“Moving Mulberry Trees”
2019 LWML Sunday Sermon
“Moving Mulberry Trees”
Text: Luke 17:6
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” (Luke 17:6).
Have you ever tried to get a tree stump out of your yard? A bush stump? I am not the best at yard work, as many of you well know from these sermons over the years. After some failed attempts at taking out a pesky bush at our house, I finally called “a guy,” and it was taken care of. Well, it was a call and a check. How nice would it be if we could just look at a bush or a tree and say, “Be gone.” And it would be gone! How awesome would that be?
Jesus says in the Gospel today that if we had the faith of a grain of mustard seed (a mustard seed is really, really small if you don’t know your seeds), we could just say the words, and bushes and trees would be gone. Sounds great, but we know it is not that easy. Jesus has a habit in the Gospels of telling us to do things that are hard, you know, like “Be perfect.” “Love your enemies.” “Give to Caesar.”
In Luke 17, Jesus was telling us a bunch of things that are hard to do. He told His disciples that they would need to forgive others, even if they had been wronged, seven times in a single day. If you wonder if that means there is a limit to our forgiving, remember the number seven in those days meant complete. Jesus was a down to earth preacher. This was not some theoretical, philosophical, hypothetical situation, but a way of life, real life. He was referring to the simple but challenging act of forgiving someone who did something to us or made us mad.
It is hard to forgive someone, though, isn’t it? Hatred and grudges can run deep and last long, like tree roots — like mulberry tree roots, stubborn and strong. No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus’ challenge to forgive with the words, “Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). They could have said, “You expect us to forgive that often? We can’t do that! We need more faith for that! Give us more faith, Lord!”
It was one of those teaching moments. When His disciples said, “Increase our faith!” Jesus did not say, “Sure, presto! You have more faith!” What He did say was, “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 doesn’t explain His response. Luke, who records Jesus’ words, doesn’t interpret them either. You have to admit, it’s quite an image, though. With just a little faith, Jesus is saying — faith as small as a mustard seed, you can uproot a thirty-foot mulberry tree and throw it into the ocean and plant it at the bottom of the sea. I can imagine a Christian saying to a mulberry tree, “Pull up your roots and head for the ocean, tree! You will be the first tree successfully transplanted to the ocean floor!” Can you imagine that mulberry tree actually flying off?! That would be surprising.
What is Jesus saying here? (Hyperbole) One thing He is saying that it is not helpful to quantify our faith. Jesus’ disciples were doing that with their request, “Increase our faith!” In other words, “Jesus, give us more faith, heroic faith, enough faith to do the hard thing in hard times.” Jesus’ response says that it is not helpful to make faith a quantifiable thing. We say that, don’t we? “If only I had enough faith!” “If I could just believe enough!” Or, negatively, we say, “I guess I just don’t have enough faith!” Notice how the emphasis of those statements is on us. Can we believe enough? Can we trust enough? Do we have enough faith to make things happen? But remember, faith is not something we do, it is something God gives. And we have it.
So if faith is not to be quantified, how do we understand Jesus’ words, “faith like a grain of mustard seed”? How can faith send mulberry trees flying into the ocean, or Lake Arcadia? I believe that Jesus’ concept of faith puts the whole matter into our relationship with Him. “Faith like a grain of mustard seed” is simply trusting in Him, a trust that depends on Him and lives every day in Him. This talk of “flying trees” are things that seem impossible. It is only in Jesus that we move “mulberry trees,” even the deep-rooted ones like hatred, grudges, or a lack of forgiveness. That is possible only as Jesus Christ lives in us.
In Latin, there are two words for faith. The first is fides, which is what we know. It is faith that certain things are true. Fides says, “I believe that … that God created the world … that Jesus was born of a virgin … that Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead … that the Spirit brings life.” Our creeds are examples of fides. The other word for faith in Latin is fiducia. This is relational faith. It is trust in the Lord, being rooted in the power of God. Fiducia was Martin Luther’s preferred word for faith. You can hear fiducia at work in Paul’s familiar words in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”
“Faith like a grain of mustard seed,” says that I can forgive not so much because I have enough faith to do it but rather because I live and make decisions inside a strong relationship with Jesus Christ. “Faith like a grain of mustard seed,” says I already have what I need to live my Christian life and witness: I have Jesus Christ, or better, Jesus Christ has me! The One who came and died for me, the One who broke through death and rose again–came to life for me, the One who called me in Baptism and made me His own — He makes seemingly impossible things possible.
In Jesus Christ, you can go to the person who has wronged you, and you can offer forgiveness. You can do the hard thing and share your faith with your neighbor or invite them to church. You can make time to pack food for the hungry when you thought you were too busy. You can drop a quarter in an LWML mite box, believing it will make a difference. You can hold the hand of a neighbor in the hospital, even if it isn’t your favorite neighbor. You can phone a friend who has become distant.
In Jesus Christ, our church can take on a new ministry, knowing that it will be a stretch, simply because it is what Jesus wants us to do. We see our community not as the enemy, but as our mission field. And underneath it all, you see “mulberry trees” moving — you see hard things, seemingly impossible things, happening because Jesus lives within me, because Jesus lives within us!
The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has always lived by mustard seed faith. Little gifts, mites, combined across our synod, make big things happen in mission across the world. Jesus has been moving “mulberry trees” through the LWML since 1942. What a model they are for Christian discipleship! If our congregations are the soul of the LCMS; if our pastors, workers, and missionaries are the beautiful feet (Romans) of the LCMS; if our seminaries and universities are the mind of the LCMS; if Lutheran Hour Ministries is the voice of the LCMS; then the LWML is the heart of the LCMS. The women of our church have taught us what it means to move “mulberry trees” with faith, with trust.
In another gospel, Jesus talks about moving mountains with mustard seed faith. Here it is the mulberry tree that gets moved. Either way, the message is the same. In our relationship with Jesus, we have what is necessary to do difficult, even impossible things. And why should that be so hard to believe? He has moved us from death to life, from being orphans to being His, from guilt to cleansing, from conflict to reconciliation.
That should be our attitude the next time we say that it is difficult to follow Jesus. What appears to be hard, and even impossible, may be just the thing we need to do as we live with Jesus day-in-day-out. And because Jesus is with us, the difficult thing can be done with joy. It may not be easy, but it is possible in Jesus Christ. May it be said of us, “Those were the days when Christians moved ‘mulberry trees!’”
In Jesus’ Name.