Sermon – October 7, 2001 – Faith Like a Mustard Seed

October 7, 2001

Faith Like a Mustard Seed

Praying is alot like fishing. You gotta go where the fish are. You can’t
roller-skate in a buffalo herd, as the song says. To pray you have to go
into the presence of God in faith. Sometimes when you go fishing, you get
what you went for, sometimes you get skunked. Like prayer. But in both
praying and fishing, the times you think you got skunked doesn’t change the
fact that those fish are still there. And, of course, you’re never going
to catch them unless you go back out. It is the challenge of fishing, if
you had a good day, you want to go back again. If you got skunked you want
to go back and try again. Like prayer.

Praying is the conversation with God of the faithful person, so faith
precludes prayer. Prayer is an act of faith.

Sometimes we pray for different reasons. Lord, strengthen our faith. Lord,
help my mother. Lord, thank you.

I was fisherman of the impatient sort. My dad would cast out his line with
a bobber on it, and he could sit, patiently, and wait on that bobber for
what seemed like hours. But me, I would cast out my line and if that
bobber didn’t go down in five minutes, I was reeling it in impatiently,
throwing it back out, stripping the bait, disturbing the water. I didn’t
wait on the fish. “Oh, they’re in there,” he would say. Needless to say,
my Dad caught alot more fish than I did.

Sometimes we go fishing for different reasons . . . Sometimes for the peace,
for the peace of beautiful Strawberry lake, surrounded by birch trees. The
water was clear and cold, fed each year from the snow melt in the Turtle
Mountains of North Dakota. And we’d fish just for the peace of it.
Sometimes we’d fish for the escape of it. Sometimes we’d fish to get way
from the business and tension of home, Dad’s job. Sometimes we’d fish for
healing, when we’d emerged on the other side of one of our many arguments.
This was a way to be reconciled. Sitting quietly along the shore, I’m sure
my Dad was full of silent questions for those fish, “How did I get such a
crazy kid?” While I wandered the shore and wondered why growing up was so
difficult. We always had expectations when we went out there that
something good would happen. So, too, in our prayer lives when we pray for
healing, for peace. For understanding.

What underlies our notion of prayer, our practice of prayer, is faith.

Sometimes our prayers are demanding. The prophet Habbakuk cast out his
line, challenging God to deliver on his promises. It was an act of faith,
but also of accountability, if impatient expectation. He lamented, “Lord,
look at your people. Where are you?” He cast out his line, posing his
questions to God. And then he responded like a good fisherman. He
responded in faith. I will wait. “I will stand at my watchpost, and
station myself on the rampart . . I will keep watch to see what he wills
say to me. . . . and the Lord answered, “If it seems to tarry, wait for it,
it will surely come . . . the righteous live by their faith.” Habbakuk had
the good sense to wait on God, to fish with patience and faithfulness. The
righteous live by their faith, the expectation that God’s will be done.

In the gospel lesson, the disciples cried to Christ, “Increase our faith . .
. knowing that their understanding was incomplete, knowing that their
commitment was shaky, knowing that their expectations had yet to be
fulfilled, they recognized they needed more and they cried out to Jesus,
“Increase our faith.” They cast out their line in faith.

I read the cry of the disciples in that story as comparable to our own
prayers today for understanding, for healing and peace, and increased faith.
Like the disciples and the people of Israel, the challenges of our present
circumstances cause us to question God’s plan, God’s involvement, when our
families crack, when our relationships dry up, when violence occurs around
us, we wonder, “Where are you, God, in all this? Why aren’t you stopping
this? Why have you allowed this to happen?” Where are you Lord? Give me
the faith to accept and understand and act. We cast out these questions,
these lines impatiently.

Jesus tells us that we already have what we need to understand, to cope, to
live. If your faith was like that of a mustard seed, all things are
possible. Your faith is like a little teeny seed, sown in baptism,
cultivated and nourished by prayer and worship and Holy Communion and the
fellowship of believers. And it grows and it makes up bold to ask for
specific things of God. Bold to ask for understanding, and understanding
comes. As that little seed blossoms into a relationship.

One of our modern-day dilemmas with faith has less to do with what we
believe than how we believe. Sometimes our prayers for understanding or
increased faith are prayers for greater certainty. We demand certainty,
specific measurable results. It’s not so much what we believe than how we
believe. I will only believe, God, if you meet my criteria. We have a
cause and effect understanding of the world as a consequence simply of the
times we live in, and that impacts our faith. Where our impatience or
confusion sometimes results is that we set the terms of that deal. But the
waters in which we fish are deep. And sometimes they are beyond the terms
that we would set. Do we then give up on God. No, that’s where faith is
most active.

One of the key insights, principles of the Reformation was the notion of
sola fide, by faith alone. Certainly we live in a cause and effect world,
but faith takes us beyond that. That faith carries into and through the
mystery of God.

God when to great pains for us to understand the profile he presents to us
in the cross of Jesus Christ, a graceful, sacrificial God that cares for us
so much that he would take our form, to experience the things we experience,
to identify so closely with us that Jesus could cry out in the garden,
“Lord, if it is your will let these things pass from me.”

Part of our growing in faith is the expectation and the understanding that
our prayer will be answered in God’s time and in God’s way. We are pointed
again to Christ whose says, this is enough. The seed of my spirit, the seed
of the Word, the seed of my love is planted in you. We need to be on
guard for the times when we are impatient, when we pull that line back in
frustration when are prayers are answered incompletely or in an unexpected
way. Our faith is nurtured in prayer. Our faith is nurtured and tending in
waiting for God, looking for God in our lives and in our world. To live in
faith is to live confidently, even as we encounter the mystery of God.

I only remember two fish that I caught in my life, out of the many. One
was a three pound rainbow trout that I pulled out of a stock pond. That’s
a big rainbow, and in our house, a rainbow was a real fish. To present
that to the family was dinner. To catch a bass or a pike was, . . .
lunch. But when we cooked up my prize, it was horrible. It tasted like a
carp. It had fed on the bottom so many years. Sometimes our prayers are
answered incompletely. I caught the fish, but I wanted more. it just means
God had another agenda. I had caught the big one. That should have been
enough.

Sometimes the answers to our prayers are incomplete, but that doesn’t mean
the fish aren’t still in the water. We need to be like Habbakuk standing
patiently on the ramparts waiting for the word of God.

Now, having said that, I, like you, I often prayer for the lunkers. I pray
for that clear understanding, I pray for complete healing, I pray the
complete resolution of problems. Of course, that doesn’t always happen . .
. but God continues to move on our behalf in our prayers.

I caught my second memorable fish after the death of my dad. When he was
dying, I was in Washington, DC. And on the day it was evident he wouldn’t
survive, I tried to get there. But I was on a grounded plane on the tarmac
of National Airport, and I didn’t make it. Even though whatever problems I
had had with my father had long been reconciled, I felt guilty, I felt
cheated, like I had failed as a son to get there in time. And I could talk
myself out of this disappoint and pain, but it was still in my heart. I
knew that the airlines don’t accommodate my personal tragedies, but I
couldn’t get it out of my heart.

It wasn’t long after his death that my mother and I went back to Strawberry
Lake. I cast out my line, and this time, like my Dad, I waited. And as I
sat there remembering all the times we had come up there together,
remembering the role this lake had had in our lives, when I was remembering
all those things, my bobber went down like a stone. And wouldn’t you know,
I pulled out of that clear, cold lake a 7 and a half pound rainbow trout.
And I thought of how proud my dad would be of this fish and how proud I
would be t show it to him. It wasn’t long after that that my unease about
his death left me.

I had landed the lunker, you see. God answers prayers in unexpected ways.
“If it seems to tarry, wait for it, it will surely come.” By the way, a
few weeks later we discovered that the Department of Fish and Game had come
into Strawberry Lake months before and killed off all the fish in that lake
to clean it up because the rough fish were taking over. There wasn’t
supposed to be a fish in that lake. Somehow when I needed to catch that
fish, there he was. The lunker. Go figure.

Amen

Copyright (c) 2001 by Pastor Robert J. Rasmus