Toorak Uniting Church

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From Little Things Big Things Grow

Matthew 17:16 – 21
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 20
6 October 2013


That was the story of Vincent Lingairri, but this is the story of something much more. How power and privilege cannot move a people who know where they stand and stand in the law. From little things big things grow, from little things big things grow.
(from Paul Kelly’s song: From little things big things grow.)

Introduction: "If you had faith enough you could move a mountain"
It’s interesting how often quotes from the Bible find their way into everyday life. Often of course, they transmute and take on a different meaning from the original. But that is the nature of wisdom; it finds new expression in each generation.

I am not sure that I have faith enough to move mountains. But maybe I do have. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t had the courage to exercise it yet, or to become aware of how to use that power in my own life. There are some mountains in my life I would like to move and I suspect for anyone who has reflected on their own life, they would know the mountains that they would like dislodged and thrown into the sea.

Faith enough! I wonder what that really means. One thing I do know is that faith and belief are different things. In the religious world we have tended to substitute the word faith for the word belief. So that sincerely believing something - often something that seems impossible - is what faith is all about. But it is not! Sincerity is a good thing and important in life, but it doesn’t mean it will change things, or remove or eliminate the big obstacles we face in our life. Nor will believing the right things mean I will overcome the mountains of despondency or disappointment or despair I am confronted with each day. No, faith is something else and it is stronger than self-belief and even stronger than having the right beliefs.

Faith and Belief:
It is common for us to talk about the Christian faith which often means a religion or a set of beliefs. I have been asked by people if I hold this or that belief and on the basis of my answer they will deem me to be either in or out of the Christian faith – or should I say, their definition of the Christian faith. I have even found that claiming to be a Christian minister is not enough for some people to put me in the Christian faith. I think the only answer to such questions, and let me say, the answer will be unsatisfying for the questioner, is that I am on the Christian way. But I have the right to say that, because I can claim the authority of the passage read earlier, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to there and it will move." That’s not about a set of beliefs, it is about a way of life.

The story in Matthew’s narrative and repeated in Luke’s story is an odd one for the modern mind. It is a healing story that speaks of miraculous powers. But what makes this story different from many of the other healing stories is that it is primarily about the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. The problem here is that the disciples, the followers of Jesus, do not have the wherewithal to carry on the transformation that he has begun.

Woven into the fabric of this story is the notion that Jesus – the Christ figure – will not be present with his followers forever, so it is their responsibility to carry on the work and here, in this ancient story, they failed. While it could be taken on face value as a story of healing and the restoration of a young man, the deeper issue and richer reading is the call to these followers to live the faith life that Jesus has lived. And that’s about the power that is released in all of us when we stop believing the faith and start living the faith.

Faith is a way of Life:
Faith is a way of life, it is not primarily about believing, although there are good things to believe; it is not primarily about a way of behaving, although there are good habits to develop in our lives; it’s not even primarily about belonging, although it is difficult to see how we can follow a way individually without a community. It is a way of being; a way of living, and a way of entering more fully into the great gift of life - and it is about growing into that life. True faith can be imaged as a mustard seed and we know that in every seed there is the great potential for life and growth. But we also know that from little things big things grow, as I have quoted from Paul Kelly’s song about aboriginal land rights. Faith, to be a way of life, must grow in the person and it grows by being nurtured and nourished by the same things that nourished and nurtured Jesus. It doesn’t take much to discover what gave life to his faith and what he wanted for his disciples. Can I give you my random list of the practices that empowered him?

But while all of these practices are good and noble, I do think his burning desire was to pass on to his disciples and followers that this way of faith, this way of being in the world, could be theirs as well. The mustard seed must continue to grow and to share its being with the world. For me the wonder of this life of faith is that it actually doesn’t matter where you begin; nor where you are at the present moment. It only matters that you are awake to the journey you are on. That’s what Jesus wanted for his followers. Not perfection, not morality, not religiosity, not piety, not duty, not purity and not even transfiguration…. Just be on the road and be awake and aware to all you see and hear, feel and touch.

The Way Under the Way
By Mark Nepo

For all that has been written,
for all that has been read, we
are led to this instant where one
of us will speak and one of us will
listen, as if no one has ever placed
an oar into that water.

It doesn’t matter how we come
to this. We may jump to it or be
worn to it because of great pain.
Or a sudden raw feeling that this
is all very real. It may happen in a
parking lot when we break the eggs
in the rain. Or watching each other
in our grief.

But here we will come. With very
little left in the way.
When we meet like this, I may not
have the words, so let me say it now:

Nothing compares to the sensation
of being alive in the company of
another. It is God breathing on
the embers of our soul.
Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here—
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life
of compassion.

Ultimately,
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.
There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.



© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2013


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