Three word theology
Today’s Sunday Musing from the Gospel of Luke is about as short as a reading gets!
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.
What caught my attention this week were the three words at the beginning of the text: Increase our faith!
Three words carry emotional and spiritual weight — you can feel the disciples’s longing to trust deeply, to believe more fervently. Sometimes three words are all that are needed.
And those three words got me thinking of how much other three word theology there is in the New Testament:
God is love
Love your neighbor
Here am I
Be not afraid
Peace on earth
Love one another
Do unto others
Faith, hope, love
Pray like this
Go, do likewise
God will provide
Love is patient
Love your enemies
Seventy times seven
Thy Kingdom come
Love never fails
Honestly, who needs tomes of systematic doctrine when we have such concise wisdom at hand? Three word theology is deceptively simple, but it isn’t shallow. One could live a lifetime with this list and never grasp its full beauty or practice its teachings consistently. But these uncomplicated phrases beckon, holding our hearts and hopes, and offering a vision of love and mercy. The way is often found in the smallest things, the fewest words. Maybe all we need is mustard seed faith.
Just a little might surprise us.
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What three words sum up your longings right now? What three words are guiding your spiritual journey? Are there just a few words speaking to your heart right now?
Lord of the growing seed,
you reach to the roots of our being
and quench our sea-deep thirst:
help us to know ourselves
through the eyes of the other
who calls us to answer and serve
and, in the end, be filled.
— Steven Shakespeare
Love is a place
& through this place of
(with brightness of peace)
yes is a world
& in this world of
— e.e. cummings, “Love is a Place”
On Sundays, the preacher gives everyone a chance
to repent their sins. Miss Edna makes me go
to church. She wears a bright hat
I wear my suit. Babies dress in lace.
Girls my age, some pretty, some not so
pretty. Old ladies and men nodding.
Miss Edna every now and then throwing her hand
in the air. Saying Yes, Lord and Preach!
I sneak a pen from my back pocket,
bend down low like I dropped something.
The chorus marches up behind the preacher
clapping and humming and getting ready to sing.
I write the word HOPE on my hand.
— Jacqueline Woodson
Who ever saw the mustard-plant,
wayside weed or tended crop,
grow tall as a shrub, let alone a tree, a treeful
of shade and nests and songs?
Acres of yellow,
not a bird of the air in sight.
No, He who knew
the west wind brings
the rain, the south wind
thunder, who walked the field-paths
running His hand along wheatstems to glean
those intimate milky kernels, good
to break on the tongue,
was talking of miracle, the seed
within us, so small
we take it for worthless, a mustard-seed, dust,
Glib generations mistake
the metaphor, not looking at fields and trees,
not noticing paradox. Mountains
Faith is rare, He must have been saying,
prodigious, unique —
one infinitesimal grain divided
like loaves and fishes,
as if from a mustard-seed
a great shade-tree grew. That rare,
that strange: the kingdom
a tree. The soul
a bird. A great concourse of birds
at home there, wings among yellow flowers.
kingdom of faith, the seed
waiting to be sown.
— Denise Levertov