Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In 1959, the movie the Wizard of Oz began its unparalleled 30 plus year run on broadcast television. Every year until 1991 except for 1963, the movie enticed adults and children alike with its magical, Emerald City, it’s Munchkin land and it’s black and white images of the Kansas prairie. Of course the Wizard of Oz was popular for a variety of reasons, but I think we were drawn to the story by the various characters’ longing for a missing quality in their lives.
In case you’ve forgotten…. After a tornado tears her Kansas house off its foundation, the young girl Dorothy finds herself in the land of Oz searching for her way home. On her quest along the yellow brick road to meet the great wizard of Oz whom she has been told will know how to bring her home, she runs into a scarecrow with no brain, a tin man with no heart, and a lion with no courage. They all hope that the Wizard can provide them with what they need, so they join Dorothy on her adventure. But when they arrive in the city of Oz they discover that the wizard is a fraud. He is only a little man hiding behind a curtain, pulling levers, blowing smoke and yelling into a microphone. Still, he convinces them he can help. He tells the lion that there is only one thing that people with courage have that he doesn’t have — a medal. So, he pins a medal on the lion and he roars. He tells the tin man that he can give him a heart and so he hands him a large chain with a big red heart on it. The tin man is full of emotion. The wizard tells the scarecrow that there is only one thing that people with brains have that he doesn’t have — a diploma. As he hands him the diploma, the scarecrow begins to spout the Pythagorean theorem. He gets it wrong by the way. There is such an easiness to all.
How I wish that I could have just gotten a diploma without all the years of study and work. How I wish I could get a heart full of compassion just by wearing some heart shaped jewelry around my neck. How I wish that I become courageous just by getting a medal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really happen that way in the real world. It is only true in movies and dreams.
Surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus’ disciples were hoping for in their journey along their own less than yellow brick road. They had real challenges in their lives and they felt lacking in the one quality that was most needed- faith. Jesus warned them about causing the weaker ones in faith to fall. “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.” He told them that they would need to give away their possessions. And they were taught that they would have to forgive their enemies even if the sinned against them 7 times a day.” Overwhelmed by the both the challenges of the present and the future, the disciples pleaded with Jesus, “Increase our faith.”
My friends, God has placed a mustard seed of faith with each one of us to do great and amazing things. Unfortunately, many of us never allow that faith to do what God can make it do. We simply take it for granted, or worse yet, we neglect it. We want God to increase our faith, but without working on it ourselves. That is the challenge I would like to share with you today.
Let me remind, that faith always begins with personal choice. Oh, yes, God has chosen you first, but now it is your choice to invest in your life so that the power of God can break through. We all know that joy and inner peace, the peace that passes understanding comes from the knowledge that we are doing what we ought to be doing. We know that a fulfilling life is one in which we use our gifts and abilities to serve God. Yes, we know these things, and countless other truths. Unfortunately, we often ignore them. Instead, we pursue tricks or short cuts which do not demand much real work or commitment. Faith is a personal choice of prioritizing your life. It is opening yourselves to the possibilities of God in prayer, in studying scripture, in worship and working side by side with fellow believers towards a common goal. Often this spiritual growth begins with the smallest of personal gestures and actions. When the author Robert Louis Stevenson was a boy he once remarked to his mother, “Momma, you can’t be good without praying.” She asked, “How do you know, Robert?” He answered honestly, “Because I’ve tried!”
Of course, not all our efforts are genuine. Instead, we can be like the young boy who had been sent to his room because he had been bad. A short time later he came out and said to his mother, “I’ve been thinking about what I did and I said a prayer.” “That’s fine,” she said, “if you ask God to make you good, He will help you.” “Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me be good,” replied the boy. “I asked Him to help you put up with me.” ”My friends, some people never increase their faith, simply because they never make a personal choice and commitment to opening their own lives to what God can do through them.
Second, as personal as that faith may be, it must be public as well. To choose to live with God as your strength, you must also open yourself to an accountability for all the world to see. That is the true character of discipleship. Certainly, faith begins as a personal choice, but it will never uproot the mulberry tree and cast in into the sea, if it is invisible to those who know you. God wants a personal relationship with you; he wants you to be a disciple. But that’s not where it ends. God then wants your “light to shine before others” and to become a “spiritual anchor” so that, through your words and actions, others too may come to know of God’s wondrous love and grace. For ultimately, the mustard seed of faith is not about you. No, it is about what God can do through you and using you. When your children, colleagues and loved ones, are experiencing rough seas in their journeys, when they need the strength of God to shine through the storm clouds, when they need a steady presence as the earth beneath them is shaking, when broken lives are toppling over, they need to see that tiny mustard seed working in you. Your faith cannot be private any longer, it must be public.
Finally, faith must be a steady presence to those in need. Loved ones and even mere acquaintances can sense whether you truly are involved in their lives simply by your physical presence in “just being there.” They can also see whether the mustard of seed of faith that God has placed within is doing it’s work as well. A reporter was visiting an elderly couple who had just celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. He was touched by the way the husband continually spoke to his wife in terms of endearment, always calling her “Sweetheart,” “Honey,” or “Dear.” “It’s so sweet, the way you address your wife in those endearing ways,” the reporter said to the husband. “Well, to tell you the truth,” the old man answered, “I forgot her name about ten years ago.”
My father would routinely go through the entire list of six children in our family when he saw me naming all the others first, but that didn’t dismiss the memory that I had of him always being there and caring. I could see that his faith was active, alive and working by his steady presence in my life. I hope my grandchildren will feel the same. You see, faith can’t throw the mulberry tree into the sea, if you aren’t there- up close and personal and invested.
That is what is really at the heart of this personal, public, and present faith known as Christian discipleship. Faith is found not simply in the mighty acts of heaven. But it is found in the ordinary and everyday acts of doing what needs to be done, responding to the needs around you and caring for the people who come your way. Faith, as Jesus describes it, doesn’t increase by degrees by simple requests to God. Faith increases by just doing your job, doing your duty and showing kindness, and -and by doing it, your faith will increase. As Martin Luther said, “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”
My friends, the challenge and choice of faith is always before you. It is a personal choice, a public accountability and about always being present. As the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Cowardly Lion, discovered in the Wizard of Oz, there is no easy gift. There is no shortcut. No. Clicking the heels of your ruby red slippers, won’t bring you home when you are lost. But like Dorothy was told, “You’ve always had the Power, my Dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” God has placed the mustard of seed within you, so, do the things that are before you, and your faith will increase, and through you God will be able to accomplish great things. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.