Faith calls us into a growing discipleship relationship with God Almighty. Living into discipleship calls us to more courage in our faithfulness that we might like to exercise. Faith is the [unseen] reality of what we hope for, [and] the proof of what we don’t see (Hebrews 11.1). Faith is the unseen reality we hold to in our relationship with God and others. We can’t touch or examine faith, but we can experience faith.
Faith calls us to address our own disbelief in our personal relationships. Faith calls to us to lay down our defensive weapons of fight, flight or freeze in order that we begin to dialogue about our differences. The historical creeds call us to faithfulness like this statement found near the end of the Apostle’s Creed: I believe in the forgiveness of sin. The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that we are ask for forgiveness and extend forgiveness: Forgive us our sins (trespasses/debts) for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. (Luke 11.4). This mysterious behavior is at the core of our Christian belief system.
Faith calls us to look inward at our own expressions of misconduct. We do not live by our own wit but in relationship with others. Responsible love includes others in the community relationships that we do not find easy to relate to or find friendship with. The “little ones” in the text refer to those who have little faith. The word “stumble” in the first two verses in the original Greek is translated scandal. Scandal comes in all sorts of misconduct from politics to football to our personal lives. Jesus understood the very personal issues that people are faced with including adultery. In John 8.7 Jesus says it this way when approached about an indiscretion, “When they [religious leaders] kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’”
Faith calls us to face our big assumptions in our relationships with one another. Millstones are used for grinding grain, separating the chaff from grain. They also symbolize a problem or responsibility that does not go away and that makes it difficult or impossible to do or achieve something. A millstone crushes, symbolizing a heavy burden. In the text the millstone has been used incorrectly, and has been turned as a symbol of self-destruction. Jesus calls us to rebuke those who sin against us personally. In a sense we become a millstone that separates the good behavior from the bad behavior toward us. Again, it is a personal offense toward us. Jesus goes on to say in the text that we are to forgive them “if they repent.” Forgiveness in this context is conditional upon one key element: repentance. However, Jesus goes on to point out that that person may turn away from that sinfulness then find him/her self repeating that same bad behavior. If they will continually turn away from the bad behavior, we are to continually forgive.
Faith calls us to live into the profound possibilities of profound love toward others. Jesus says, If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it into the sea (Luke 17.6). A mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. Can you recall how messy a mulberry tree can be? The fruit from that tree stains everything it touches. Mark’s Gospel says it this way, “Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you’” (Mark 11.23). When Jesus is talking about mountains being thrown into the sea, it’s in direct proportion to the forgiveness of sins.
Faith calls us to simply be the church. Mulberry trees and mountains are common illustrations we can all identify with. We understand the messiness of mulberry trees that stain and ruin what they touch. Just imagine how we might sin against someone else and leave stains on their hearts. We understand the great physical and psychological pain of climbing a mountain. Just imagine how we might need to overcome a mountain of sin heaped against us. Stains and pains can be overcome by exercising our small faith, faith the size of a mustard seed.
Have you ever been in a relationship when your faith has been so small that great courage and strength even bravery was required from you to exercise forgiveness? I urge you to stand with me today exercising mustard seed faith to overcome the stains and pains that are along life’s journey.