Sermon: Were We Hoping for This?

October 2, 2022

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Luke 17:5-10

by Eric Anderson

Hurrah! I hear you say. We haven’t heard from that gloomy prophet Jeremiah this week. Pastor Eric has brought us to a nice, cheerful reading from the Gospels. Bring it on, Luke! Increase our faith!

“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.”

Well. That’s a nasty knock. I don’t think “faith” is one of those things you measure or test. Yeah. That’s it. It’s not fair to make me measure my faith by… performing miracles. Can you perform miracles, Jesus? Huh?

Oh, right.

OK. So we don’t have enough faith – maybe I shouldn’t speak for you. Maybe you’ve had mulberries or coconut palms or banyan trees dancing all about you. I have not. Jesus, you might remember, tended to commend people for their faith when they came to him for help. He tended to have somewhat more, well, heavy sigh moments with the disciples.

So. Increase our faith. You think it’s too small, Jesus. Increase our faith!

By… turning us from farm slaves into table slaves without even a pause for our own supper. Or thanks. “Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?” Well, no, but we thought better of God… or of you, Jesus.

This is a nasty knock. Here we are, hoping and praying and working toward that faith the size of a mustard seed, and once we get it, we get long days and short thanks. Were we hoping for this?

The disciples had already had a bad time with things Jesus had told them. As Cheryl Lindsay writes at, “In the first verses of chapter 17, Luke recounts Jesus warning against the dangers of stumbling. In fact, his warning was about causing someone else to stumble even more than stumbling oneself. It’s a text about mutual dependency, support, accountability, and forgiveness in just four relatively brief verses. He calls the disciples to it, and their response to that teaching is a cry for help in fulfilling it, ‘Increase our faith!’”

What had Jesus told them? Simple things: like if you incite someone to sin, it would be better to have a millstone hung around your neck before you’re thrown into the sea. If someone sins, and then repents, you must forgive, even seven times a day, you must forgive.

A cry for help, “Increase our faith!”, was simply a rational request.

It’s just that Jesus didn’t have a great deal of help for them.

There is some charm, you know, to the idea of a world filled with faith-filled people. Just imagine those trees bouncing around every morning as people wake up. I’m awake! Happy day! Dance to the morning, guava tree! You’d want to watch your step lest you trip over a root that wasn’t there a moment ago, but a world full of dancing trees has some appeal.

But Jesus didn’t spend any time at all on developing the ability to command leaping trees. He went straight to the places of long, hard work: The fields. The kitchens. The tables. The fishing boats. The accountants’ desks. The serving counters. The factory floors. The building sites. Go there, said Jesus, and if you’re the one in charge, what do you expect? You expect good, solid, earnest work. You expect prompt arrival and a full day’s effort. You expect that the follow-up tasks – like the boss’s dinner – will be attended to. It’s not pretty. It’s not heavenly. It’s not exceptional.

It just might be discipleship.

As Debie Thomas writes at, “When I take a hard look at my assumptions about faith, Jesus’s ‘no’ begins to make some sense.  What if faith isn’t quantifiable?  What if it’s not an emotion?  Not an idea?  Not a capacity?  What if faith isn’t even a noun?

“What if, instead, faith is engagement, orientation, action?  What if faith is a daily, hourly movement into the God-saturated, God-centered vocations we were created to fulfill?  What if faith is something we do?  Not something we have?”

What if faith is all about how you treat your family members before you’re really awake in the morning? What if faith is all about forgiving those family members who growl about the house until they’ve had their coffee? What if faith is all about examining every choice for its impact on others, and choosing the option that’s best for the most? What if faith is all about the daily struggle to cope with other peoples’ obnoxious behavior without responding with our own?

What if faith is the refusal to accept even Jesus’ words that the poor will always be with you, and the commitment to eliminate poverty in our day? What if faith is the discrimination between glory that lifts some up while it casts others down, and glory that raises everyone? What if faith is the unglamorous, unappealing, unrecognized work of making today just a little bit better for the world than yesterday?

What if it’s not about correct doctrine? What if it’s not about sizzle and show? What if it’s not found in the miracles, but in the mundane? What if it’s found in what I do from the time I rise until the time I sleep?

What about that?

I have aspirations to be a hero. There was a period during my son’s childhood when, if you asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he’d say, “Batman.” I understood that; I still understand that. It’s an attractive notion to me, to have the bravery to leap into a dangerous situation, to have the discrimination to know who is good and who is bad, to have the power to rescue the good and constrain the bad, to Make Things Better, to Make Things Right.

Superhero aspirations aside, it’s one of my temptations in ministry, to swoop in with the Well Reasoned Theology and the Well Considered Ethical Standards and, having presented them in a Well Prepared Presentation, swoop out again with a Well Supported Plan of Action for the Community. And maybe some Official Thanks.

So… I want to fix things.

Fixing things may be a part of discipleship, a part of faith, but that is not its core. Its core is diligent attention to the work of living – seeing that there’s grass and water for the sheep on the hillside, getting those weeds removed from the rows of grain. Its core is diligent attention to responsibility, to preparing those meals for those who are hungry. Its core is getting to your needs when it’s time for them. Its core is… care.

It’s not glamorous. It’s not glorious. It doesn’t even come with the excitement of fixing things, because most of discipleship isn’t fixing things, it’s nurturing things.

On this World Communion Sunday, we join the meal of Jesus and his followers in company with a vast number of other people around the world. If we could see it, it would be quite something, but it wouldn’t be a big show. It would be people who are accustomed to making the world better in small ways each day, people who have made room for others in their lives, people who have also felt hunger themselves. At this table, we seek and find the nourishment we need to continue on as faithful disciples, leaving the trees to their own rootedness, but taking on the tasks of daily care.

Doing what we ought to have done.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Pastor Eric diverges from his prepared text while preaching for a couple of reasons: (1) he didn’t mean to, and (2) he felt like it.

The image is Jesucristo by Ricard Lopez – posted by Resurrectionandlife – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on October 2, 2022

Social Networks: RSS Facebook Twitter Google Stumble Upon Digg Reddit

Leave a Reply

close window

Service Times & Directions

Sunday School Classes

Sunday 8:45 am

Sunday Worship Service

Sunday 10:00 am

Adult Bible Study

Monday 6:30 pm, Wednesday 9:00 am

(International Young Adults Association)
Bible Study

Wednesday 7:30 pm

The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

(The Rev. Tevita) Sunday 1:00 pm Wednesday 7:00 pm (Sanctuary)

The United Church of Christ, Pohnpei - Hilo

(The Rev. Ichiro) Sunday 10:00 am (Bdg. of Faith)

The Samoan Church

(The Rev. Sunia) Sunday 4:00 pm (Sanctuary)

440 W. Lanikaula Street
Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 935-1283