Sermon: Proper 22 RCL C – The Mustard Seed

The podcast is available here.

Q: Why was Goliath so surprised when David hit him with a slingshot?
A: The thought had never entered his head before.

Q: If Goliath is resurrected, would you like to tell him that joke?
A: No, he already fell for it once.

The story of David and Goliath is one most of us can tell without having to refer to the text, because it is one of the first we learn in Sunday school, even so, it doesn’t hurt to go back and hear parts of it.

You’ll recall that the Philistines came up against the Israelites to do battle, but instead of all out war, they were both to choose a champion to represent them on the battlefield. The Philistines chose Goliath, a monster of a man. It is believed that he was one of the Nephilim: those we read about in Genesis 6 who were the offspring of the fallen angels and humans (Oh, yes… it’s in Bible!) Yet, among the Israelites, there was not a single soul who could be found to do battle with Goliath, until a skinny little kid showed up: David.

Upon hearing the taunts of Goliath, David declared he could take the giant, but “Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.’” David said, “Just give me a shot.”

There’s a bit more back and forth until Saul finally agrees to allow David to go off and get himself killed. “Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’ So David put them off. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.”

There was a bit of back and forth taunting between David and Goliath, and I’m certain a good bit of laughing from those watching, then Goliath “arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag and took out…” … David reached into his bag and took out a mustard seed and hurled it at the giant and killed him.

Another time: “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them. Behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark…”… Make yourself an ark made out of a mustard seed.

Moses, when he went down to Egypt land to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” went with a staff in one hand and a mustard seed in the other.

Friends wanted to bring a man who was lame to Jesus, but the house where Jesus was staying was so crowded, they could not reach him, so “they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.” And the bed the man was lying on was made from a mustard seed………. Starting to see a trend here?

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” That actually sounds like something Stephen King might write about: telekinesis—moving objects with your mind. Strike up the soundtrack from the Twilight Zone. But Jesus was not talking about some supposed psychic ability. And he was not talking about your ability to do certain things. The mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea, is not about you or your will. It is about God and His will. It is about God desiring these things to be accomplished. The leper came to Jesus and said, “‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’” Other translations, instead of saying, “If you will,” say, “If you choose.” So, Jesus’ response is, “I do choose.” Faith is believing that if God wills it, chooses it, the mulberry tree will be moved, the giant will fall, the ark will survive the storm, the people will be set free. Faith is believing that if God chooses, He can accomplish the impossible.

When I was living in Montana, before I went off to seminary, there was a fella in our church, Steve, who was about my age. Beautiful wife and two children. Earlier in his life, he had overcome brain cancer, but during the time that I knew him it returned, so we as a church gathered around him and we prayed.

I remember when he sat down and told me how he had to quit driving, because the tumor would cause scenes, like from a movie, in his vision, so he would be seeing the real world and he would be seeing these visions, unable to tell the difference, so he had to stop driving, but we as a church had faith and kept praying.

I remember when he was no longer able to walk, so he progressed to a wheelchair. I remember when he was sitting in that chair and his arms were resting on the armrests and when one of them would slip off, his wife would go to him and put it back up on the armrest, because he was too weak to do it himself. But even then, we had faith. We prayed… oh, how we prayed. And we anointed him time and time again, believing that the Lord will slay the giant. We had the faith of the mustard seed and we knew the Lord would ‘choose’ to heal Steve. And you know what… Steve died.

What went wrong? David, Moses, Noah… they all went to battle with a mustard seed and won. With Steve, did we have less faith than a mustard seed? “Hello, Church. This is God. Sorry, but you were six micrograms of faith short of a mustard seed.” Or, what did we say a minute ago: faith is believing that if God wills it, chooses it, the mulberry tree will be moved. Was it that God just simply chose not to heal Steve? “You, you and you get the golden ticket, and you, ah… sorry. There are only three tickets. Better luck next time.” We really can put such evil thoughts in the mind of God, but perhaps, just perhaps, there’s more going on than we can see.

St. Paul tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But you know, that really isn’t all that comforting, especially when you’re staring into the casket at the one you believed God would heal, but it was J.R.R. Tolkien who wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” Faithless is he who believes that there is a limit to God’s faithfulness. Faithless is he that thinks they don’t have enough faith, but you see, it is not about how great your faith is—it is about how great your God is. Faithless is he that stares into the casket and thinks it is the end, that God has not accomplished the impossible, when he actually has; for “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Faith and the workings of God are a mystery, and that is not a satisfying thought, which leaves room for all sorts of doubts and questions, especially when you are looking for answers, results. But to have the faith of a mustard seed tells me that there is all sorts of room for doubts and questions the size of all creation, but… if you have that one speck of faith in the midst of all those doubts and questions, one sliver of faith in the face of the mystery, then your God who is great and your God who is faithful will move the mulberry tree, slay the giants, part the seas, heal the lepers, and—on the last day—raise the dead to eternal life.

Do not place your faith in your ability to move the mulberry tree. Place your faith in the one who created both you and the tree, and know that the Creator will accomplish His perfect will in you both.

Let us pray: Eternal God, in whom faithfulness is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase our faith in you, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with greater faith submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.

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