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Mustard Seed Faith


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
October 2, 2016

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.” (Luke 17:5-6)

“Don’t believe everything you think!” This statement has been coming to mind for me a lot lately.

I am a student of history. I see plenty going on in the world right now that is troubling. There seem to be patterns emerging that do not bode well for my hope for the building of ‘beloved community’ here and throughout the world. “Don’t believe everything you think!”

Our world’s religions are all founded on the Golden Rule but every belief system has its justifications for war. We focus on our differences rather than what we have in common. “Don’t believe everything you think!”

It seems we aren’t evolving at a pace fast enough to avoid our own destruction! When will we start living from our frontal lobe where wisdom and compassion are possible, instead of from our primal, fight or flight, alligator brain that is always on the defense? “Don’t believe everything you think!”

I am a victim of my own fears which so often seem more logical that this faith I stand up to preach every week!

I am in need of some Mustard Seed Faith! But what does that mean? Jesus claimed we don’t need much of it to transform the world, move mulberry trees into the sea or mountains wherever we choose. But he sometimes called his followers “O ye of little faith!” and it wasn’t a compliment!

What kind of faith will help me to not only envision ‘beloved community but help me work towards it? Because that is the faith I need right now! A faith that moves mountains, but better, moves hearts! Especially my own!

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen!” (Hebrews 11:1) If faith is to be of value it must be lived and it must have consequences. It must demand something of me. It must challenge me to grow. A mustard seed is just a very tiny dot of a thing unless it is planted and given an opportunity to break open; then it can become an outrageous weed that blossoms everywhere!

Marcus Borg in his wonderful book, ‘The Heart of Christianity’ speaks of four kinds of faith using the various Latin words for faith.

First, faith is “Assensus,” or assent in English. It is intellectual agreement.  The Nicean Creed is the product of this understanding of faith. The UCC has created a wonderful alternative form of this that can be found in the back of your hymnals, but this is a very limited understanding of faith and certainly can’t move mountains as far as I can tell!

Secondly, faith can also translate the Latin word “Feducia,” which means trust. This is the faith you develop when you first learn to swim.  If you are terrified of the water and fight it, you will sink. If you can relax, sure enough, you float! This gets us closer to Jesus’ understanding of faith but will it move mountains? Uproot trees?

What about the third Latin word for faith, “Fidelitas” or loyalty, allegiance, and commitment. It goes to the core of our values and brings us closer to a strong kind of faith. Perhaps this faith will be strong enough. Perhaps…

Finally, there is the Latin word “Visio” or Vision which is also translated as faith. It challenges us to see life through the lens of sacred meaning, life giving wholeness, inspiration. It calls us to go beyond intellectual assent to a deeper and more pervasive understanding of faithfulness. But will it move mountains? Uproot trees?

The Greek word for faith is “pistus,” and was considered less valuable than ‘nous’ or intellect. But Jesus didn’t speak Greek and he didn’t speak Latin.  He spoke Aramaic. And the Aramaic word for faith is “haimanuta.” It means “confidence, firmness or integrity of being in Sacred Unity,…a connection to the sacred life force through its many outer forms in a way that is rooted, renewing and healing.”  (According to Neil Douglas-Klotz in “the Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus.”) Think about what is at the very center of your being. Is it trust in the sacred? Do you make a commitment to the God of your understanding with every breath you breathe? Do you remember the Holy One in all your decisions? Are you guided by your deepest integrity, your confidence in the power of love? Now this may be a faith that can move mountains, and uproot trees.

For the last four weeks we have begun our service with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi* (see below) who lived from 1181 to October 3, 1226. His devotion to others and compassion for all of life made him one of the few followers of Jesus who seemed to really get what Jesus was teaching. We do our Blessing of the Animals on the Sunday closest to his feast day in the Catholic tradition, which is October 4. If I were to define my faith in practice, in hope, in purpose, it would be a longing to live by the simple words of his prayer we have been sharing together each week. When I am unable to keep my mind from wandering in my daily meditations, this prayer becomes my focus and returns me to center.

Each of us has our own path toward wholeness. I’ve long since discovered that what works for me may not work for you. I am deeply thankful for Jesus reminder to “Judge not, for by the measure that you judge, so shall you be judged.”(Mat.7:1-2) We all have to find our own way to stay connected to the sacred.

Commitment to community in all its messy humanness is one that works for me. I get to practice all the values that are central to me: patience, compassion, honesty, humility, the fun stuff! And daily mindfulness meditation that challenges me to notice my thoughts and let them go so that I can return to the center that is God’s seed planted within me, also help.

My faith includes some beliefs (assensus), but with fewer absolutes as I get older; trust (feducia) that reminds me to “Let go and Let God!”; fidelity (fidelitas) the commitment I feel to all of you, to my family, to do all I can to serve others with integrity; and vision (viseo) that as more and more people discover the sacred within them, whether they call it the Christ Spirit, the Buddha nature, the Atman, or the Higher Self, we will finally experience the second coming of Christ and beloved community on earth! But mostly my faith resides in “haimanuta,” in “confidence, firmness or integrity of being in Sacred Unity,…a connection to the sacred life force”

‘The Book of Qualities’ by J. Ruth Gendler has a wonderful way of describing Faith:
“Faith lives in the same apartment building as Doubt. When Faith was out of town visiting her uncle in the hospital Doubt fed the cat and watered the asparagus fern. Faith is comfortable with Doubt because she grew up with him. Their mothers are cousins. Faith is not dogmatic about her beliefs likesome of her relatives. Her friends fear that Faith is a bit stupid. They whisper that she is naïve and she depends on Doubt to protect her from the meanness of life. In fact, it is the other way around. It is Faith who protects Doubt from Cynicism.”

I see our love for our animals and for a day to celebrate communion with the whole world as an act of faith! I don’t believe everything I think, but this, I believe.

 

*The Prayer of Saint Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.