Luke 17 : 5 – 6

The disciples had been following Jesus for a few years now and watched him perform many miracles. His teaching was like a breath of fresh air. Hoards of people followed him day and night. He was so popular. The disciples felt that it was about time they should be able to show the benefit of their dedication to Jesus. After all, they gave up so much when they decided to follow him. They wanted to be as popular as their master was. They tried a miracle by trying to drive out a demon. But it did not work. They surmised that it was because their faith was not big enough. So they asked Jesus to increase their faith. But the answer they got from him was totally puzzling.

Jesus said that faith about the size of a mustard seed is quite enough to perform a miracle. Jesus was trying to say that faith is a matter of quality and is not a question of how big your faith is. The most important quality of faith is that it is alive. A mustard seed is alive, though it is very small. Even a pebble is bigger. But unlike a pebble, a seed is alive. If it is dead, being bigger won”t make any difference. So even if faith is as small as a mustard seed, because it is alive, it can perform miracles. If faith is not alive, it does not exist. It is not a question of whether you have "a little" or "very much faith." It is like pregnancy. There is no such thing as being a little pregnant . It is strictly a question of whether you are pregnant or not. There is no inbetween. There is no such thing as a touch of pregnancy that you can ignore like a cold.

So the question of little faith or large faith is irrelevant; if it is not alive, it does not exist. Jesus must have been either exasperated or chuckling, when the disciples asked him to increase the size of their faith. It never occurred to the disciples to ask the fundamental questions: "Do we have faith? And if so, is it alive?"

This is why Jesus responded, "Even if your faith is the size of a mustard seed, you can command a mulberry tree to uproot itself and move into the sea." A stupid question got an enigmatic answer. In the account of the same story, the Gospel of Matthew used a different metaphor. Instead of a mulberry tree, Matthew recorded an image of a mountain. He said, "With a mustard seed size faith, you could command a mountain to move." Mohammed used the same metaphor. He said that he could command a mountain to come to him. The saying about the faith that moves the mountain must have been very common in the Middle East.

The point Jesus was trying to get across here is that faith is not a matter of magic. What you see when you see magic is a trick: a sort of deception. But faith is a matter of trust. Asking for a greater quantity of faith, in order to perform magic is completely missing the point. Jesus was able to cure illnesses because he truly cared about the people who were suffering. He cared about people who trusted him. Miracles happened where there were love and trust. On the other hand, the disciples were eager to boost their egos. So their pursuit of faith was simply an ego trip. They were after their own fame, not a solution to the suffering of people. There was no love nor trust. Jesus must have been rather exasperated by the disciples” complete lack of understanding about faith.

You see faith is a spiritual attribute which engages others. It has a lot to do with relationship. You have faith in somebody. This is why John said in the Bible, "Those who say ”I love God” and yet hate brothers and sisters, are liars." That is to say, there is no such thing as faith if you don”t love others. So you can see how absurd it was for the disciples to ask Jesus to increase their faith, in order to boost their public image. Disciples exposed their total ignorance of what faith meant.

But if you have faith – since genuine faith is a living thing – a small amount is suffice. It can grow. Jesus said, "A mustard seed grows into a big tree where birds can make their nests, lay their eggs, and bring up their family." A person who has faith has an enormous capacity to love. I think that this is a profoundly more important miracle than moving a mountain. Today, large bulldozers can move a mountain. You do not need a miracle.

I like the punch line of the story about Mohammed and the mountain. He commanded the mountain to come to him. But the mountain didn”t move, so Mohammed went to the mountain. I don”t know too much about Mohammed. But I like the sense of humour he showed in this story. So the mountain did not come. Big deal! So what? He could walk to the mountain. No miracle was needed, miracles are for important things like love and trust. Jesus did not perform a miracle to save himself from a painful death on the cross, because the real miracle was his act of sacrifice and love. On this day of Thanksgiving, we affirm God”s love to us, and thank him for all his blessings. Yes, we worked hard to reach this harvest time. But we believe that God was with us throughout the year. We have faith in God, who loves all of us. So today we say "thank you, God".

Faith is a fundamental component of society that glues us together. Society will cease to function, if we lose our faith in other people and in our institutions. We have to have faith to bank our money and sign contracts. Without faith, those basic institutions do not work. We have to trust other people to make friends, to get married and create families. If we lose our capacity for faith, we can not trust other members of our communities. The result is a dysfunctional society. O J Simpson trial is a sad example of what happens when there is a breakdown of trust. Because of racism Los Angels Police is no longer trusted by a majority of black people. With such a lack of trust it becomes hard to believe that justice can ever be done.

Without faith, kindness shown to others become suspect. When you are nice to others, they ask you, "what”s your pay-off?" With this attitude there is no need to say "thank you" to anybody. Without faith, thanksgiving is meaningless. The early settlers who first inaugurated Thanksgiving Day in North America had difficult times. They went through crop failures and harsh winters. Many died in the first few years. But when they had the first good harvest, they believed that God was good to them, and celebrated it by saying "thank you, God."

Because we have faith, we feel blessed at this time of harvest. The season of growth is at an end. We”ve harvested not just the fruit, but seeds for next years”s planting. We feel thankful for what we have in hand as well as for the potential of next year”s growth. We feel the love of God and feel comforted even as we approach the cold and darkness of winter. As long as we don”t lose sight of that, our faith remains alive and energized by the miracle of what it may become.

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