of serving others. Taken together, Jesus’s words are an invitation to an adventurous journey. Think of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit or Anne Hathaway in “The Princess Diaries.” Like a mustard seed, these ordinary people suddenly find themselves in possession of an immense power. They can slay dragons or rule as a queen. But that power comes in the midst of a disciple-like faith journey. They travel outside their comfort zone and learn to use their power to serve others. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
To understand this, I think it’s helpful to look at the second parable first. Imagine that you are a servant doing some menial job day after day. You do what you do without hope of reward. You do your job well, all through the ten-hour day, because you know by faith that God has called you to this task. You aren’t looking to be successful or famous, you are just looking to do your vocation and serve others. This is what mustard seed faith looks like on most days. It is in living out our calling that we find ourselves intimate with this thing called faith. Faith calls us to be patient, loving, and diligent, in our crappy workplaces and dysfunctional families. Faith is Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood Forrest or one of the servants in Downton Abbey trudging along but knowing that they have been placed on that path by a God who loves them and impowers them to go on.
I believe that every person has a vocation or missional calling from God. My calling is to write. I write with the same diligence and dependency upon the Holy Spirit if there will be a thousand people reading my words, or if I alone will read them. I don’t write to be thanked or liked on Facebook. I write to bring into reality the thing which God had in mind when he created me.
I believe that every congregation has a unique vocation or missional calling from God. Some are called to live only a few more years, but in that time honor their history, make legacy gifts for the mission that will go on after them, and die with dignity. Other congregations are doing the gut-wrenching work of reforming everything about their church so that they might witness to the next generation. Still others are fully committed to missions and transforming some bit of the world. And finally, some have a calling to become one of the most visible churches in the region, with high quality worship and programing. No church, however, should ever think itself better than another. Each congregation fulfills its unique calling. This is faith made real.
When we understand this difficult second parable about servants doing thankless jobs (Luke 17:7-10), then the first image, that of faith being able to put a mulberry bush into the sea, become more sensible. Those who work hard out of no other motive than to do what God has called them to do, live within a miracle. They are constantly moving mountains. They are bringing hope to the hopeless. They are lights set on a hill that can’t be hid.
This weekend is world communion. As we break the bread, let us be mindful of those who are not content to go to the store and buy Wonder Bread, but do the soul-filled work of baking loafs that nourish their families. As we pour the wine, let us be mindful of the fact that small vineyard owners spend their entire lives learning their craft. Something that has been done by common folk since Noah, can easily be viewed with contempt. “It’s not rocket science,” one might say. But, when done by a person gifted and called by God to do it, wine can be a miracle. Symbolically, each of us bring whole wheat bread and finest wine to those around us by our loving acts. Lord increase our faith, so that we might live out of our holy calling.