Toorak Uniting Church

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Planting trees in the sea

Luke 17: 3 – 10
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
3 October 2004, 8am

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

If somebody sins against you, forgive him (or her).
And if he or she sins against you again,
forgive him or her again.
7 times a day if need be.

A tall order and hard work.

Work that could be a lot harder in fact than the work of the slave later on in the passage who has to work all day and when returning home has to cook dinner and tidy away afterwards without expecting even a thank you.

Hard work, high demands.

Forgiving is hard work and forgiving the same person again and again will wear down your goodwill and generosity until it comes to a grinding halt where you feel you can do no more forgiving.
With that point, where we come up against the limits of our capacity to forgive, coming for most of us well before we’d be forgiving the same person, for the same thing for the 7th time on the same day.

You’d have to be a saint or not quite right in the head to be able to keep that up!

Still this is what Jesus says: If your brother sins against you, but repents, even if it is seven times per day, you must forgive him.

Isn’t that a bit much to ask? Forgiving, if taken seriously, is not something that comes easily or naturally to most of us, even when sincere apologies are made. It takes the letting go of your hurt, your feeling of having suffered injustice and the generosity to give the other a clean slate to start all over again with. It will have you create space inside yourself, where you’re able to see the other person in a different light, make room for his or her failings and accept them. It asks of you to love the other person as they are warts and all and trust yourself to them again without hesitation.

Going through that process with somebody 7 times on one day would be very difficult, wouldn’t it?

The apostles answer this command with a deep sigh:
"Add to our faith". And I think we would probably want to do the same when we hear this command: "add to our faith", add to the amount of love and trust we can muster so we will be able to be so very generous with our forgiveness and strong enough to let go of our own feelings of hurt and maltreatment over and over and over again. Because for the moment we don’t quite see how we would accomplish such a very hard thing.

Jesus answers to this sigh with the following:

If you had a faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this sycamine tree "Be rooted up and be planted in the sea" and it would obey you.

Imagine one of the Moreton Figs in the botanical garden, imagine yourself going up to it and telling it to plant itself in Bass strait. Isn’t that just a crazy idea?

Perhaps this is what Jesus means to say with it: Faith, even if it is as minimal as a mustard seed can do amazing things, like uprooting a big tree and planting it in the sea.

In other words: Faith can work miracles.
In itself this is not necessarily a good thing. Jesus himself experienced that at the end of his life: Blind faith, even in small amounts can be very disruptive and destructive. And perhaps that’s why we find this saying of Jesus wedged in between his command to forgive and the story of the slave who has to work all hours without expecting gratefulness because that is what slaves do.

Only faith tempered with forgiveness and hard work for the Kingdom of God will be any good and produce fine fruit. And therefore faith should be firmly wedged in between quite extraordinary forgiveness on the one hand and hard work at bringing the Kingdom of God about on the other.

Another possible interpretation of this saying by Jesus is this: Faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a big and well established tree. The tree of the well established Jewish faith in Jesus’ day was uprooted and planted in the sea of nations for everybody to enjoy its fruits. The apostles, however small they felt their faith was, managed to do this. Luke, when he is writing his gospel knows this has happened and really the parable of the mustard seed and the tree is to encourage the young church that minimal faith and hard work can accomplish the unthinkable. As they have seen happen in their life time.

Forgiving seven times a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year is a lot of forgiving to do.
Being asked to move a big and well established tree and convince it to establish itself in the sea is quite a daunting prospect.
Working like a slave, day in day out, from early morning to late night, even if it is for the Lord, with nobody ever saying thank you or showing any appreciation is a tall order too.

And yet.
That is what we are asked to do by Jesus. To go an extra couple of miles when it comes to generously sharing forgiveness, to letting go of hurt ego’s and scarred self’s, making room for love and acceptance of the other as a sinner that can be forgiven.
And to work from dawn till dusk for the Kingdom without counting the cost, without even pausing to sit down for dinner, without even looking round for a pat on the back or a quiet word of thanks.

A tall order. Something we might feel is impossible to fulfil.

Add to our faith!
If this is how the world will have to be changed into the Kingdom of God, we might as well give up now! We’re not good enough! We just can’t do it! It’s out of our reach!

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could move this tree and plant it in the sea says Jesus.

God help me with my unbelief! There is no way I could do something like that, and you know it!

The apostles did it! With their faith they moved mountains and made the tree of faith grow in places nobody had ever imagined. Through their hard and loyal work they managed to sow seeds for a tree that is still growing among the nations.

They thought they couldn’t do it. They knew they could not do it. And yet they did. Not because of the size of their faith, but because the Lord in his graciousness gave them what they needed. Faith, love, inspiration and the power of the Holy Spirit to help them do what they thought they could not.
As he will give to us.

He is not a master that never shows appreciation and never grants us any rest or time to be nurtured. He is a master that invites us to his table and there supports and encourages us to keep up the hard work. He is the master that gives us the faith we lack, making possible the impossible.

The fact that we are here is a proof that trees can be planted in the sea and that hard and faithful work coupled with the desire to fulfil the tall order Jesus has given us is enough to make it happen.

The apostle did it. Will we? Amen.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2004

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