Well, I think that most of you know that the scripture readings that we read each Sunday come from a book that's called the Revised Common Lectionary. And the reason that it's called the Common Lectionary, is it's a book that the Christian denominations have in common. And I really love that. I love that every Sunday, Christian churches of different denominations around the world, be they Episcopalian or Presbyterian or Methodist, or Catholic, are all focused on the same readings each week.
And I love that we all follow the same liturgical calendar that sets the dates for Lent and Easter and Advent and all of the other special days. As I mentioned, at the top of the service, today is one of those special days. The first Sunday in October is known as World Communion Sunday, when all the Christian churches around the world remember our communion with one another.
It's a day of unity for us. But you know, I looked it up. And I found on Google, it said that there are more than 40,000 different Christian denominations around the world. Isn't that incredible? More than 40,000.
And of course, we're all so different, even though we all say we're Christian. We're all different. Some churches are very conservative, and others are very progressive. Some churches take the Bible literally, and others understand the Bible more symbolically. Some Christian churches ordain women as ministers. And some Christian churches say, “No, it says in the Bible that women are to be silent in church.” And some Christian churches welcome and celebrate the LGBTQ community. Other Christian churches say, “No, those people are going to hell.” Some Christian churches stand in solidarity with the poor, and they speak out against injustice, while other Christian churches, cozy up to the rich, and the powerful.
So my question for you on this World Communion Sunday is, which churche is right? I mean, they can't all be right, can they?
Now I am very proud to represent the United Church of Christ. But we are by no means a perfect denomination. We, like all Christian churches, are a work in progress. But what I love so much about us is we're constantly paying attention to the workings of the Spirit, which is always moving us forward, never backward. And it's constantly calling us to invite more and more people to the table, to extend the circle ever wider. But there's one thing that all 40,000 Christian denominations have in common, and that is our faith in Jesus.
Now, in today's Gospel reading for World Communion Sunday, we hear Jesus being asked a question about faith. The apostles asked Him, “Rabbi increase our faith!” And so Jesus tells them about the mustard seed. Now, the mustard seed appears so much in the teachings of Jesus, if you read the Bible, you see, he talks about it in Matthew's Gospel, in Mark's gospel, in Luke's gospel. He even talked about it in the Gospel of Thomas, which I told you before is one of the gospels that wasn't included in the Bible. So the early Christian writers must have thought that this teaching of Jesus about the mustard seed is pretty important.
And most of you who grew up in the Christian church, I'm sure you've heard the parable of the mustard seed. It is one of Jesus's most famous. But you know we've misunderstood it, as Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber said in our Words of Integration this morning. Now if you do not know who Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber is, when you go home, please Google her. Please buy her books, watch her YouTube videos. She's just incredible. She tells us that we've misunderstood this parable.
We thought that Jesus was saying, ‘Oh, a mustard seed is so small. Ye of little faith! You must have such a tiny bit of faith!’ We thought that Jesus was scolding us. But it was actually just the opposite. We've misunderstood the Greek. You know, the Bible was written in Greek, but Jesus didn't speak Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic. And when we translate it back to what Jesus was really saying, he wasn't saying ‘Ye of little faith.’ He was saying, ‘You have the faith of a mustard seed! Congratulations, because that's all you need!’ He tells us, the mustard seed is the tiniest of all seeds, but it grows into the greatest of shrubs, because in that tiny little seed is this amazing potential.
And he's telling us that this is within us, that that's all we need. With that little bit of faith, we can move mountains.
Now I've shared with you before that I carry this little medallion in my pocket. I know it's hard for you to see from where you're sitting. But it's a mustard seed that's encased in glass. And around it, it says, “All things are possible.” I carry this in my pockett touching itoften throughout the day. It reminds me I have the mustard seed within me, so all things are possible. I can move mountains today.
Jesus tried to give us this lesson over and over again, not just with the mustard seed. Another example, He said it's like yeast and bread. Yeast is so microscopic, you can only see it in a microscope, but it causes bread to rise. You have that within you. Another time Jesus described it as a pearl in a shell. Hidden within the shell is this thing of great value. Another time he said it's like a treasure hidden in a field.
And with all of these examples, the mustard seed, the pearl, the yeast, the treasure, he started off by saying the kingdom of God is like all of these things, meaning God's dwelling place is like all of these things.
And in case you still don't get it, Jesus said, The kingdom of God is within you. God's dwelling place is within you. But most of us don't believe that. Even though Jesus said it over and over again, gave us example after example after example, we don't believe it. We do not have that faith in ourselves, that God's presence and power, God's light and life dwell with us and within us.
Now one of my favorite spiritual books of all time was written by the late Reverend Eric Butterworth. And it's called Discover the Power Within You. And in this book, Reverend Butterworth says, “The greatest mistake is to think that you're only human. You are divine in creation, which means you are limitless in potential.”
You are limitless in potential. God's light is within you. That's why Jesus said “You are the light.” And that's why Jesus said “All the things I've done, you can do.”
But today, we're talking about faith. About belief. And most of us really don't believe that. The contemporary spiritual writer, Marianne Williamson, has a famous quote that says, “It is not our darkness, but it is our light that most frightens us. We think, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented?” Then she says, “But who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. You were born to make manifest the light of God that is within you.”
It is not just in some of us. It is in all of us.
And so my friends, that's what I want to invite you to do this week. I want you to take time to enter in to the Kingdom of God, God's dwelling place within you, where that mustard seed lives. And I want you to take time each day to nurture that seed.
You've got to get rid of the rocks in the soil that are stopping that seed from growing. What are those rocks? Well, they are the rocks of negative thinking. And I want you, when you're in the silence, to pull out the weeds. The weeds are those limiting beliefs that you have about yourself. We've got to get rid of those rocks and those weeds in order for that mustard seed to grow, Then we can live into our potential and be all that God created us to be. And in the silence, expose that seed to the light of the Divine, and water it with the love of God. That light and love have the power to heal, to work miracles, to move mountains, because all things are possible when you believe
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Today’s Gospel text about the mustard seed kind of feels like Jesus is scolding us for not having even the tiniest amount of faith. This understanding can easily contribute to us thinking that if we have the right amount and the right quality of faith then the hard things in life won’t be hard and we will never doubt. So here is the time when I say that knowing a little Greek can be helpful, because instead of understanding Jesus’ words as, “If you were to have the faith of a mustard seed …” — implying that you don’t have that faith now – a more accurate translation is “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, which you do …you can move mountains.” So here, Jesus isn’t scolding the disciples for not having even the tiniest amount of faith – instead he’s affirming that the disciples already have the faith to do what is expected of them. In essence, he seems to imply that they don’t need more faith; all they need to realize that they already have faith and even if it’s a small amount…that’s totally enough. It’s like Jesus is saying to us, “How much faith do you have?” and we’re like, “I don’t know Jesus, it’s not very much, it’s like this small,” and Jesus is saying, “Good enough for me!” That’s a different message entirely isn’t it?
What did you think?