Hunting Faith, More or Less - Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to Jesus, “Increase our faith.” Jesus 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.”
Who among you would say to his slave, after plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table.?” Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink?’ Do you thank the slave for having done what was commanded?
“So also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Today’s Gospel reading is a strange one. We really just heard two of a collection of sayings and they don’t necessarily go together or inform each other, so I’m not going to try to make them do that. For the sake of clarity and focus, we’re just going to look at this bit about faith and mustard seeds and mulberry trees this time around. I’ll save the stuff about slaves serving supper for another day.
Some of you may have heard, I spent a few days last week at a hunting camp in the woods of Minnesota. Those of you who have known me for a while know that that’s a strange place for me to be spend five minutes, let alone a few days. I don’t even eat meat anymore, let alone kill it with my own two hands. And, until this week, I hadn’t shot anything more than a BB gun, and the last time that happened I think I was 14. So, I fished some. And I shot CLAY pigeons with a shotgun and I shot some targets with a rifle. And I had a wonderful time.
And one of my favorite things about the trip was all of the dogs. Dozens of smart, well-trained hunting dogs are as much a part of this hunting camp experience as anything else. And I heard a little bit about how they do their work.
See, this particular camp is owned and operated by my uncle and his son, and part of what my cousin does is raise and train his very own breed of hunting dog. So I heard and learned some – even though I didn’t join the fun – about how they do what they do, out there in the field.
The short-of-the-long is that the dogs lead the hunters into the densely wooded and heavily ground-covered fields in search of grouse and/or woodcock – birds about the size of a large pigeon, I’d say, but much more attractive. The dogs go “on point” as a way of alerting their humans that they’ve found some birds, on the ground, in the brush. Then, on the hunters’ command, and when the humans are ready with their guns, the dogs flush the birds into the air, wait for them to be shot out of the sky, retrieve them, and return them to the hunters before everyone moves on in search of the next “flush.”
Part of the whole hunting camp experience includes gathering in the main lodge each afternoon and evening for dinner and drinks and around the campfire for conversation about the day’s adventures. And it was there that I heard one of the camp regulars say something that made me think about today’s Gospel – or at least this little ditty many of us have heard before – about having faith the size of a mustard seed.
In talking to some of the frustrated, rookie hunters about proper technique and about the art and patience it takes to successfully shoot one of these birds out of the sky, he said, “You always have more time than you think, but not as much time as you want.”
“You always have more time than you think, but not as much time as you want.”
What he means is, when those birds get flushed into the air from their hiding places, a hunter is flushed, too, with adrenaline and hope and expectation that he’s gotta get what he came for. So, in that moment, he feels rushed and hurried and pressured to get ready, to aim, and to fire, before his target flutters and flies away, out of sight and out of reach and gone for good.
What it takes some time to learn, apparently, and some measure of experience and faith, if you will, to trust, is that you don’t have to panic once you see your target. “You always have more time than you think.” Time, presumably, to see your target. Time to ready yourself. Time to take aim. And time to shoot and hit your target, too. But no matter how true that is. No matter how many times a hunter proves that to himself by being patient, by taking good aim, and by getting what he came for, every new flush of birds, every rush of adrenaline, and every missed shot makes him wish he had just a little more time to take each shot. “You always have more time than you think, but never as much as you want.”
So, I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s the same lesson Jesus means to teach us about faith today, too. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…,” he says, “you could do some pretty amazing things,” remember? What if he meant something like, “You always have more faith than you think, but never quite as much as you want.”
And Jesus, himself, had plenty of moments where his faithfulness proved “enough,” more than even he would have thought, perhaps – like every time he set out to heal someone, and it worked; every time his prayers were answered; every time he worked a miracle; every time he fed the masses; every time he stood up to his enemies. Who wouldn’t want more of that kind of faith? But it doesn’t take much, according to Jesus. And enough is enough – even just as much as a mustard seed will do it. “You always have more than you think.”
But if Jesus was anything like the rest of us – and we know that he was – he must have understood what it meant to want more faith than he felt like he had at times, too. Like that time in the desert when he was tempted by Satan. Or that moment when he wept with sadness for the people of Jerusalem. Or the day his friend Lazarus died and was buried. Or that night in the garden, before his crucifixion, when he prayed that God might come up with another plan.
“You always have more than you need, but never quite as much as you want.”
So, if nothing else, maybe we’re supposed to find some comfort in the experience of faith we share with Jesus. And maybe there’s hope that if “enough” is “enough” for him, then “enough” – even faith the size of a mustard seed – could be enough for us, just the same.
Because we’re all hunting for so many things in this life that we share, aren’t we?
We want safety and success for our kids…
We want health and healing for so many of our friends and family…
(Maybe we need that health and healing for ourselves, right about now.)
We want to live lives with purpose and meaning…
We want a job or a relationship or courage or joy or comfort or forgiveness…
And on those days – in those moments – when it all comes rushing at us like so many birds from the brush; like so many moving targets, more fast and furious than we’re ready for; we just want faith enough to trust that God has a hand in all of it, somehow, somewhere, some way.
And Jesus wants us to know that God does. And that no matter how much more faith we think we want or need, we have more than enough, by God’s grace, already.
And if we can rest assured in the truth of that more often than our fears and our doubts tempt us… If we can live differently in response to whatever faith we can muster … we might move more than mulberry trees. We might forgive more sins. We might love more enemies. We might feed more people. We might give more money. We might share more grace in every way, thanks to the generous gift of faith which is always more than enough, no matter how much more we pretend we need.