Mountains and faith have been connected for millennia. During this summer we will look at a number of Biblical events that involved mountains, but today I just want to invite you to think about the connection. Mountains and inspiration seem to go together. Maybe it's because they're high up and we think that being on a mountain brings us closer to God. Maybe it's because it takes so much effort to climb a mountain that we feel we have done something holy when we get to the top.
Maybe it's the beauty. There's a beautiful spiritual retreat in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming where I have gone a couple of times. I remember one morning waking up and looking out my cabin window to see the sun turning the mountains to gold. In that moment, I couldn't imagine how anyone could doubt the existence of God or think that this world was simply a random molecular accident. That sight out my window shouted "Creator!" more clearly than any voice could proclaim it. Mountains and God and faith. They go together.
We see that connection in the two Scripture passages we read this morning. The first story is almost as old as the mountains themselves...the story of Noah and the great flood. The connection with faith and mountains comes at the end of the story. Noah is on the ark in the first place because of his faithfulness to God. God spared Noah and his family and a sampling of all the creatures of earth because of Noah's faithfulness.
But God doesn't leave Noah adrift on his floating zoo forever. God remembers that Noah is out there, and God provides a mountain for this faithful man and his family to land. Mt. Ararat...in modern Turkey. In this story, a mountain was needed, and God provided one. Since all the other human beings on the earth perished in the flood, you could say that all of us can trace our ancestry back to the mountain that God provided. Faith may have failed in the Garden, but it began again on the mountain.
But Jesus wants to emphasize that the mountain is not the point. The faith is the point. Talk about the kind of faith that can move mountains creeps into conversations both inside and outside the church, and it comes from this saying of Jesus to his Disciples. The words differ a bit from Gospel to Gospel. In Luke, Jesus tells them they can uproot a mulberry tree with faith and in Mark the talk about moving mountains is attached to a different story; but it's there in one way or another in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
It's a great passage to get pumped up about...a wonderful way to gain strength for whatever we have to face... "Nothing will be impossible for you," says Jesus. Great promise. But this is also a verse that has been used harmfully. The verse is normally translated and to read something like the NRSV that I read... "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed" or in the NIV "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed..." In other words, it focuses on the size of the faith.
On the one hand, there is some truth to that. As with any powerful agent, a little bit goes a long way. I discovered that once when I used a jacuzzi for the first time and poured in a nice dose of bubble bath. The bubbles just kept growing and growing until I thought we were going to be in an old Buster Keaton movie or something with bubbles filling the house and spilling out onto the street. It only takes a tiny, tiny bit of bubble bath in a jacuzzi. Jesus does seem to be frustrated here with the faith, or lack of faith in the Disciples and he could be saying, "You know, if you could manage even the teensiest bit of faith, you wouldn't be having these problems."
The trouble is, when we think about the size of faith, we end up assuming that if our prayers are not answered in the way we have asked that we have no faith. We read this passage and think that if we had any bit of faith at all, we could get what we pray for. The dark underside of this passage is when well-meaning Christians tell people who are suffering that obviously they don't have faith. I have had to deal with the fallout from that sort of Christian abuse in my office on more than one occasion. One poor woman had actually been told by a Christian friend that if she had more faith, her daughter would not have died. She couldn't move the mountain of her daughter's illness, said the friend, because she didn't have even the little bit of faith of a mustard seed. Those sorts of stories make me want to consecrate some holy duct tape and seal some people's mouths shut.
I think there is a more helpful way to interpret the passage. The original Greek does not talk about size at all, and that is reflected in the King James translation which says simply, "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed." It could be talking about the size, but suppose it isn't. Suppose it is qualitative. Suppose it means having the kind of faith that a mustard seed has. That feels very different to me.
A mustard seed is one of the tiniest of seeds, but it grows quickly into a large plant. Suppose we had faith that could really believe in the far-reaching effects of our tiny little efforts. We are all too often shut down by thinking some version of, "Well, I'm just too small to matter." "What difference can I make? I am only one." "This problem is too big for me." That is not the kind of faith that a mustard seed has. It's own size has nothing to do with the question. It is the seed of a mustard plant, and mustard plants are big. It will grow...that is its nature.
When we have the faith of a mustard seed, we recognize our nature. We are fully confident that we are made in the image of God and therefore the powerful love of God can and will be channeled through us. That's what the disciples forgot in the Matthew story. They thought that because they were only human they couldn't cast out a powerful demon. But that wasn't their true nature. They belonged to God and had the power of God at their disposal. It doesn't matter if we're only one. It doesn't matter if we're small or poor or uneducated or weak. It doesn't matter if we're facing demons. Our power is God's power, and with God all things are possible. We may just be a seed, but we are a mustard seed...and that means big things.
More than that, the mustard seed knows that its destiny as a mustard plant comes at great personal cost. For the seed to become a plant, the seed must be broken apart, and yet the seed has faith that even in its own breaking and death, a magnificent plant will grow. We rarely think like that. When the breaking times come for us, that is when we tend to think God has gone on vacation without us...that we are being punished or abandoned or that people have lied to us about there even being a God. When we are breaking, we often stop believing in the plant that is to come. Not so the mustard seed. The mustard seed gives itself to the ground, to the breaking, to the death; completely confident that something incredible is going to come of it.
If you have the kind of faith that a mustard seed has, you can move mountains. That makes perfect sense to me, and there are examples of it all over the place. Martin Luther King, Jr. had that kind of faith. Mother Teresa had that kind of faith. They weren't born any different from you or me...it is the kind of faith they had that moved the mountains.
We have some mountains to move in this congregation. We have mountains of grief from the recent losses, illnesses, and difficulties that have beset the congregation. We have a financial mountain to move...for the first time in several years we are struggling to pay church bills. We all have individual mountains of stress or fear that are making it difficult for us to walk with joy. It is the faith of the mustard seed that will move them all.
For at least one of the mountains, we are banding together as a group to move it. This morning we are giving out mustard seeds in the form of $10 bills. The challenge is to apply mustard seed faith to the money and to grow it into a big plant through the summer. Rolled up around each bill is a list of ideas for ways that you might use the money to earn more. They are also listed in the Bell-Wether and you may have other ideas of your own. On September 7, we will bring back the $10 seed along with the plant we have grown. If every ten made a hundred, the financial mountain would be just a molehill.
But finances aren't the only expression of mustard seed faith. I invite you to also think about the other ways that your faith might become more like the faith of a mustard seed. Do you expect too little? You are a child of God...dream big. You get what you expect. Does a problem seem insurmountable? Place it in God's hands. Are you so afraid of breaking and becoming nothing that the plant has no opportunity to grow? In Christ death, is swallowed up in victory, and life begins when we stop trying to protect it so much and trust the hands of God.
During the meditation time, I invite you to pray about how your faith could become more like the faith of a mustard seed. As Barb plays we will also pass baskets among you so that those who are willing to help move the financial mountain can take the seed money to grow over the summer. If you have faith as a mustard seed you can move mountains.
© 2003, Anne Robertson
Return to AnneRobertson.com