20 Pentecost Proper C22
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 17:1-10 Sermon
October 2, 2016

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & The Lutheran Hymnary):
TLH  281 "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear"
TLHy 337  "Faith Is A Living Power From Heaven" (see note below)
TLH  396 "O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink"
TLH  50 "Lord, Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing"


TEXT (vs. 5-6):  “The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"  He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.”

            This morning, I have an article to share with you that came out about six years ago.  It's a bit lengthy, I admit; but I'm doing this because it not only teaches us a valuable lesson, but it also is a strong illustration for our Gospel lesson this morning.       

            A teacher in New York City decided to honor each of her students in High School by telling them the difference that each of them had made.  She called each student to the front of the class, one at a time.  First, she told each of them how they had made a difference to her, and to the class.  Then she presented each of them with a blue ribbon, imprinted with gold letters that read:  "Who I am makes a difference."  (That's what is pictured on the front of your bulletin this morning.)

            Afterward, the teacher decided to do a class project, to see what kind of an impact this sort of recognition would have on the community.  She gave each student three more blue ribbons, and instructed them to go out and spread this acknowledgement ceremony.  They were to go and find somebody who made a difference in their life, and put a blue ribbon on them.  Then they were to give the remainder of those ribbons to that person, who would in turn give a ribbon to someone who made a difference in their life.  This would continue in like manner until all the ribbons were gone.  Then they were to follow up on the results to see who honored whom, and report back to the class in about a week.

            One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive at a nearby company.  He honored him for helping him with his career planning.  He gave him a blue ribbon, and attached it to his shirt.  Then he gave him the two extra ribbons and said, "We're doing a class project on recognition.  We'd like for you to go out, find someone to honor, tell them about the difference they made in your life, and give them a blue ribbon."

            Later that day, the junior executive went in to see his boss, who had the reputation of being a rather grouchy person.  He told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius.  The boss seemed very surprised.  The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon, and allow him to put it on him.  The boss kind of stammered, "Well, sure you can!"  Then the junior executive took one of the ribbons and put it on his suit coat, right over his heart.  And then, offering him the last ribbon, the junior executive said, "Would you take this last ribbon and pass it along by honoring someone who has made a difference in your life?  The teenager who gave me these is doing a school class project, and we want to keep this ribbon ceremony going to see just how it affects other people."

            That evening, the boss went home and called out for his 14 year-old son.  He came into the room and sat down on the sofa facing his dad.  He looked his son in the eye and said, "The most incredible thing happened to me today.  I was in my office, when one of my employees came in.  He told me that he admired me, and put this ribbon on me for being a creative genius.  Imagine that!  He thinks I am a creative genius who has made a difference in his life.  This ribbon he put on me says, 'Who I am makes a difference.'"

            "Then he gave me an extra ribbon, and asked me to find somebody to honor.  So I was thinking about this all day; and while I was driving home tonight, I thought about you.  I want to honor you for being my son."

            "I know that my days are hectic; and when I come home, I'm kind of grumpy and I don't pay a whole lot of attention to you.  I yell at you for not getting good enough grades, and for having a messy bedroom."  And then he choked a bit and continued, "Somehow tonight, I wanted to sit here with you and let you know how much of a difference you have made in my life.  Besides your mother, you are the most important person in my life.  You're a great kid, and I love you very much."

            As the father reached over and attached the ribbon to his startled son, the floodgates opened, and his son started to sob and weep.  His whole body was shaking, and he just couldn't stop crying.

            Finally he looked up at his father through his red teary eyes.  He managed to sputter, "Dad, earlier today I sat at my desk and wrote a letter to you and mom, explaining why I had taken my own life, and I asked you to forgive me.  I had everything ready to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep.  I just didn't think that you cared at all.  The letter is upstairs on my desk.  I don't think I'll be needing it after all."

            The rather tearful and emotional father went upstairs to his son's bedroom.  He saw the letter "To Mom and Dad" in an envelope propped up on his desk.  The father couldn't believe the amount of absolute pain and anguish his son was experiencing.  He never had a clue.

            The boss went back to work a changed man.  He was no longer a grouch.  He made sure to let all of his employees know that they each made a difference. 

            Likewise, the junior executive helped many other young teenagers with their career planning, one of which was his boss's son.  The junior executive never neglected to let each of those people know that they made a difference in his life.

            In addition to this, the young man and his classmates learned a very valuable lesson:  who you are DOES make a difference!

            As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we have before us one of Jesus' parables, usually referred to as "The Parable of the Mustard Seed."  And as I studied this, I went to the spice rack in the kitchen and took out the bottle of mustard seed.  I dumped some into the palm of my hand and examined them.  They're not even the size of buckshot--they're more like large grains of sand.  I took just one of those little seeds and put it in my mouth.  I crushed it with my teeth, and almost immediately I could detect it on my tongue and feel it grabbing at my throat.  WOW!  That one little seed sure can pack a punch!  One little mustard seed can sure make a big difference!  I can understand why somebody can't be too heavy handed with it when they're using it as a seasoning for cooking.

            In today's Gospel reading, Jesus uses the parable of the mustard seed as the response to a request made by his disciples.  "Lord, increase our faith!" they ask.  Now what would have prompted that question?

            Jesus had presented his disciples with two rather important functions that were being required of them.  The first had to do with causing somebody to sin.  They had to watch what they were preaching and teaching, so as to not lead people astray.  They also had to be living examples that they were indeed disciples of Jesus.  And if someone should sin because of something they said or did, if it was their fault that caused somebody to fall from faith, the judgment would be harsh.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the deepest part of the ocean with cement overshoes, using a more modern term of reference.

            The other important function dealt with forgiveness.  They not only had to preach about God's forgiveness through faith in Christ, but they also were to put that forgiveness into practice themselves.  They also had to teach people to forgive others in the same way God had forgiven them. 

            This was an awesome task, as far as the disciples were concerned.  They needed to have what was necessary to do what Jesus was asking of them.  So their request of "increase our faith" was what they felt was needed for all of this.  They needed the assurance that as disciples, they were capable of making a difference in the lives of God's people.

            Now, do you realize that there is more than one "Parable of the Mustard Seed?"  There are in fact TWO parables where Jesus uses the illustration of the mustard seed.  If we look at the other parable, it will help us bring today's parable into better focus.

            If we go back four chapters from today's Gospel reading, to Luke chapter 13, we read the following in verses 18-19: "Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?  It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."

            So not only is our faith compared to the mustard seed, but the whole kingdomof Godis as well!  And this is no mere coincidence either.  There is a definite connection between our faith and God's kingdom.  If we skip ahead several verses from our Gospel reading today, we read verses 20-21 from Luke 17:  "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is withinyou."

            Now everything just starts to fall into place.  God the Holy Spirit planted faith in your heart.  For many people, this happened at their baptism.  For others, they received God's gift of faith through the reading or teaching of the Holy Scriptures.  But one way or another, God has planted this "mustard seed of faith" in each and every believer.

            Once God has planted that seed of faith in a person's heart, things will happen.  An individual is able to look through the eyes of faith at themselves according to God's law.  What a person will see is a life of sin; and no matter how you slice it, that picture of sin is not a pretty sight.

            We would be in total despair, if it weren't for the eyes of faith and what else can be seen.  God's gift of faith now enables us to see our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  We know that Jesus has lifted that crushing burden of sin off of our shoulders, and took it all upon himself.  Every sin of thought, word, or deed, everything sinful that we have done or not done has been taken from us by Jesus himself.  Through the eyes of faith, we can see the cross, where Jesus bled and died to pay for those sins.

            Through the mustard seed faith God has given to us, we can accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  Through faith alone in him, theKingdomofGodnow dwells within us.  The mustard seed of faith is the mustard seed of God's Kingdom. 

            And what happens with the mustard seed of God's Kingdom?  In Luke chapter 13 verse 19 Jesus tells us: "...It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches."   That is indeed one very powerful seed.  When God plants his seed of faith in you and me, we can expect some very dramatic results.

            This morning, I began with the rather lengthy story about a teacher who gave out blue ribbons.  Printed on those ribbons were the words, "Who I Am Makes a Difference."  There wasn't much cost involved in making these ribbons, but the lesson learned is priceless.

            So how do you feel?  When we look at the grand scheme of things in this world, we can feel pretty insignificant.  We can feel almost like another grain of sand on the beach of life.  If we're here one day and gone the next, who's going to know?  Who's going to care?  What value is there in our existence?

            That teacher in a high school inNew York Cityhad some definite insight.  She recognized that each of her students had an individual and unique impact on her life.  She also knew that each student would have at least one, and probably more people who had made a difference in their life.  It's something that had always been there; it just took her little ribbon ceremony to open their eyes to see just how significant and meaningful their individual lives have been, and would be in the future.

            I had a rather eye-opening experience of my own a little over nine months ago when my brother Jeffrey died.  He was mentally retarded; and, I have to confess, often a bane to my existence.  Looking after him wasn't easy, especially after my parents died.  And I thought that others merely tolerated him.  And yes, there were indeed those who felt that way, and out-and-out didn't like him. 

            Be that as it may, when the day of his funeral came, I could hardly believe it.  Over 130 people gathered for the service, and I barely knew a handful of them.  Person after person came to me with tears in their eyes and told me how Jeffrey had touched their lives, how nice he was, and how much he would be missed.  And their stories were all different.  A 57 year-old mentally retarded man had made a difference to many people.  He touched a lot of lives in ways I can't even begin to imagine.

            In the first five verses of Isaiah 43, God himself gives us some encouraging words:  "...Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine....you are precious and honored in my sight, and...I love you....do not be afraid, for I am with you...."

            Regardless of how insignificant we might think we are, God has assured us individually: who I am makes a difference.  God planted the mustard seed of faith in our hearts because we make a difference for him.  He wants us to keep close to our Saviour through faith.  And as the mustard seed of God's Kingdom increases and flourishes within us, we will continually make a significant spiritual difference for those around us.

            Who you are definitely makes a difference.  A young 14 year-old boy who was full of hurt and pain was ready to end his life.  He felt that nobody cared.  He felt that everybody's life would be better off without him.  That would have been his lot, had his father not stepped in at just the right moment with a blue ribbon that said, "Who I Am Makes a Difference."  His father gave him that ribbon along with three of the most important words he could have ever heard, "I love you."  That's what it took for his young son to realize his worth in his father's eyes.

            Our Heavenly Father is telling us the very same thing.  However, he doesn't give us a blue ribbon with gold lettering.  Instead he gives us a mustard seed called faith.  Through faith, he gives us life through his Son Jesus, and his kingdom as an inheritance.  We make a difference to him, regardless of what we think.  Because he loves us, he wants us to be with him for all eternity. 

            It's almost like God has reached down from heaven and put one of those blue ribbons on each you.  So lift up your heads; put a smile on your face and a song in your heart, and say with confidence:  "Who I Am Makes A Difference!"