Let me ask you a question, “Do you think that you mostly underestimate your abilities or overestimate your abilities?” Personally, I think, I usually underestimate myself. Facing a challenging task, I mostly doubt myself first and worry, “Can I really do that? Am I really able?” So, I’m sometimes a little jealous of my friends who are full of self-confidence and assert, “Sure, I can do that! No problem!” How about you? What type of person are you? Let’s raise our hands. Underestimating? Overestimating? Both at the same time? Not sure how you are? Well…no matter how you are, you are welcome here!
Anyway, we assume that underestimation and overestimation of oneself are two totally different habits of mind. But psychologically speaking, they are the same. How come? It’s because they are the same kind of psychological issue called, “cognitive bias.” This is a systematic error in our thinking that affects our decisions and judgments, including our self-assessment and self-awareness. And because we are not perfect human beings, we all have this cognitive bias to a certain degree.
This morning, the reason that I bring up this issue of underestimation and overestimation of oneself is that they are deeply related not only to our mental health but also to our faith and Christian life. Yes, to have honest self-assessment and self-awareness and to know who we truly are, is quite critical in our relationship with God as well as on our journey of faith.
And interestingly, in today’s Gospel story, it looks like Jesus is trying to correct the cognitive bias of his disciples. In the story, the disciples ask Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Why do they ask such a thing? The reason is quite simple if we understand their situation. Now, the disciples are on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus. Their journey is almost reaching toward the end, and Jesus is about to enter into his final days on earth. On their way, Jesus already told them a couple of times about his impending suffering and death on the cross. That is so overwhelming. They don’t know how to handle this upcoming crisis. They are not ready. And they are not confident enough to continue Jesus’ ministry after he’s gone. The unforeseen future, the uncertain situation, their daunting tasks, their humble social status, their inner doubts…all these factors surround them, press them, and belittle them to “underestimate” themselves.
To those intimidated disciples, Jesus replies, “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 17:6). Here, we should carefully listen to Jesus. Jesus is not blaming them for their lack of faith at all. He’s not judging them. Jesus is not assuming that they don’t have enough faith. But rather, Jesus is assuring them that they do have faith and it has a huge impact because even through their small faith, God can do amazing things. In short, Jesus means, “Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. And this faith is the access to the power of God that is able to do all things through you.” What a wonderful encouragement it is!
But right after this uplifting and promising message, Jesus adds a little bizarre lesson that seems a little unnecessary. Here, he even uses a slave-and-master analogy that bothers our 21st century ears. Jesus tells that no master rewards their servants or thanks them for doing what they are assigned to do. So when the disciples have done all that they were ordered to do, they just have to say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” (Luke 17:7-10) Why does Jesus say such bold words? I think Jesus’ point is this: “You know you have faith. But do not overestimate yourself. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant.” With your faith, what do you want to do? Perform wonders and miracles? Wield power and authority? Jesus tells us, “Please make sure. Having faith means to be a servant of God, to surrender your will and make God’s will be done in you, to follow God’s commandment and humbly serve others.”
Today, Jesus points out our cognitive bias. Do not underestimate yourself. Remember, you have faith. But at the same time, do not overestimate yourself either. Remember, your faith leads you to be a servant. Know who you truly are.
I believe this is such a fruitful message that Jesus gives us today on this World Communion Sunday. Yes, we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves. We have faith in Jesus Christ. This precious faith gives us the access to God’s power that works among us right now. It’s evident. Look around. God unites us as sisters and brothers overcoming any human-made barriers and walls. In spite of different colors, different cultures, different backgrounds, we are here together in one faith. On a Sunday, on this most segregated day in the United States, on this day when blacks go to black churches and whites go to white churches, here, right now, can you witness that our small mustard seed faith is changing a little corner of the world? Let us not think that we have nothing special. Let us not underestimate ourselves because, through our faith, God can do amazing things.
But at the same time, we shouldn’t overestimate ourselves. We shouldn’t think that “we” are good and able enough to do something by ourselves. But our faith is not about us, not about our power or our will. It’s about the power and will of the Lord. This faith calls us to be servants, to be the hands and feet of Christ. What does the Lord require of us? Love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength, and with all our minds, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Share the table of communion with all the people in remembrance of Jesus who died for us all and broke down the dividing walls. Share God’s love and serve one another to build a kingdom of God, even though there’s no visible or material reward.
Today we are celebrating World Communion Sunday. The faithful servants in every corner of the world come to the Lord’s Table, and we, together, remember who we truly are and who our Lord truly is. Without underestimating ourselves, let us remember our mustard seed faith. This faith is the access to our God who is able to do all things through us. And without overestimating ourselves, let us remember our servanthood. We are called to make God’s will be done in this world by serving one another like Jesus served us. Faithful servants of the Lord, let us be confident for we have precious faith that leads us into the new life. And let us be humble at the same time as we do what we ought to do. May our Lord, who became a servant for us first, lift us up and use us for his mission today and on, always. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim