Corrie ten Boom was a Christian who traveled and lectured extensively across Europe and the United States in the years following World War II. She told the story of her travels in her book Tramp for the Lord. She was a native of Holland. During the war, she and her family were placed into Nazi concentration camps. Their crime? Hiding Jews in their home from the Nazis.
She told that story in her book The Hiding Place. But in her book, Tramp for the Lord, she wonderfully illustrates, “how after the war she met a guard who had been her captor in the Ravensbruck concentration camp where her sister had died. He came forward after she spoke at a church in Munich, and said he had been one of her guards, and reached out his hand to her, asking for her forgiveness.
“For a moment, says Corrie, she hesitated, recalling his cruelty to her sister Betsy and those around her. Then, knowing God's warning to forgive or we cannot be forgiven, and yet still not feeling the ability to lift her hand towards him, she prayed silently: ‘Jesus help me!...I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ (p. 55).
“And as she woodenly thrust out her hand the current of God's healing warmth flowed through her and out to the former guard. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ she cried. ‘With all my heart.’
“Corrie says she never has known God's love so intensely as she did then. But she knew it was not her love, for she had tried and did not have the power. ‘But it was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5, ‘...because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.’”
I wonder how many of us could do that – to do what Corrie ten Boom did – when someone who had hurt her deeply asked her to forgive him. I wonder.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus tells his disciples that if a brother or sister in Christ says something – does something – to hurt us – and then asks us to forgive them – what does Jesus tell us to do? One of the hardest things I think that we might ever be asked to do. Forgive. Jesus says we must forgive.
Now, having said that, I want you to know that forgiveness is one thing. For the person who has hurt you to regain your trust is quite another. That takes time. It’s not easy.
So is it any wonder then, that when the disciples hear Jesus say, “You must forgive,” that the very first words out of their mouths are, “Increase our faith!” Increase our faith.
In other words, “What you’re asking for Jesus is hard. We’re not sure we can do what you’re asking. We’re going to need a boatload more faith if that’s what you’re asking us to do.”
And then Jesus returns to what he has said before about faith the size of a mustard seed. This is one of five places in all of the gospels where Jesus talks about faith being like a mustard seed. And if you know anything about mustard seeds, you’ll know that they are quite tiny. They’re not very big seeds at all. So because of their size – and because Jesus compares faith to the mustard seed – we tend to look at faith as having size or a quantity that one possesses.
Well, let me go back to saying something that I’ve said before, and will keep on saying. Faith is like a muscle. You need to exercise it. And like a muscle – when I lift this dumbbell – what is going to happen – or should I say – what is supposed to happen when I lift this weight? Yeah. You would expect my muscles to grow.
So the same thing is true with faith. Faith is something that all of us have been given. The Bible says in Romans 12:3 that we have all been given a measure of faith. Now it doesn’t say what that measure is, but it is enough for you to know that you have been given the gift of faith. And may I suggest that you have been given the faith you need.
And since that is true the situation we find ourselves in is not in the amount of faith that you have – or that I have. But rather can we say that the challenge is in how we exercise or apply that faith. I think the real problem is in our heads. Our minds are telling us that we don’t have enough. Perhaps we don’t know what we already have. Or maybe we don’t trust what we already have.
Because it seems to me that if you’re asking the question, “Lord, increase my faith,” I think what you are really saying is, “Lord, I am inadequate in and of myself,” – much like Corrie ten Boom was inadequate in and of herself to forgive her former prison guard – “I am inadequate in and of my own power – in and of my own strength – to live this life you’re asking me to live.”
So let me suggest to you that the disciples need is not for more faith – that your need and my need is not for more faith – but the need to exercise that faith – to put that faith to work. And in our reading today, Jesus tells us just how we are to do that.
He tells this parable – and I’ll be the first to say that it’s a challenging parable – and quite frankly – this is not one of my favorites. Jesus compares us to slaves – I would prefer the word servant here – Jesus compares us to servants who serve the master and need not expect a word of thanks from the master for doing what we ought to have been doing all along.
So when the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord , increase our faith,” notice that Jesus does not roll his eyes. He does not chastise. But he tells them that even the tiny bit of authentic faith which they already have is more powerful than they can possibly imagine.
What we need to do is the sometimes hard work of putting that faith to work. In other words to exercise our faith – which is what you’re doing, for instance, when you forgive the one who has hurt you deeply – as difficult as that may be.
The parable Jesus told invites us to see ourselves in relation to God as servants. To exercise faith in a life well lived. The idea is that as disciples we are to see ourselves in serving roles. Whether in Haiti, or Belize, or in the inner city of Buffalo, or here at this church, or in our own homes.
SO we live our lives – we exercise our faith in service to the Lord and to others – as servants who do what we ought to have done. But let me remind you that our lives as servants do not earn us brownie points with God. No. I want you to remember that we don't earn our way into the kingdom of God. We are GIVEN a place in the Kingdom because of God’s grace –God’s undeserved love and favor – freely given to us.
Let me tell you the story about a man seeking entrance to heaven based on his good works. The man comes to the Pearly Gates and asks Saint Peter for admission. “On what basis?” Saint Peter asks.
“Well,” says the man, “I worked most recently in the world of financial management, and I labored hard to make even that realm a place where God's will was done.”
“Yes,” replies Saint Peter, “but, of course, we expected that.”
“Uh ... well, earlier I worked several years at low wages in the mission field. I tackled the causes of poverty and injustice in the Third World. I worked directly with children, families and their communities. I even helped some people escape from human traffickers.”
“We know, but that all needed to be done.”
“But look here ... I've worked hard to be faithful ever since God called me. I've kept my hand on the plow as it were and not looked back.”
“And your point is?”
The man, now clearly disconcerted, stammers, “That's all I've got! There's nothing more… but the grace of God!”
“Exactly,” says Saint Peter, opening the gate. “C'mon in.”
At the end of the day it all depends on God’s grace received by faith. The good that we would do is in response to what God has done for us. At the end of the day, there’s nothing more than God’s grace, and we – we have done only what we ought to have done.
So let me repeat that it’s not the size or the quantity of our faith that matters. It’s the exercise of that faith – of putting that faith into action in a life of service that really matters. For God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our own good.
It’s an exercise in faith – when we join hands with our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with the same faith issues that you do – to make a difference in the world for Jesus Christ – simply because Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world for us.
 Donald Deffner, Bound to Be Free, pp. 102-103.