On Mustard Seeds and Mulberry Trees…

Luke 17:5-10

It’s not about the mulberry tree, of course, although it is an apt metaphor for what Jesus speaks of now given the tenacity of its roots and its ability to sprout new ones given half a chance.  Indeed, the very nature of the mulberry tree makes its complete uprooting all the more miraculous! No, rather, the promise of what a tiny bit of faith can do is not lived out in displays of power in the physical world, but in what happens between us.  For, in fact, the disciples urging Jesus to ‘Increase our faith! comes right after his teaching about how much and how often we are to forgive one another — in Luke’s telling now, “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” (Luke 17:4)  Without a doubt, to forgive someone repeatedly can feel monumental and yes, the resulting resentment that often lives in us can have roots like a ‘mulberry tree,’ threatening to hang on and on!

And yet, Jesus tells us now, that it does not take a lot of faith to move in the direction to which we are called today. Indeed, it is so that even a little bit of faith in the One who forgives and forgives and forgives… even a small turning towards this One in trust and in hope… can uproot such ‘mulberry trees’ of anger and hurt that which often build up within us and between us.

And so I would offer a story now of such hurt and resentment. A story of fear and division and hatred and who knows what else.

This is how it was.

This summer in the town next to where I serve, on a busy street someone hung out a confederate flag.

This display coincided with a new mail carrier being assigned to the route which included that house, a mail carrier who was black.

It seemed to be no mere coincidence.

Within days I found myself in a group conversation on how to respond for the sake of the mail carrier and more than that for the sake of all of us as we seek to live together.

Now you know this as well as I do.  We live in a world marked by great division and a whole lot of fear.  We do not necessarily even know our neighbors and in a climate where too often we hear of things de-escalating quickly into violence, understandably no one in the conversation felt it would be wise to directly address the situation. And of course, there is nothing that can be done legally in terms of what one displays on one’s own property.  So the group decided it best to respond in kind and together ordered one hundred “Hate Has No Home Here” (hatehasnohome.org) signs to be distributed to anyone who would put one in their yard.  At the very least this would communicate to the mail carrier (and others) that the viewpoint of the one who had hung a symbol of hate from their porch was a minority one.  It would be a visible reminder that there are more safe places and people than not.  These signs were a bit like ‘mustard seeds,’ I suppose.

Only the flag still flew.  And the community and relationships were still broken.

  • So I’m not sure exactly how this all came to be, but I’m told that a few weeks ago, a retired Baptist pastor who serves on the community’s Human Rights Commission went and knocked on the door where the flag was displayed.
  • He entered into a conversation with the one who had put it there.
  • I have no idea what was exchanged between them except that he was told that not everyone in the household was of the same mind on this matter.
  • And a few days later the flag came down.

Now of course, flags can be  just outward signs of what is broken between us and without a doubt in this world now a whole lot more ‘mustard seeds,’ a whole lot more turning toward one another in acts of hope, a whole lot more taking first steps towards the forgiveness which Jesus calls us to are needed. Even so, I am struck now by how just one small step, one knock on one door, one conversation, all done in faith, can begin to shift the world.

Like uprooting a mulberry tree even.

Just like that.

  • And so, I wonder with you now what such ‘mustard seeds’ which have the capacity to uproot ‘mulberry trees’ — by the power of God within and and among us — do you see in your own community of faith and beyond?
  • What story of encouragement and hope might you be called to offer this week as you consider the powerful need for reconciliation in the world we share?
  • Indeed, what allows or encourages or equips you to step out in the faith which Jesus calls us to now?  What do you need to rest in and live in and out of this hope?  On a personal note, you may have noticed that it has been a few weeks since I last posted.  I have had quite a summer and just couldn’t seem to gather the energy to put any Gospel thoughts together in a way timely enough that might be helpful to you as you move towards Sunday. Today, though, I seem to have just ‘enough’ — maybe even just the size of a mustard seed — to be here in this conversation with you again. I am grateful for all the kind words, the listening hearts , the small healing moments offered by dear ones — all those acting out of their own ‘mustard seed’ faith, who accompany me along the way.  My prayer for you is that you would discover the same, wherever it is you find yourself now.