April 03, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
Let me start with a word about next Sunday. I will present a monologue on the centurion at the cross for Palm Sunday and officially complete our series on faith. But today we conclude our regular sermons and small groups thinking about the way Faith Changes Everything.
I want to start with the story of Charles Blondin. Long before the “Flying Wallendas,” Charles Blundin was a high wire artist who in 1859 said he could do the impossible, walk across a wire over Niagara Falls. A cable was put up and on the appointed day thousands of spectators showed up on the Canadian and American sides. He slowed crossed over and everyone cheered. So he walked back to the other side, this time carrying a camera to take pictures. More cheers. A few days later he did it again. This time he walked backwards. He stopped and did flips. The president came to see his feat. Everyone was amazed by this guy. He kept adding elements to his stunt. He took a wheelbarrow filled with dirt and pushed it across. A tourist came up to him and said, “I believe you could do that all day.” Charles Blondin said, “Wonderful!” and dumped out the dirt and said, “So get in.” The tourist didn’t believe that much!
Today we are talking about the most important element of this series on faith, putting faith into practice, understanding how faith changes everything when we put our trust in God fully.
I want to look at this story told in Matthew 17. A father comes to Jesus pleading for his son who has a condition that takes over control of his body and causes him to convulse. If he’s near water, he will fall into it and almost drown. If he’s near fire he’ll fall into and get severely burned. We recognize this condition as epilepsy, but they didn’t have a name for it then. That is why, when Jesus healed him, it says he drove out the demon.
Now don’t push past that too quickly. Don’t write that off as an ancient way of explaining what they did not understand. This represented the human futility to help the boy. Nothing humanly possible was found that could change his situation. And it probably reflects the mental and emotional turmoil this was taking on the boy. This could not be the way God means for life to be lived. He has something that is destroying him.
How many young people today face things that seek to destroy them? Drugs. Disease. Mental Health challenges. Youth suicide in the last few years in America has been at an all-time high. Between 2007 and 2018 youth suicide increased 60%. This is not God’s intention.
So this is a dad who has probably exhausted every human means of helping his son. He has probably seen every doctor there is because he’s desperate. Thank goodness this boy had a parent who would not quit, who would not accept being told, “There’s nothing that can be done.” Sometimes faith starts in desperation.
So he brings his son to Jesus’ disciples but they can’t heal him. So the dad keeps searching and comes to Jesus and begs for help. He doesn’t let the failure of Jesus’ followers keep him from seeking Jesus.
Now there’s a great mini-lesson right there! How many times have Jesus’ followers failed at helping people? How many times in history did the church fail to help people? Maybe it was because of people’s skin color. Maybe it was because of their sexual orientation. Maybe it was because getting involved was going to be messy and challenging. It’s just easier to come to church and focus on the comfort I need and avoid all this messiness in the world.
No wonder Jesus said, “O faithless and perverse generation, how much longer do I put up with you.” Then he takes the boy and heals him and hear is where the faith lesson begins. Once the disciples are alone with Jesus they ask, “Why could we not cast it out?” And Jesus responds, “Because of your little faith.”
And for one last time we come to this troubling expression of Jesus, “little faith.” As I have been saying, Jesus isn’t talking about faith as an amount, as if there’s large faith and then there’s little faith, and if you have little faith you can’t do much. Some of you are probably wondering if I’m right about this, because Jesus says it so much. People struggle to trust God, they struggle to have the kind of faith they want, and Jesus says its because they have little faith. And you may be starting to think little means little! Jesus talks about their problem as if they need bigger faith.
But look at what he says next. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus’ rebuke is that they had little faith, but he says if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. Do you know how big a mustard seed is? (pic) On average a mustard seed is 1/20 of an inch in size. Now think about that. Jesus rebuked the disciples for having “little faith,” but immediately said, “If you have the faith that’s no bigger than 1/20 of an inch, you could move mountains.” Why would Jesus blame them for having little faith and then compare the faith they needed to something ridiculously small? Turn to someone beside you and say, “I don’t know?”
Let’s try to figure this out. Let’s go back to the seed. How big did I say a mustard seed is on average? 1/20 of an inch. And how big can a mustard plant get? As large as 20 feet in span! Something 1/20 of an inch can increase to 20 feet. How much increase is that? You might want to grab your calculator to check my math here.
Clearly one inch is 20 x the size of a seed. And how many inches in a foot? 12. So one foot is 240 times the size of a seed! (20 x 12= 240) Now, how big can the mustard plant get? 20 feet. So multiply that again by 20 and you get… (20 x 12 x 20=4,800!) A mustard plant can grow 4800 times the size of the seed! Now that is what I call a good increase. How many of you would take that increase with the stock market? If you could get 4800 times your investment? Some of you may be hesitant. You may say, “I don’t know Pastor. If I invest 100 dollars and only get $480,000 in return, I’m not sure.” Then know that we won’t be asking you to serve on the Finance Committee.
Now, all of this is just symbolic. Jesus is talking about faith, but he is using a symbol you can see and touch. He’s talking about something provable. And he’s saying, if God created the mustard seed with that much potential, how much potential has God put within you? But the faith is not in ourselves, the faith is in what God can do with our potential! Jesus says, if you put the tiniest amount of trust in God, God will anoint your potential to do more than you ever thought possible. You will move mountains.
Now, it would seem that Jesus has moved from a provable symbol to a ridiculous one. Who has ever seen a mountain move? What an impossible thought, unless you were one of the disciples. If you were one of Jesus’ followers at the time, you would know exactly what Jesus was talking about! When Jesus said these words they were probably looking at a mountain that had been literally moved.
You see, Herod the Great, or King Herod, the appointed ruler when Jesus was born, was enormously wealthy. Historians have estimated that his worth was 20 times the Gross Domestic Product of the nation of Israel at the time. But Herod used the majority of his resources for himself. He built a massive palace on the cliffs of Masada at the Dead Sea as a winter residence. But in the summer it was too hot there. So he built another palace not far from Jerusalem just south of Bethlehem called, none other than Herodium. I mean, if you can afford it, of course you name a palace after yourself! But there was a problem. Notice there are always problems in life no matter who you are!
Herod’s problem was that he lived 2,000 years before cell phones. When he was at his palaces it took too long for word to reach him when something happened in Jerusalem. So he thought, if I build Herodium high enough, it will be positioned just right so I could see Jerusalem and Masada. Then mirrors could be used to send signals. But now, another problem, there was no mountain high enough in that area to see both locations.
So Herod found two mini mountains close to each other. He amassed a large number of slaves, and each one, a bucket at a time, leveled one mountain and built up the other, so to this day you can see where Herodium (pic) was located. This is what it looks like. The flattened top of the mountain is where the palace stood. It stood 2400 feet above sea level.
The disciples would have been very familiar with this project that earned Herod the nickname “Mountain Mover.” So actually Jesus was using another very real, very provable symbol for faith. The disciples could all see that a mountain can literally be moved.
Now, if you think I am weakening the power of Jesus illustration, just hang on. I am not making this illustration of faith something that is more possible, but just the opposite, more impossible. You see, Jesus is saying that the disciples can be mountain movers and he’s pointing to something they know is humanly possible. But not for them! They are no Herod. They can’t amass armies of workers to move a mountain.
Sometimes its worse to see what is possible and be told we can do that too, and know in our spirit we cannot. If you told me that faith will make me like Superman and leap tall buildings in a single bound, I’m not going to take that too seriously because Superman ain’t real! But if you said I will be able to dunk a basketball like LeBron James, then I am going to feel like my faith is little. Why? Because I know I’m not LeBron! I’m going to go through life feeling like I don’t have much faith because I can’t do what LeBron does.
Why would Jesus tell the disciples something that could be so defeating?
T.D. Jakes observes in this passage the difference between Jesus’ two symbols. He notes that the mustard represents God’s power and the mountain represents our problems. And the difference is one can get bigger, the other can’t. The mustard seed can grow, how many times bigger? 4800 times! But the mountain is as big as its going to get.
When I heard that I thought of a story about Sir Edmond Hilary after a failed attempt to be the first person to summit Mt Everest. He returned to London where he spoke at a banquet. Behind him was a large picture of Mt. Everest. At one point in his remarks he turned to speak to the mountain. He pointed a finger at the picture and said, “I will return to you. I will try again. And one day I stand on top of you because you can’t get any bigger and I can!”
That is the kind of faith Jesus is talking about, where we don’t compare ourselves to our problems but our potential. And when God anoints our potential, anything is possible! “Little faith” in this passage has to do with the way we see ourselves, seeing ourselves based on the size of our problems, seeing ourselves based on what we think we can do, what we think is possible. Faith is the difference between seeing ourselves the way we see ourselves or seeing ourselves the way God see us.
Go back to Jesus’ symbols once more. How much can the mustard seed multiply? 4800 times! Do you remember how big I said the mountain of Herodium was? 2400 feet above sea level. Now I want you to think about that comparison.
I stand a little over 6 feet tall. If my height were multiplied 4800 times, I would be over 28,000 feet tall. Would you say, “THAT’S TALL!” How much bigger would that be than the mountain? The mountain would be less than 1/8 my height! In other words, my mountain, my problem, my obstacle that makes me feel defeated and helpless is something that by God’s power I can step over.
And you can to. But it starts with an important step. A step to turn to God in faith. All it takes is mustard size faith. Tee-niny faith! Pathetically small faith. But that kind of faith will change your life and your world. A choice to say, “God I choose today to trust you with my life, with my problems, with my hopes, with my needs. I trust you. I yield to you. Come into my life by faith. Anoint my potential. Fill my life, and do through me what I cannot do on my own.
But there’s one last important point to make about this story, and that is the way faith changes the we climb. Faith changes the mountains we choose to face. Because when we truly put our lives in God’s hands we don’t say to God, now help me build a palace for myself. Increase my resources Lord so that I can have a life of ease and luxury. Increase my potential so that people notice me and give me credit and show me the respect I deserve. No! We say, “Lord, let me face mountains you want to move!”
Because there are mountains in our world that need moving. Racism is a mighty big mountain, and God is just looking for people who say, I know that mountain is too big for me, but I also know God you are bigger than the mountain, so anoint my potential, use me!
Crime and violence is a mighty big mountain. Its easy to say, “It’s too big for me!” But it ain’t too big for God and God is just looking for people who will give God their potential and go move that mountain!
Poverty is a big mountain. Hunger is a big mountain. Illiteracy is a big mountain. But they aren’t too big for God and God just need people who will step toward God and give God their potential so God can move mountains!
Because the power to move mountains is never about our glory but God’s alone.
All you have to do is step in that wheelbarrow…