Luke 17:6 (ESV)
6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Jesus said, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”(Luke 17:6).
The LWML, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League is big, they are actually huge on mustard seeds. They aren’t big on the actual mustard seed itself but they really their short Bible studies which they call Mustard Seeds. These little studies, these little leaflets were designed initially to help women who were working outside of the home to share their faith during coffee breaks and lunch hour discussions. These Mustard Seed leaflets are small enough to fit into a purse and can be easily left behind for someone to pick up and read. The idea behind them comes from a verse like ours this morning.
You see, a real mustard seed is an extremely small seed, but it can grow into this very large bush or tree. Jesus uses the analogy of a mustard seed to show how something so small and seemingly insignificant can have a powerful impact.
And although the ladies of the LWML love their Mustard Seeds … I love trees. I recently read a devotion which talked about trees. In it the author says that “other than people and God, trees are the most mentioned living thing in the Bible.” Throughout the Bible, there are numerous references to trees, to branches, shoots, and roots. Trees are majestic, powerful, strong, provide shade and shelter, fruit and life.
Jesus this morning references a mulberry tree. Mulberry trees are interesting trees. Mulberry trees are considered to be the wisest of all trees because they won’t start to flower and bear fruit till at least 6 weeks after the last frost of the spring. Mulberry trees can be as small as a bush but some varieties can grow anywhere from 30 to 80 feet in height. The ancient Romans used the leaves of white mulberry in the treatment of diseases of the mouth, trachea, and lungs. Native Americans used mulberries as a laxative and as a cure for severe cases of diarrhea. In Germany, the mulberry tree is associated with evil spirit due to an ancient belief that the devil uses the roots of the tree to polish his boots.
As strange as that sounds, it does bring me back to Jesus and how he says ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’ (Luke 17:6). Have you ever seen the root system of a mulberry tree? The root system is dense, deep, and it is wide. To uproot this tree and replant it … that would be impossible to do. And yet Jesus says, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed … you can uproot and move this tree.
How strong is your faith? Is your faith strong enough to uproot a mulberry tree and replant it? That’s the question which we usually ask when we are confronted with a saying from Jesus like this. How strong is your faith?
I want you to realize something. Before Jesus says this to the disciples, he tells them about needing to avoid the temptations of sin. Not just avoiding the temptations they face on a daily basis, but that they need to be aware that what they say and do, that may lead someone into sin. If they lead someone to sin, especially someone young or new to the faith, Jesus says that “it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck” (Luke 17:2). Jesus then goes on talking about how the disciples need to rebuke, need to draw attention to a person’s sin. Not only are they to point it out, they also need to be ready to forgive them, even if they were the one who was sinned against.
You know … it’s hard to confront someone though isn’t it? We don’t want to make anyone mad nor do we want to offend anyone. And if someone does wrong against us, forgiving them isn’t the easiest thing to do either. The roots of bitterness run deep and they are stubborn and strong, just like the roots of a mulberry tree. It’s no wonder why the disciples say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”
“Jesus replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” (Luke 17:6). Uprooting a mulberry tree is impossible … so what does Jesus mean when he says this?
One thing Jesus doesn’t want you to do is to try to quantify or try to measure your faith. However, this is exactly what we do isn’t it? “If I only I had enough faith!” “If I could just believe enough!” Or, “I guess I just don’t have enough faith!” Statements like these just allow the roots of doubt and disbelief to grip the ground even more.
So if we aren’t to measure our faith, what does Jesus mean? If this passage isn’t about the size of our faith, then how can faith uproot a mulberry tree and send it flying into the heart of the sea?
Well, here’s the thing … Jesus’ concept of faith is different than ours. Jesus’ concept of faith puts the whole matter of faith into a relationship with Him. “Faith like a mustard seed” is more than just simply believing that Jesus is the Savior of the world because even the demons believe that one. “Faith like a mustard seed” is relational. It is believing and then trusting in Jesus as your Savior. Faith is a trust which abides in Jesus, which depends on Jesus, and which lives every day with Him. Only by the faith you have in Christ are you able to move mulberry trees. Only by a relational faith in Christ are you able to move those deep rooted trees of bitterness, doubt, or a lack of forgiveness and throw them into the heart of the sea. It is only possible because Christ lives in you.
So “faith like a mustard seed” says that I can forgive someone not because I have enough faith to do it but because I live and I make decisions inside of a strong relationship with Jesus. “Faith like a mustard seed” says I already have what I need to live my Christian life and be a witness. I have Christ, or a better way to put it … Christ has me! The One who came and died for me, the One who uprooted death and came to life for me, the One who called me to be His very own … He, He alone makes the seemingly impossible things possible.
With this relational faith with Jesus, I confront the person who has wronged me, and I offer them forgiveness. I do the hard thing and share my faith with my neighbor. I make time to help serve others even when I thought I was too busy. I drop a quarter in a LWML mite box or put a donation in at the door offering believing it will make a difference. I hold the hand of a neighbor in a hospital, maybe even the hand of your not so favorite neighbor. I call a friend who has become distant.
With this relational faith with Jesus, we as a church take on a new ministry, or take on a re-shaped ministry, knowing that it will be a stretch because it is what Christ would have us do. We reach out our branches into the mission field of our community. Underneath all of this … if you listen … you will hear mulberry trees moving, you will see hard things, seemingly impossible things happening because Christ lives within you.
Vincent van Gogh painted a lot of different things, but one painting he did he titled “The Mulberry Tree.” Van Gogh pained this painting in 1889 while in voluntary confinement at an asylum in France. This mulberry tree van Gogh gives us is impressive. It is strong, it is gnarly, it is abundant with bushy foliage, and in his painting, it is rich with tones of yellow and gold. This mulberry tree is intimidating, rooted in rock and set against a deep blue sky. For van Gogh, an ordinary tree took on the character of beauty, strength, and even joy.
The same can be said about a different tree. A tree which even after it was cut down, cut up, and used as a tool of death … it still gave life. The tree of the cross of Jesus … for those who have this relational faith with God … it’s an ordinary tree that took on the character of beauty, strength, and even joy for it is through this tree and an empty tomb which the seemingly impossible becomes a reality. It is through this tree in which the tree rooted in bitterness, doubt, and a lack of forgiveness is uprooted and thrown in the heart of the sea. It is through a relational faith with this Jesus in which the seemingly impossibility of you being forgiven and given the promise of eternal life comes true.
When it becomes difficult to follow Christ … look to the trees and remember … with “faith like a mustard seed,” with a relational faith with Christ … you can move mulberry trees and overcome the seemingly impossible. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.