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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Just Do It!

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

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.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Luke 17:1-10

The sales manager of a large real estate firm was interviewing an applicant for a sales job. “Why have you chosen this career?” he asked. “I dream of making a million dollars in real estate, like my father.” the young man replied. “Your father made a million dollars in real estate?” asked the sales manager, obviously impressed. “No,” replied the young man, “but he always dreamed of it.”

Have you ever noticed that the Bible never mentions the dreams of the Apostles? It doesn’t even mention the ideas of the Apostles. It does, however, devote an entire book to the “Acts of the Apostles.” It’s not a book of what the Apostles dreamed about, thought about, or even talked about; it’s a book about what they did!

Do you remember the Nike television commercials with the theme, “Just Do It”? Normally these commercials featured famous athletes to get their message across. One of the most memorable of these commercials, though, shows people in wheelchairs and with various other kinds of handicapping conditions. These aren’t people we would normally think of as athletes. These are people who could easily “Just Drop It”, but instead, as these commercials showed us, they “Just Do It!”

These commercials carry a good message for all of us, not just for people who are physically challenged. But if Nike thinks they invented the phrase, “Just Do It,” they might be surprised to find out that they’re a few thousand years late. In Ezra 10:4 we read, “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.” Or, I think we could translate it, “Just do it.”

This is, in effect, the answer Jesus gave His disciples when they asked Him to increase their faith, to paraphrase Him in today’s language He said, “Just do it.” That’s a rather strange answer for a request for more faith: “Just do it.” I wonder if Jesus understood the question? Of course, He did! Then why did He answer their plea for more faith like that? I think there are at least two reasons.

First, Jesus knew what their problem wasn’t. The disciples’ problem was not a lack of faith. Jesus tells them that the size of their faith isn’t the issue. It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. And the mulberry tree is a tree with deep roots! It isn’t easily transplanted anywhere.

Jesus wasn’t talking about levitating trees. He was saying that doing great things, miraculous things, only takes a minute amount of faith. A mustard seed is just about the smallest seed in the world. They couldn’t miss Jesus’ point. The disciples’ problem wasn’t the size of their faith. No, that wasn’t it. They’d have to find another excuse for not being able to obey Him.

I’m sure we can all sympathize with the disciples in their request for more faith. We tend to think that we need more faith, too. If we just had more faith, we would be better Christians, we say to ourselves. We could be more committed to the work of our church. We could give another one or two percent of our income for God’s work. Maybe we could even forgive that unlovable person! So, we pray as the disciples did, “Give us more faith.”

But the truth is, we’re not praying for faith at all. What we’re really praying for is for God to make things easier for us. We’re asking God to snap His fingers and make it happen for us.

Some of you may remember Bill Cosby’s classic routine about Noah and the Ark. In the routine, two hippos are being herded through the doors of the Ark and God says, “Wait a minute, Noah, both of those hippos are male. Take one back and get a female.” And Noah gets mad. He’s had it. He tells God it’s difficult to turn a hippopotamus around on a boat – much less take him out, and then go round up another one. But God says, “I don’t care. Get another hippo!” So finally, in desperation, Noah shouts, “Why don’t you just change one of them?!” And God replies, “Noah!” “What?” “How long can you tread water?” 😊

Like the disciples, we’d like God to magically do something so that we have to take little or no action ourselves. It’s not more faith we’re really asking for. It’s for God to do for us what we’re not willing to do for ourselves.

The context in which the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith” is interesting. Jesus had just given them a lesson on forgiveness, and they were upset because they didn’t think they could do what He said they should do: forgive someone seven times in one day! So, their request for more faith was a way of asking him to change them so they could be more forgiving. Sort of like changing a hippo. 😊 I suppose they believed that with more faith they could be and do what God wanted and expected. But lack of faith wasn’t their problem. There are people with lots of faith who still contribute very little to God’s Kingdom. They have good intentions, but they park those intentions at the door as they leave the sanctuary. They have lots of faith, but nothing significant ever seems to happen in their lives.

Their problem isn’t a lack of faith – it’s a lack of action. This is the second reason Jesus answered the disciples request the way He did. He knew what their problem wasn’t: it wasn’t lack of faith. But He also knew what their problem was: they needed to get started living what they already believed!

It never dawned on the disciples that it might take action to forgive others – you know: effort! While the disciples were standing around, moaning about their inability to act, Jesus said to them, “Hey, just do it!”

The problem the disciples were experiencing wasn’t that they didn’t have enough faith. The problem was that they didn’t use the faith they had! And that’s true for us as well. Actually, we have more faith than we think we have. If we’ve ever turned on a light switch, mailed a letter, flown in an airplane, or even ridden in an elevator – believe me, we have faith. Jesus knew the disciples’ problem wasn’t lack of faith. And He knows it isn’t our problem either! It’s that dread disease, “paralysis by analysis.” By waiting around until we receive more faith, or until God gives us some special feeling, or some special sign, we remain immobile, non-functioning Christians.

Two-thirds of the world and 50% of all church members won’t even roll out of bed on Sunday morning. They don’t need more faith, they just need to get out of bed! It’s amazing what Christians can do when they get into action. We need to put feet to what faith we have before we can expect our faith to grow. And this is what Jesus is saying: If we start doing what we know to do, we’ll see our faith grow beyond our wildest imagination. Why? That’s the last thing we need to see here: Miracles happen when Christians get into action. It happens all the time, all over the world.

There’s a woman who has a gift shop on the Via Dolorosa – the street Jesus walked to the cross. Her name is Frieda Hannah, and she’s a Palestinian Christian. She does beautiful embroidery and cross-stitch work, specializing in altar paraments, clergy stoles, and Bible bookmarks. When a group of Southeastern District pastors and wives went to Israel in 1987, a number of the pastors bought stoles. She’s been in business at the same spot, the 6th Station of the Cross, for over 40 years. She’s a frail woman, and her eyes are beginning to fail her. But when you go by Frieda’s shop, you’ll see her smiling and greeting the tourists.

An American teacher tells about being in her shop one day with a group of students. Another large group of Americans were in the shop, too, all with Bibles under their arms and crosses hanging from their necks. They were pushing and shoving, demanding to be waited on. A group of little Palestinian beggar children had followed them into the shop, asking for money. These “Christian” tourists were indignant. The teacher said they made comments like “Get these dirty kids out of here.” Or, “Why don’t they stay in Jordan where they belong?” Of course, Frieda heard their remarks. The teacher was embarrassed and apologized for his fellow Americans, even though he didn’t know them. Frieda’s response was, “Oh, that’s all right. I learned a long time ago that many of those who take the Bible literally don’t take it seriously.”

Frieda takes the Bible seriously. During the last 40 years, using the earnings from her little shop, she’s given over 1,000 Palestinian youth a higher education in North America or Europe. She’s built and supported the operation of three medical clinics in the West Bank. She’s built and operates two orphanages. Only God knows how much good this Christian woman has done over the years. But Frieda Hannah is a modest person. She’s always embarrassed to talk about what she does. Once when asked where she gets her energy and determination, she replied, “God didn’t place me in this world just to take up space. It’s not enough just to go along. God wants me to make a difference where I can.”

That’s it! That’s what Jesus was saying to His disciples: “Just do it!” Make a difference where you can! You already have all the faith you need to perform miracles. And that’s Jesus’ word to us today. If we want to increase our faith, we have to increase our action! Our problem isn’t our lack of faith. It’s our lack of commitment, and dedication, our unwillingness to put feet to our faith!

Jesus knows this, and so when we come asking Him for more faith, He says to us, “Just do it! Get into action!” May He hear even the weakest servant among us say, “Yes Lord – I’ll do it!”


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