Intentionally Absurd

Why would anyone want to plant a mulberry tree in the sea?

Luke 17:5-10

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Why did the elephant sit on the marshmallow?  

….Because he didn’t want to fall into the cup of hot chocolate.[1]

That’s absurd, right? 

Everyone knows…

… that elephants don’t like sitting in cups of hot chocolate.

Similarly absurd is the idea that anyone would want to plant a mulberry tree in the sea. This is the example Jesus gives in today’s scripture, but wouldn’t saltwater kill the tree?

When my husband Rob and I moved to Galveston back in 2013, we learned a lot about trees and saltwater. Hurricane Ike in 2008, like Hurricane Ian that just went across Florida, had covered the entire island of Galveston with ten feet of water.  Salt water. Many of the trees couldn’t survive that inundation of salt and died.  Local artists did something really cool with those dead trees, though.  They carved the trunks into amazing pieces of art.[2]

Not mulberry trees, though.  They can handle the salt and the wind.  They can also handle drought, poor soil, and sunny or shady locations.[3]  They are hardy and resilient trees. 

It might be that Jesus said mulberry tree because it was the nearest tree at that moment. Or maybe Jesus chose to use a mulberry tree because of its resilience, and how hard it would be to get it to move.  It’s intentionally absurd.

Jesus is talking about the mulberry tree in response to the apostles’ request:

“Show us how to increase our faith.”

I think Jesus gives an absurd example because the disciples have made an absurd request. It’s not unusual, though. Many of us have probably asked God this same question. I have.  But isn’t it kind of like asking God for patience?   As the old joke goes, if you pray for patience, God will give you opportunities to practice it.  Like getting stuck in traffic.  So don’t pray for patience…unless you’re a doctor. 

So, what does that tell us about praying for more faith? How much faith do we really need?  Jesus says this much:


A tiny seed.

  1. Jesus is saying that they don’t need more faith if they have any faith, because even the tiniest amount is enough to do big things, like telling a mulberry tree to be uprooted and replanted in the sea and having it obey you.

2 Peter says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3; NIV).

Through Jesus Christ, God goes with us—the Holy Spirit lives in us—giving us all we need to live out our faith. 

This is similar to the encouragement that the apostle Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy.  He tells Timothy to

“…rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:6-7)

The gift of God that is within Timothy and within us is faith and the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not a Spirit of fear.  The Spirit gives us strength and love and self-discipline.

The way to increase our faith is to use what we have. To practice being faithful.

The Benedictine nun Joan Chittister talks about practicing faith in her book The Gift of Years.  She points out that sometimes what we practice is having faith in transitory things like banks, or credentials. She says, “We put our trust in ourselves and call it faith.” And then “we are not sure if we have faith in faith.” “The irony of the struggle is that this unknowing is, in the end, what faith is about.”[5]

It’s like walking across a bridge in the fog.  We can’t see where we’re going, but we trust that if we keep walking, we’ll get somewhere.  And, with God’s help, we will.

  • Jesus is saying that we need to have faith LIKE a tiny seed.  How does a seed demonstrate faith? We plant it and trust that it will grow into whatever it was made to be.  The tiny seed gives its life to become a plant.

We become what God has made us to be.

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10).

Did you know that mulberry trees are a great source of food?  There’s one near our house.  The birds love the berries. One day it sounded like there was a bird war going on outside.  I looked out and a big bully blue jay was chasing the other birds away from the mulberry tree, and the smaller birds weren’t giving up on those berries.  They were making quite a racket.

It’s not just the berries.  The leaves have a high level of protein, similar to alfalfa, so they’re good for animals to eat.[6]

A mulberry tree is God’s masterpiece, created to be a mulberry tree, and do all the good things that a mulberry tree can do.

We are God’s masterpieces, created to do the good things God planned for us to do. 

Which brings us to another example of absurdity, the second part of today’s scripture, the example of the slave or servant.

We should be very clear that Jesus uses this example because it is familiar to his listeners, just like the mulberry tree would have been.  He’s not using this example because he’s endorsing slavery.  What he is endorsing is that we live out our faith by being the people God created us to be, allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us, just like a servant lives out the life of serving.

Jesus says, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)  What is our duty?  God has given us everything we need. God has made us everything we are.  It is our duty, then, to use all that we have and all that we are to be and do the goodness that God has put in us. To have faith that it is there and that we can use it wherever and whenever it’s needed.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we have the ability to be people who make a difference in the world. The Holy Spirit helps us to be peacemakers, listeners, encouragers, givers, welcomers, as Christian talked about last week.

One of the ways we do this is through the work of our denomination, and the special offerings. Today’s special offering opportunity is for Peace and Global Witness. It’s the perfect offering for World Communion, a day for remembering that Jesus is for all people, not just Presbyterians, or people who live in Kansas, or the United States. People all around the world know Jesus and celebrate the Lord’s Supper like we will today.

I love the scripture that is the theme for this year’s offering – “For you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12).  Joy and peace are the results of the Holy Spirit working in us. 

Another way we are living out our faith through giving is our Little Free Pantry. Did you know that food stamps can only be used for food, and not for cleaning or hygiene items?  So we’ve been putting those items in our little free pantry.  Amy Brownlee stocked the pantry during September and made sure to buy: toilet paper, kleenex, dish soap, hand soap, bath soap, deodorant, laundry detergent, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes. These items were gone within two days.   Feminine hygiene products go quickly too.  We will need someone to do the shopping and stocking for October. If you’d like to do that, let us know.  Anyone can put items in there. The more we do, the more we help our community.

Whenever we feel compelled to do something good, whether that involves giving money or food or cleaning and hygiene supplies, or spending time with someone, or spending time alone with God, or standing up for someone who’s being mistreated, or helping out with a project, or acting on a new idea, all these are ways that the Holy Sprit works in and through us.  Sometimes what seems like a tiny thing might grow into something bigger, just like a seed.

Psalm 37:3 says Trust in the Lord and do good.

It’s said that “Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones.

But no. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts, Mead said.”[7]

It’s entirely possible that Margaret Mead didn’t really say this, but the message is still a good one. We are at our best when we are repaying the debt we owe to God by using the faith and goodness he’s given us to help one another, to be the good people he made us to be.

Thanks, God.




[4] Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash

[5] Chittister, Joan. The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (p. 213). BlueBridge. Kindle Edition


[7] Found on Facebook October 2, 2022 at

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