Many of us have stories about our past when things were tougher for us.
As a kid, I can remember swapping the one good set of tires between our two vehicles when it came time for the state mandated safety inspection.
Or, how, as a seminary student,
we were discouraged from working in order to focus on our studies
and encouraged to apply for food stamps to help make ends meet.
And then there were the times when a wedding or funeral honorarium would come just in time for my car to breakdown and need repairs.
Perhaps you too have memories and stories of humble times in your life
when you had less resources at your disposal
or, perhaps, were not in a position to help yourself or others out of a difficult situation?
Perhaps you felt small, insignificant, and powerless?
It's a hard thing to live through, isn't it?
And yet, not only did you live through it, but you learned from your experience.
You may even look back on it as a time of growth
or, perhaps as a time you know you never want to live again.
But today, you find yourself in a different place and it's an amazing thing to consider.
In our theme of “elemental faith,” we hear about the humble beginnings of our faith, the spiritual component to our life.
In the Old Testament lesson God promises that he will renew Israel by transplanting a tiny, new, shoot from the top of an old tree.
And in the gospel, Jesus shares two parables relating to grain.
Two different origins stories giving rise to the same outcome:
a plentiful, fruitful, flourishing, plant which will please God by its robust abundance.
Ezekiel's prophecy speaks to the eventual start of the Christian Church as a sort of “cutting” from the old tree, Israel.
While Jesus drills down to the faith of individuals, explaining how, from the faith of one, dozens may eventually believe.
Whether it's an old, beat up tree, or a small, insignificant seed, the future potential of both is hard to picture.
When your children are born, you have no idea what they will turn out to be.
When you plant a garden, you don't know for sure that it will be fruitful.
When you invest in a 401K or IRA or stocks, you have no guarantee that your investment will appreciate.
You might even lose your shirt in the deal.
Yet, we do not shrink from any of these endeavors,
trusting and hoping they will grow, increase, be productive,
and accomplish what we we had hoped when we first embraced them.
So then, shouldn't we expect similar growth in spiritual matters as well?
To be perfectly blunt, new faith is very fragile and weak, even if it is fervent and passionate.
And yet Jesus, at other places in the gospels,
encourages us to have that youthful faith
so that we may use that fervent passion to grow our faith.
Sadly though, many Christians are stuck in these humble beginnings of faith.
And while childlike faith can be pure and unassuming,
it can also be rocked when the adult mind tempts and tears apart childlike faith.
Which is probably why those who never study or read the Bible after confirmation
often leave the church.
Having not grown their faith into a mature, prolific, faith,
they are sent into the world with a weak and sickly faith
which is easily trampled underfoot, or scorched by the sun.
Yet, from these humble beginnings, come great things.
Every giant Sequoia in California was once a small seedling.
Every elephant on the savanna or whale in the sea was born from its mother's womb.
And from the humblest beginnings of faith
springs the ability to defeat Satan and death at their own game,
the will to do God's will in this life,
and the power to burst forth from the grave on the last day,
in order to be witnesses of God's faithfulness to those who believe in him,
and to enjoy an eternity of bliss at his side.
And the greatest feature of this faith is that it is given and not earned.
The very fact that the faith which saves is not earned, or even acquired by our own energy, agency, or effort, is a testament to its divine origin.
In other words, if our salvation were dependent upon us,
not only would it not no longer be faith,
but it would be doomed from the start because we ourselves are corrupted
Hence, the need for our salvation in the first place.
No, the only salvation which can be trusted must come from another.
and because all have sinned and fall short of the glory needed to overpower that sin,
then salvation can only come from God.
And only through faith in God can one expect to receive that salvation from the one who gives it.
But not all of God's created children will be saved.
The seed of faith is not the only kind of seed.
there are also weed seeds sown by the devil, placed there to crowd out and overcome faith.
And there is weak seed which, may never germinate
because the heart is hardened,
or it is planted where there is no fertile soil.
Or, perhaps it may sprout, but grows up among the rocks or in the blazing heat, Withers, and dies before bearing fruit.
The good news is that, given the right tending, and nurturing, any seed
—whether weak or strong—can flourish and grow.
And given the chance to grow, it can become fruitful and multiply.
We are given that environment for growing faith when we avail ourselves to Word and Sacrament on a regular basis.
And when we do this, we are given strength not only to help our seed of faith grow,
but to cultivate the soil it grows in,
as we remove ourselves from lifestyles and life situations which stress and strain our faith
and, instead, place ourselves into situations and environments where faith will be supported and fed.
By regularly reading and studying God's word, we are feeding our faith
so that, no matter how small and weak that faith might be,
that word of God would act upon it like Miracle Grow for the soul,
so that it will grow and grow and crave that word of God even more.
And by regularly receiving the sacrament, we are physically strengthened by Christ himself.
Assured by his very physical presence in the bread and the wine
we are emboldened for the hours and days ahead to live in that faith given to us,
as a witness and testament to his gift, and power to save.
And, thankfully, he has given his church as the vehicle and environment from which his word and sacrament are able to do such things.
But the church is not just some sort of celestial filling station, but also a greenhouse and hatchery, a hospital, and a fortress.
From the Church, God desires that new faith is planted in those who do not yet know him.
And he allows it to be a safe place for new faith
to be nourished and prepared for life outside the protection of its four walls,
And when trouble should befall those who have faith,
that they would be able to receive healing and care within,
as well as respite and protection from the attacks and flaming arrows of the enemies of God
and those who attack those who have faith in him.
And for the church to be all these things requires the gifts of all of God's people to be deployed for that work.
Each and everyone here in the sanctuary or watching online has been given a gift to be used for the growth and betterment of his Kingdom.
And every person given the most simple faith is expected to glorify God by returning a portion of those gifts to the Lord.
All we have been given by him was given to us that we might be His stewards of those gifts.
Not so that we would simply receive them for our own benefit
But so that his purposes might be realized through us
and so that we might have ample reason and resources to give him thanks and praise.
In a couple of weeks you will have opportunity to practice being the church more fully.
On June 27th we will have a congregational assembly meeting and potluck after the worship service.
In addition to the wonderful food we'll share
you will also get to learn more about some of the ministries that are growing at Saint John including our music ministry,
and get to vote on extending a divine call to a teacher for school next year.
But beyond the food and the voting you will have gained a renewed an ongoing reason for growing your faith.
As you fellowship over the meal, you will learn how you might pray for, or celebrate with, those at your table.
And you also hear about ways that you can support and even participate in our ministry together
by way of your time, your talents, and, yes, your treasures,
given in joyful response to the great things God has done for you through his son, Jesus Christ.
In his name, may our work be blessed so that our humble faith may grow and flourish to do his will.