We've got mustard seed faith!

A dramatic sermon on Luke 17:5-10

SETTING: Confirmation Class, held in the Historic Church.

In addition to the RECTOR, the PLAYERS and WHERE THEY ASSEMBLE

1) With bulletins, ushers pass out zip-locked "baggies" containing a mustard seed and a piece of paper, containing words to a chant to be sung later. (There are enough baggies for everyone in the pews to have their own.)

2) Seated @ 10:20 in pews as near to the lectern as possible:

CYNTHIA CURRIER
WAYMON WRIGHT
CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT
RICH RAMIREZ
RIXEY HOULT
ALEX RICHARDSON
AVERY QUIRK
REV. JESSICA KNOWLES ("REV. JESS")

3) Moving to be with ushers at the Church Street doors during the Gospel is the OTHER CHOIR: Greg Huyck and Senior High School class.

CUE: After the Gospel: We respond, "Praise to Christ, the Word."

Immediately the OTHER CHOIR comes up the center aisle, led by the RECTOR, starting a rhythmic "CLAP." They spread out underneath both the pulpit and the lectern and sit down. They don't stop clapping until the RECTOR says,"Let us pray" (see below).

When all are seated on the floor, the OTHER CHOIR starts a monotone (one tone or note) chant: "INCREASE OUR FAITH, INCREASE OUR FAITH..." This is chanted to the rhythm (actually, a bit slower) of the Beach Boys' classic song, "Help Me, Rhonda." Some continue only to clap, some chant "INCREASE OUR FAITH, INCREASE OUR FAITH," some do both at the same time, according to gifts given them, as the Spirit moves each one.

RECTOR: Good morning! Welcome to a special edition of All Saints' Confirmation Class! My name is Tom Momberg, and I'll be your lead teacher today. I want to introduce today's pick-up, pick-me-up choir, All Saints' "Other" Choir! OK, OTHER CHOIR, let's teach the rest of the congregation our rhythm chant. Friends in Christ, the chant's in your baggie. Take a look!

Mister Greg, I know you're shy (Not!), but would you help lead the singing? When they're ready, we sing to the tune of "Help Me, Rhonda"...

CHOIR: Help me, Jesus; help, help me Jesus! (6 times)
Help me Jesus, YEAH!
Increase our faith!

Today, as the Spirit moves our Other Choir, we're going to chant and sing again...but a bit shorter each time. Remember: Not everyone can sing and dance, but everyone can chant and move! (wisdom from the Rev. Tilden Edwards). You can just listen, if you want, but I invite you to try clapping...or chanting those words with the Other Choir..."Increase our faith, increase our faith"...or maybe, you'd like to try singing the words in your zip-lock bag:

ALL: Help me, Jesus; help, help me Jesus! (2 times)
Help me Jesus, YEAH!
Increase our faith!

Let us pray. Jesus, you give us so many ways to pray, with silence and sound, with chant and song, with words and no words. Help us to find the prayer practices that work best for us. Help us, Jesus, and show us how "to see you more clearly, love you more dearly and follow you more nearly, day by day." Amen. (seeThe Hymnal 1982, Hymn # 654)

RECTOR: We all need to find the ways to pray that are best for us. Modern writer Ann Lamott says there are really only two kinds of prayer: Help me, help me, help me and Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think Ann has a point. Throughout the day, we can probably pray "help me" or "thank you."

OK. Let's get started. By the way, Rev. Jessica will be joining us in a few minutes. Our class this morning is about what scholars call the "three theological virtues" - faith, hope and love. (CYNTHIA CURRIER interrupts.)

CYNTHIA CURRIER:What about miracles and slaves? What's up with that?

RECTOR: That's a great question. What's up with miracles and slaves? Let's come back to that. But that question, like all good questions, makes me think of some other questions, like: Why did the disciples say, "Increase our faith?" Why did Jesus tell a miracle story? And what does that second story about slaves obeying their master have to do with us, in 21st century Frederick? Jesus' stories can be confusing. Some background might help here. In the first two verses of Luke's 17th chapter - verses right before the ones we just heard - Jesus tells his disciples something like this:

REV. JESS (from the pulpit): Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a millstone necklace and take a swim in the deep blue sea, than to give one of these dear little ones a hard time! (The Message, Luke 17:1-3)

RECTOR: WOW! THAT'S pretty strong language. It reminds me of what Jesus says about how we are to treat children and keep them safe:

REV. JESS: I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, (the reign) of God, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple...again, like (a) child, will rank high...(with) God....What's more, when you receive (a child and are) childlike on my account, it's the same as receiving me. (The Message, Matthew 18:3-5)

Some of you will remember that, two weeks ago, Jesus taught his disciples a really strange story about a crooked manager, a trickster who surprises his rich boss by cheating him. He dares to give his boss's clients a break on their bill! Then at the end of chapter 16, Jesus teaches his disciples and the Pharisees, the religious leaders, about another rich man. This rich guy ignores a sick beggar man named Lazarus. Lazarus goes to heaven while the rich man tries to worm his way out of Hades. He doesn't make it. We heard that story last week, remember?

Today, we move into chapter 17 of the Gospel according to Luke. Jesus tells another story to his apostles, his "lead" disciples, about rich and poor - about a master and his slaves. But there's one more verse we didn't hear today, an important verse for us to hear, verse 3:

REV. JESS:Be alert! If you see (any of) your friends going wrong, correct (them). If (they) respond, forgive (them). Even if it's personal against you and repeated seven times through the day, and seven times, (your friend) says, "I'm sorry, I won't do it again," forgive (your friend),(The Message, Luke 17:3)

CYNTHIA CURRIER: Forgive just SEVEN times? How about seventeen?

REV, JESS: Try seventy times seven.(The Message, Matthew 18:22)

CYNTHIA AND WAYMON: OUCH!!!

RECTOR: Why do you think the disciples said, "Increase our faith"? Do you think they were scared? Maybe they were thinking, "WE can't be THAT clever and compassionate and forgiving all the time, Jesus! HELP us, Jesus!" Maybe that's why they say, "Increase our faith!" And Jesus said:

REV. JESS: You don't need more faith. There is no "more" or "less" faith. But if you have a bare kernel of faith - say, the size of a (mustard) seed - you could say to this...tree, "Go jump in the lake," and it would do it.(The Message, Luke 17:6)

RECTOR: Can't you just hear those disciples, crying out...maybe even singing: (He holds up his baggie and points to it. The CHOIR takes the lead . . . )

ALL: Help us, Jesus; help, help us Jesus! (2 times)
Help us Jesus, YEAH!
Give us mustard seed faith!

(During the singing, WAYMON and CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT move, through the hallway and door near the altar, to the lectern. They stand side by side.)

RECTOR: Forgiveness isn't about being a doormat. Forgiveness may mean we need to love someone enough to speak up, to say hard truth, in love and out of love. Forgiveness can be hard. It may mean getting the church involved.

WAYMON WRIGHT: My name is Waymon Wright, and I have just been appointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. We are modeling our Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the one in South Africa, chaired by the great Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu. Bishop Tutu wrote a book about that miraculous experience called, No Future Without Forgiveness. He described how the church around the world helped bring an end to apartheid. I came to All Saints' about twenty years ago. I didn't feel warmly welcomed when I first came. But now, I've found forgiveness and love here. All Saints' is my home.

CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT: My name is Christopher Wright, and I serve as the Youth Representative to the Vestry, the elected governing body of this church. On the Vestry I have been learning about love and forgiveness. I know my faith is like a mustard seed. But with the help of Jesus, I am helping to shape my Christian future and the future of All Saints' for generations to come. There will be no future for us, for you and for me, without forgiveness and love. (They return the way they came. RICH RAMIREZ & RIXEY HOULT move to the lectern and stand side by side.)

CYNTHIA: But what about slaves? What about mustard seed faith?

RECTOR: We're getting there! Where there is forgiveness, there is love. (Cue "LOVE" SIGN.) Where there is love, when we love and are loved, we have hope. Faith is the first theological virtue St. Paul mentions in famous First Corinthians 13. Love and hope are the other two. Faith, hope and love. There is no future without forgiveness and love, no future without hope.

RICH RAMIREZ: My name is Rich Ramirez, and I am one of the co-chairs of "St. Arf," the Support Team for the Assistant Rector for Formation. Christian Formation, being formed in Christ, is lifelong. Formation leads to action, reaching out in the love and hope of Christ. I want to tell you an outreach story, a story of hope. The "mustard seed" that is now Advocates for Homeless Families was first sown 22 years ago. Led by members of All Saints', people sat at a kitchen table to address homelessness in Frederick County. Since then, Advocates has been a source of shelter and hope to more than 850 homeless families in our community. Some years have been better growing seasons than others. The economic "drought" of the past few years threatened Advocates. In 2009, they almost had to close their doors. With God's help, they weathered that financial storm. Those who sow seeds in love and hope grow strong, so they can shelter others in need.

RIXEY HOULT: My name is Rixey Hoult, and I co-chair St. Arf with Rich. Christian Formation starts at birth, is nourished in Baptism and lasts our whole life long. Here's another story of mustard seed love and hope. Hope Alive was born eight years ago in response to the increasing, diverse and complex needs of homeless women and children in Frederick County. The seed of a vision God planted again here in our community grew to include a dedicated Hope Alive board of directors, hard-working volunteers, and generous supporters. In December 2006, the first resident family walked through the doors of Hope Alive, warmly welcomed by caring staff and volunteers. Hope Alive has now served 31 homeless families, including 58 children. Most importantly, homeless families have experienced even more of God's love and have found hope. (Cue "HOPE" SIGN.) There is no future without hope. (They return the way they came. ALEX RICHARDSON & AVERY QUIRK move to the lectern.)

RECTOR: Churches, like families, need forgiveness, love and hope. And with all of that, with love and hope comes faith. By the way, have you noticed the front lawn? Grass seeds will lie dormant and be nourished there throughout the fall and winter, protected by straw. Then in the spring, we'll have grass. It's a miracle, isn't it?! How do seeds become grass? Or trees? Or human beings? All of God's creation - including you and me - all of us creatures, together, we're seed miracles. We are God's mustard seed miracles.

ALEX RICHARDSON: Together, we're the miracle called the church. We're not buildings. We're not supposed to be known just as one of the clustered spires. We are people, God's people. We are the church, together.

AVERY QUIRK: In our Confirmation class we've been learning about the church. The church teaches us to love and to forgive, just like Jesus. How to have hope, and how to have faith. I guess a tiny bit of faith is supposed to be enough. But . . . (turning to the REV. JESS) Rev, Jess . . . I mean, Jesus, we just sang about mustard seed faith. What does living in mustard seed faith look like? (They return the way they came.)

REV. JESS: When you've done everything expected of you...say, "The work is done. What we were told to do, we did." (The Message, Luke 17:10)

RECTOR: But Jesus, what does THAT mean? Here in America, we're not slaves! No one in this country is a slave anymore, right? There are no slaves in the United States of America anymore! (laughs and shakes his head)

REV. JESS: EXCUSE ME??!! Don't you have a "Smart Phone"? How might you be enslaved by THAT? (Turning to the congregation) How about the rest of you? Anyone here addicted to text messaging? (Turning back to the RECTOR) And what makes YOU think the Good News of God is only for THIS country? SURELY, as a priest of my church, surely you know what's going on around the world?!

RECTOR: Thank you, Jesus! (mutters under his breath: I think....) Yes, thank you for reminding us that we can easily become slaves, all the time, in new ways. We are creative, even with things that are not so good for us. But, Jesus, I don't think you're talking about slavery here.

REV. JESS: REALLY?! Then what DO you think I'm talking about, O Great, High and Mighty Rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church?! Just who IS the Master here?

RECTOR: YOU are, Jesus. You are. You're the master, and we are your servants. Even though I forget it sometimes, I do get it sometimes. It's servant ministry you're teaching us about. You teach us how to be your servants, to seek and serve you, in all people. "Jesu, Jesu/fill us with your love/show us how to serve/the neighbors we have from you..." (seeThe Hymnal 1982, Hymn # 602). I think you're talking about neighbors, about loving our neighbors, about building relationship.

REV. JESS: OK. Keep going.

RECTOR: When it comes to mustard seed faith, I think there's another word we need to use. It's TRUST. TRUST. Do we have faith and trust in God? In You? In each other? If we say we love and forgive, seventy times seven, over and over again, do we really keep on trusting? If so, how? And what gives us hope when we despair over a relationship?

I guess it's God. God gives us all we have, everything we need - to survive, to live, even to live life abundantly. You teach us that, all the time.

REV. JESS: But what about money, Tom? Isn't this All Saints' Stewardship kick-off Sunday? Isn't there a potluck, and a youth talent auction, and some special surprise entertainment and pledge packets (She holds one up), up there in the Great Hall, (switches to announcer voice) "immediately following this service"? (Regular voice again) And what about your 2011 budget? How are you going to love and hope, how are you going to have faith and trust in anyone or anything in THIS economy? How will faith be a part of your budget? Let me put it this way: how will your budget - your time, talent AND treasure - be a FAITH budget?

RECTOR: Jesus . . . Rev. Jess, . . . a wise teacher says that "In (God's) economy, faith is less about personal wealth (and church budgets)...or corporate stockpiles (and parish endowments)...and more about mutual (love) and forbearance. (In God's economy), we keep on learning that we are (all) in this together...(as we) live in obedience, (really listening) to a just and loving God, (really serving Jesus...really serving each other) . . . .In God's economy, we (can) discover, (in faith), more than we dared (to) imagine...." (The Rev. Dr. Kim Long, Feasting on the Word, p. 142).

So...who wants mustard seed faith? Who's got mustard seed faith? (The OTHER CHOIR starts clapping and chanting, and the RECTOR points one last time to the "baggies," as we sing:

ALL: Thank you, Jesus; thank, thank you Jesus! (6 times)
Thank you Jesus, YEAH!
We've got mustard seed faith!