SERMON: “Uprooted,” by The Rev. Kaji Douša, Oct. 2, 2016
It is good to be here, church.
It is good that the long, long journey that has finally brought us together has come to full fruition today. And that journey was long (yes, Lord!) it was long. Ever since the first time I moved to New York City 20 years ago, I’ve said that there’s a universal hazing process to relocating here. Go to any social event in the city and I promise you there will be someone talking about the things that went wrong as they tried to find a place and move in.
Our family was exempted from so much of this, thanks to the wonderful housing and tremendous volunteers and staff who helped to get us here. It is also worth reiterating that the path that the Jacksons laid for us made this process so much smoother. They were incredibly gracious in changing their plans so that our family could have some time to settle in, start school, unpack, do all the things that have to happen to feel at home, well before my ministerial duties began here. So much went well.
It seems, then, that our moving company saw that things were going all too well, and decided to step in with every disruption they could offer. I won’t go into all of the details, but they did everything they possibly could to give us nightmares. If you and I were to see each other at a social event, I would be able to hold up my end with the moving stories.
Not incidentally, this is precisely why people opt not to move. It is why people decide to stay put, to avoid the risk. This stuff is beyond frustrating, it is unsettling. When we unpacked our last box, my husband declared that he’s NEVER MOVING AGAIN. So I hope you like us, church. Because we plan to be here to stay.
It is no simple thing to pick up your roots.
But what if that’s precisely what God wants? What if God needs you to move along? Take up new residence? Pull up, weed, shift, journey? What if where you are is not where God needs you to be?
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you. (Luke 17:5-7)
“Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Let’s spend a moment with this.
Image from here.
There can be brilliant reasons to stay put. See, we all have a risk team working in our minds. The team perceives a challenge to the status quo and they immediately start their work. The finance people amongst us know something of their analysis: they place the variable in a multivariate regression analysis and they come up with some recommendations. For many of us, the results lead to a: no. The risk is too heavy. Try something else, or nothing at all. Stay put.
Any time you hear me exegete a scriptural passage, you will hear me say something like this: in any Scriptural story, see where God has a word for you in every character’s experience. In other words, if we dig deep enough, there will be spiritual resonance with each player in the story. Many of us hear Jesus talk and think: “I want to be like him.” Or, at least, we want to identify with his instincts, hoping that they would be ours. That’s good, that’s the work of discipleship – following Jesus.
Then, other times, we decide that we’re going to take the more humble route and we identify with Jesus’s listeners (who so often mess up). In this story, who amongst us hasn’t asked the question of the apostles?
God will you please increase our faith? Will you please help us to have the confidence to see you everywhere? Will you please bring us closer to a God’s eye view of all that we’re seeing so that we can know that we have nothing to fear? Can you please help us to know you, no matter what?
INCREASE OUR FAITH!! The apostles say. And this plea resonates with me, does it hit home for you?
I need more faith when the going gets tough and the answers don’t come quick enough. I need more faith when, for some reason, I can’t remember to pray even when, somewhere in the back of my mind, I know a moment with my God is precisely what I need. I need more faith when I pray with everything I’ve got and I still am not seeing what I feel I require of the moment. I know that faith, which comes from God, would bring healing to so many of these experiences and, like the apostles, I. Want. More of it.
Increase my faith, make my faith more now than it was this morning; give it to me, God, I pray.
Give me the faith to see you, God, when I stare at disbelief at the headlines and the hashtags that come with relentlessly cruel regularity. Give me the faith to know you’re there, God, even though my people, Black people, are being hunted.
And as the apostles ask just what the rest of us need at one moment or another, Jesus responds in…parable.
Take this tiny thing: a seed. Not just any seed, but this beautifully round, little itty bitty seed. If you could muster this, you would be covered, Jesus says. And the good news is that you don’t need to produce the seed. God will give it to you.
Then, we become the plants themselves.
God gives us the tiniest bit of faith, and for a while we stay put to do God’s work. But then, Jesus tells us that the next step is that things change. We uproot. We shift, we move, we dance, we play. The risk team in our minds is consulted, but they don’t get the final word: God does.
And as things change, we become not necessarily the ones who can uproot the trees in the story. That’s God, really. Most people with whom I’ve studied this text get stuck here. They hear Jesus make this claim that mustard-seed faith should be able to uproot trees and they’re like, “well, I guess my faith isn’t enough because I’ve never been able to do this.”
My response is: of course. Of course your faith isn’t enough. No one’s is. Because if it were, you wouldn’t need God.
For God, despite even a tree’s deep root structure, something can change, as long as it’s for the better.
For God, in spite of a tree’s lifelong history of staying put, even though that tree is stubborn as all hell, even though that tree delights in nothing more than shouting “get off my lawn!” to any proposal of change, God sees an opportunity.
The point to just about anything Jesus ever says, including here, is:
Even when you are not, God is able.
Even when it seems impossible, God can do something.
Especially when it seems beyond your ability to do a single thing, God can.
Your faith might be the size of a tiny seed. But, coupled with God’s faith, mountains can move, trees can pull up their roots and relocate, sob stories and hazing rituals in a city with barriers to entry can seem too much to surmount, anything, anything is possible when God wants it to be.
God wants you to be.
But it’s possible (even probable) that God wants you to be somewhere else. Not necessarily physically. You might be situated just where God needs you. But the whole point of this parable is that even the trees must move. Growing in faith means a certain degree of constant change. In spiritual terms, we cannot stay where we were. The tree of faith needs uprooting from time to time.
Because if we don’t uproot, nothing changes. If we stay put, so does the world. It’s the consistent prayer, hard work, faithful planning coupled with risk-taking that takes over structures and powers and principalities and systems of injustice and says: UPROOT! YOUR TIME HAS COME. Without careful reflection and the sacrifice involved in making significant change for the better, nothing shifts and the opportunity God lays before us just passes us by.
So summon up the team you consult when you make a major decision. Listen to the risk managers and understand what’s at stake should your life shift. But listen to other voices, too. Listen to the part of your soul that yearns for connection to the holy and see what it seeks. Does it need more prayer? More worship? More service? (We can help with all of these.) Listen to the part of you that needs to love and be loved more than you are today. What shift does that part of you need? What entanglements do the roots of your being need to disengage in order to move to the place God needs you to be?
Now, I’ve already shared that the mild trauma of my latest move has made my family and me decide that we want nothing to do with change for a good while. The change God is now calling us into is not a physical one. But, for sure, it’s a spiritual one. Each of us has an opportunity to uproot our faithful tendencies and to see just how God will plant us next.
See the vista of a spiritual plain rich with the soil you most desperately need. What would it take to see that plain and feel…exhilarated? Ready to change it all?
Does that sound impossible? Good. Always remember: impossibilities are God’s specialty.