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A Little Faith Goes A Long Way

Luke 17:5-6

There’s a wonderful story about a large company in the Southwest which employs several thousand people. Not long ago, they were attempting to put in place a new pension plan. The only problem was that they couldn’t put the plan in place unless they had 100% participation of all their employees. Well, wouldn’t you know that there was one employee who refused to go along? He just dug in his heels and refused to sign. Everyone else was in favor, but their efforts to persuade him failed. Finally, the president of the company ordered the fellow into his office and said to him: “Now, look, there is a copy of the pension plan and here is a pen. Sign it right now or you’re fired!” Without even batting an eye, the man grabbed the pen and signed the plan. The president was shocked that he signed it so quickly. “I don’t understand this, my good man,” he said. “You’ve been so vocal in your opposition. Why did you refuse to sign until now?” The man was quick with his reply: “It’s simple, sir, you’re the first person who explained it to me so clearly!”

Well, today I want to explain something to you and hopefully I can explain it clearly. It has to do with being a person of faith. Simply put, here it is: if you trust God in faith, then there is tremendous power open to you. That’s the message Jesus gave to His disciples in these verses from Luke 17. Look at those verses with me.

The disciples came to Jesus and said: “Lord, increase our faith. Make our faith greater!” Now, there was a reason for this request. They were facing a crisis. They had just returned from their first mission and they were discouraged. Nothing had gone as they had planned. They had intended to go out and turn the world upside down, but instead they came back feeling as though they had been completely defeated.

And, of course, if we were honest how many of us would whisper the same thing? “Lord, make our faith greater.” We look at the political scene in our country and we cry out: “Lord make our faith greater.” We look at the world’s heartache and we cry out: “Lord, make our faith greater.” We look at our personal lives, the struggles we are facing with our finances, family, friends, and our future and we cry out: “Lord, make our faith greater.”

Jesus responded to the disciples’ request by saying something quite remarkable. He said: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” Many people have misinterpreted Jesus’ response as implying that the disciples did not have any faith. Not so. Nor was Jesus implying that their faith was inadequate or insufficient. Instead Jesus was saying to them: “You already have enough faith. Even if it seems to be as tiny as a mustard seed, it is still enough. What you need to do is to trust God and use the faith you have. Wonderful things will begin to happen. A little faith goes a long way. With a little faith one can accomplish what others think to be impossible.”

The history books are replete with illustrations of this truth. I think, for example, of Mary McLeod Bethune, a name writ large in this part of Florida. Born in Mayeville, South Carolina in 1875, she was the youngest of seventeen children born to a family of freed slaves. Mary was 11 before she attended her first school, which was a mission school. Thus, began a journey which eventually led her to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. There she learned the potential power when education and faith are coupled together in an individual life. She dreamed of starting a school for black girls in Daytona Beach, Florida. All she had was $1.50 to begin that dream. She pleaded with the city council to donate some land that nobody else wanted. In addition to serving as teacher, administrator, and janitor of the school, she baked pies at night and sold them to tourists during the day to keep the dream alive. You know the end of the story. Eventually she founded what is known today as Bethune-Cookman College and she served as its distinguished president. This great United Methodist laywoman is proof that it is not a question of how much faith we have but how we use the faith we already possess.

Evidently, that was something the disciples did not understand. Their problem was not a lack of faith, but rather a lack of action. Faith is something that grows and strengthens as it is used. Jesus was assuring those disciples that they had plenty of faith. All they needed to do was to trust God and do what needed to be done. In other words, if we convert our convictions into actions, then we will see miracles galore!

The syndicated columnist, Richard Reeves, wrote a column on the occasion of Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strikeout. Imagine 5000 strikeouts and being 42 years of age at the time. Of course it marked Nolan Ryan as one of the greatest pitchers ever to play the game of baseball. That’s the way things are now, but Richard Reeves remembered back to how things were in 1971. Richard Reeves was a reporter for the New York Times and was assigned to cover the Mets. He recalled that Gil Hodges was the manager of the Mets that year and he had become very impatient with this young pitcher, Nolan Ryan, who could throw a baseball nearly a hundred miles an hour but was hopelessly wild. He kept walking people. Finally, Hodges told him at the beginning of one game that if he had to pull him out because of his wild pitching, he was finished as a pitcher for the Mets. Ryan went into the game determined to do his best, but it wasn’t good enough. He walked eight batters in the first four innings. Hodges took him out. That was it. He failed. He was going to be traded. After the game, Richard Reeves went down to the locker room to interview some of the players. He saw Nolan Ryan standing in front of a mirror having great difficulty trying to tie his tie. When Reeves approached Ryan, he realized that the reason Ryan was having trouble tying his tie was because he was crying. Tears so filled his eyes that he couldn’t see. He thought he was a failure. Richard Reeves recalled that incident on the occasion of Ryan’s 5000th career strikeout. Nolan Ryan began by thinking he was a failure. But he took his faith—and he is a man of faith in Christ–and he kept on working, kept on practicing, kept on doing his job–and look at what happened!

When the disciples returned to Jesus they were pretty discouraged. “We just can’t seem to do it,” they said. “We just can’t seem to get it right. We just do not have enough faith. Lord, could you make our faith greater?”

Jesus said to them–and to us: “The problem is not having enough faith. The problem is not using the faith you have. Use it–and one day you will see miracles galore!”

That’s what Jesus said.

Have I explained that clearly?

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