October 2 2022 Prime The Pump!  Luke 17:1-10

There is an old story called “The Legend of Desert Pete.” According to the story, a man was walking across a desert in the summer of 1933. He was dying of thirst and desperately needed water. Imagine his relief and delight when he came upon a pump, right out in the middle of the desert. There was a baking-soda can tied to the handle of the pump, and inside the can was a note. The note read: “This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker-washer into it, and it ought to last five years. But the washer dies out, and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock, I buried a bottle of water. It’s out of the sun and all corked up. There’s enough in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. So pour about one-fourth of the water in and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest, medium-fast, and pump like crazy. You’ll get water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you get watered up, fill the bottle up again and put it back like you found it for the next feller. (Signed) Desert Pete. P.S. Don’t go drinking up the water first! Prime the pump with it, and you’ll get all the water you can hold.”

Desert Pete was right in calling people to have faith. But real faith is not confidence in a pump in the desert. Real faith is a total dependence on God and a willingness to do his will. Then we have to take a first step based on that faith. Faith is useless unless we are willing to act on it. This usually involves a bit of risk. When we act on faith instead of fear, God’s grace and power are always near.

In verse three of today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus shocked the disciples by issuing a very difficult command. He said, “Even if your brother mistreats you seven times in a single day, and each time asks for your forgiveness, you must forgive him.” The disciples must have rolled their eyes in disbelief. They were folks just like us. The believed in “three strikes and you’re out.” Why give some misbehaving brother seven chances? They responded, “Before we can do that, we must have more faith. We’re at least a quart low.” But Jesus said to them, “You don’t need more faith; just use the faith you have. If you have faith even the size of a tiny mustard seed you can say to a huge mulberry tree, ‘Be moved,’ and it will move.”

On another occasion a distraught father came to Jesus seeking healing for his epileptic son. “If it be possible, said the father, “heal my son.” Jesus replied, “If it be possible?” All things are possible to him who believes.” This very honest father responded, “I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

The father was saying, “My faith is not the biggest in town. It sags in places. But I do have a little bit.” That was enough! Jesus healed his son.

Here is the lesson, my friends. If you have even a tiny bit of faith in God, enough to take a first step as he leads you, that is enough to activate God’s grace and power. When we act on faith instead of fear; God’s grace and power are always near.

I have read that when you drive on I-40 through the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, you pass through two tunnels. Each is about ½ mile long, right through the side of mountains. The brilliance of the engineers who designed those tunnels is apparently stunning.  How were they carved out of the solid rock? I’m sure that dynamite was the key. Sticks of dynamite were well placed and then ignited by some sort of fuse. The fuse was necessary but it was not the source of power. The power came from the nitroglycerin in that dynamite. The fuse just ignited it.

Similarly, God’s power is like that dynamite that moves mountains. Our faith is just the fuse that ignites it. The size of the fuse doesn’t matter. Neither is the size of our faith a critical factor. Even a tiny bit of faith that we act on is enough to activate God’s power.

When we take a first step in faith, God works wonders. But how can we discern what that first step ought to be? Children are almost never in doubt about the first thing to do in any situation. They may not be right, but they are seldom in doubt.

A father tells of an account of a car trip his family made Young son Nathan asked several times, “Are we there yet?” Dad said, “Look, I know this is a long trip, but there are ways to make the trip seem like it’s going faster.” Nathan asked, “Like what?” Dad said, “Well, we could talk. If we talk about interesting things, the trip won’t seem so long.” Nathan was not thrilled with that prospect so he asked, “What’s another way?” “Well,” said Dad, “We could sing or play games or sleep.” Nathan pondered that for a moment and then said, “I have another idea. You could drive faster.” Children can usually come up with a first step in solving any problem. It may not be the right one, but they are seldom without a suggestion.

If you’re trying to decide the right first step to take in any situation, pray and ask a trusted Christian friend. When your friend’s suggestion matches up with what God is telling you, you’re on the right track.

Think about some challenge you face today. It could be a medical problem that seems to defy diagnosis. It could be a boss who is unreasonable and volatile. It could be a teenager who is running with the wrong crowd. It could be a marriage that is deteriorating. It could be that your financial resources just can’t seem to cover your standard of living. It could be a grief or loss with which you are trying to cope.

Whatever the challenge, share it with God in prayer and perhaps with a trusted Christian friend. God will not usually deliver to you a ten-point plan for completely resolving the problem or dealing with the challenge. But God will show you a first step in faith that you can take. If you step out in faith and take that first step, God will then show you step two and then step three, one step at a time, until the problem is resolved. That’s what it means to “walk by faith, not by sight.” (II Cor. 5:7)

In this same 17th chapter of Luke that we are considering this morning, we find the story of Jesus meeting a sad little band of ten people suffering the terminal illness of leprosy. (We will get into this more next week.)  They cried out for healing. Jesus said, “Go show yourselves to the priest.” That was what you were supposed to do when you thought you had been healed. But at that moment none of them had been healed. They could look at their hands and see that the leprosy was still there. But Jesus had ordered them to take a first step. Would they have enough faith to do that? They did! The Bible says that “as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:14) The priest was in Jerusalem. When they began walking toward Jerusalem, they were priming the pump. Their faith activated God’s power. Later, only one of them came back to say “thank you.” That one was a Samaritan, a foreigner. Jesus said to him, “Rise and go. Your faith has made you well.” Jesus did not mean that the power for healing had come from his faith. The power was from God. But the man’s faith activated it. When we act on faith instead of fear, God’s grace and power are always near.

On the other hand, when faith is missing, God’s mighty acts are limited. God himself is not limited, but he seems to have intentionally made much of his work contingent on our faith. In Matthew 13, verses 53 through 58, we have the story of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth. Instead of welcoming Jesus home, the people of Nazareth took offense at him. The Bible offers this sad commentary: “And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matt. 13:58) Without faith, even God is limited. But when we have faith and act on it, we set the stage for God’s mighty acts.

Whatever the challenge you are facing today, consult the Lord and then take a first step in faith. Then you’ll discover that the unseen Master is walking beside you, guiding and empowering your next steps. And the fellowship of his company is mighty sweet! When we act on faith instead of fear, God’s grace and power are always near.

Just picture each of us in the desert, reading old Desert Pete’s note. We’re holding that bottle of water in our hands. We’re mighty thirsty. Do we drink it or prime the pump? In the final analysis, it’s a matter of faith.