Archive for June, 2015

God Uses Small Things to Make a Big Impact

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mark 4:26-34


Sometimes it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. Husbands, listen carefully now, for example, a bouquet of flowers that you bring home to your wife, “just because” – that can make a big difference. A friend offering to take something off your plate for you – whether it’s helping you rearrange furniture, do the dishes, or babysit so you can have a night to yourself. A phone call from someone you haven’t heard from in awhile, or a “thinking of you” card in the mail. Little things can make a big difference.

Throughout our scriptures, God seems to understand this. In our reading from Ezekiel, God takes a sprig from the top of a cedar tree and plants it, so that it grows into a “noble cedar,” producing fruit, creating a home for birds and giving shade to animals. Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed in Mark, “the smallest of all the seeds on the earth,” Jesus says, “yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” God uses small things to make a big impact on our lives.

Look at the life of Jesus himself – he was born to parents who didn’t have many material things. He instructed his disciples to carry very little with them as they journeyed from town to town, relying on the hospitality of others. Jesus takes five loaves and two fish and turns them into an abundant meal for 5000 plus people. He takes water in jars and turns it into more wine than a wedding party can possibly drink. Jesus uses the little he has – his hands, his God-infused gifts and abilities, to make a huge impact on billions of people’s lives. Even if we look at the life of Jesus himself – he begins his public ministry around age 30, travels all around Israel for three years, and then is crucified on the cross. God uses one man’s ministry for three years in a little country in the Middle East to transform the world forever! And Jesus started his ministry by calling just a few fishermen as his disciples, but they found others, until there were twelve. Christianity started as a small counter-cultural Jewish movement in Palestine – now it’s the largest religion in the world, with about 2.4 billion Christians around the world. God starts with a sprig, or a mustard seed, and expects big things to happen.

We have a tendency to expect and notice only the awesome, huge, almost incomprehensible things from God – the amazing beauty of a mountain vista, or the expanse of the ocean where you can’t even see any land. We look for big miracles as a sign of God’s work in our lives – near-death experiences, miraculous healings, powerful stories of conversion. We know that God can work in pretty huge, awesome ways, but God most often works with the ordinary, small stuff of life. Sometimes it might take us awhile to even realize or notice that that little mustard seed or cedar spring has grown, since we last checked!

Some of you may know that Pastor Rich and I enjoy gardening – as soon as the ground had thawed this spring we got out there and dug a little patch, and I planted snow peas, radishes, and then later green beans, squash, tomatoes, and peppers. With all of the rain, I’ve been out there weeding a little bit almost every day. When you’re out in the garden every day, it seems like it takes FOREVER for things to grow. I start to wonder if I’ll ever have fresh vegetables on my table to enjoy the fruits of my labor. But then we went to Dallas for a few days with colleagues who do similar work in neighboring synods, and when we came back, my snow peas finally had flowers on them, and the radishes were about ready to pick! And when I read what Jesus says again here in Mark today: the gardener goes to sleep, the seed sprouts and grows “HE DOES NOT KNOW HOW.” I marveled once again that God gifts us with such a diversity of food in the first place, and that somehow when I plant some tiny little seeds in the ground, it takes a little water, a little weeding, lots of sunlight, and yet I don’t know how it grows from a seed to a delicious tomato that I can eat – really. THAT’s a miracle, also. It’s a miracle that God provides for our most basic needs – good food on our table so that we can eat and not only live but thrive! We need to eat everyday, but it’s so common, it’s easy to overlook what a miracle it is that most of us, especially as Americans, have WAY more than enough food to sustain our lives – and that’s a miracle, too.

Sometimes I wonder if people realize the impact they have on others with the small things that God uses. Where is God planting mustard seeds in your life? And how are you using the mustard seeds God gives you? When I think back to how I got here today, it wasn’t a lightening bolt experience. I grew up in the church, and my faith grew slowly – I didn’t have a dramatic return to my faith like Pastor Rich did. No one handed me $100,000 one day and said, “Take this and go to seminary.” But people, very specific people who I am forever in debt to, took the time to say, “I see you have gifts of leadership in the church.” Or “I think you would make a really good pastor.” One couple in particular, our youth group adult sponsors at the time I was in high school, told me when I said that others had suggested I think about becoming a pastor, “You know, that might be God trying to tell you something.” Little things – 5 minute conversations, an email or written note of encouragement, $50 for seminary expenses, changed my life and career path forever. Other people helped me hear God’s call in my life. They took the seeds that God gave them and planted them, even though they could not possibly know how God would grow those seeds. Perhaps this Sunday’s scriptures are a good reminder for us to take time to see what we’ve been given, thank God for those things, and thank those who saw those seeds from God and took the time to invest in and encourage us. Perhaps God is also nudging us to consider how we might use the little things God gives us to plant seeds in others – it could be an invitation to church or to a church activity, it could be an offer to pray for someone or a word of encouragement to them. We may not know how God uses the little we have – but we can be sure that God can use those small things to make a big impact. Amen.

Breathing Life into Dry Bones

Rebecca Sheridan

Pentecost Sunday, May 24, 2015

Ezekiel 37:1-14 

            Imagine if THIS Memorial Day, Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones coming to life came true!  Imagine that tomorrow as you go out to visit great-aunt Betty and great-grandpa John’s graves , you see a vast multitude of loved ones long gone coming up out of their graves, alive!  Wow, what a Memorial Day that would be!  Imagine how the local media might tell the tale – “Forest Lawn Cemetery experiences zombie apocalypse?”  “After 200 years, long-lost loved ones reunited?”  It would certainly be a day to remember!

Part of the mystery of faith is reading these ancient sacred texts, realizing how “out there” they are, and yet still being able to trust that the Holy Spirit can do amazing things, breaking the laws of nature and physics and even defeating death itself.  Just think how amazing Ezekiel’s vision is:  he makes it clear that those bones are dry, VERY dry.  They’re deader than a doornail, we might say – bone dry, in the final stages of decay.  No way would anyone expect those bones to come alive.  And yet God’s spirit puts sinews, flesh, and breath into them, and they live.  The problem is, we have a very hard time believing that it’s true – that God can work in powerful, mysterious ways even now, even if we DON’T experience a zombie apocalypse at the cemetery tomorrow.

This weekend, I remember loved ones who I still dearly miss, even though some have been gone a long time.  I would love it if Ezekiel’s vision would come true tomorrow – that I would be able to see my grandma, and my childhood pastor, and parishioners I buried once again – but I’m pretty sure I won’t – at least not in this lifetime.  I think it is important to realize that when Ezekiel looks at those bones in the valley, they aren’t just any old bones – they are bones of his ancestors – bones of people he’s loved, too.  He is struck with grief and sadness  and trying to cope with a huge loss.  What he sees in a way reflects how he feels inside – dry, empty, lifeless, without hope.

I am aware that for many of you, tomorrow is not just a free government holiday and a nice long weekend, but also a time to remember and honor loved ones.  Especially if it is a recent loss, this weekend can be a difficult one for people.  We might feel sad, disappointed, or even hopeless.  Then there are the times in our lives where we feel spiritually dry and empty.  We try to think with our heads that God is there, but it really seems like God is absent – we have trouble seeing God at work in our lives, and we wonder if God truly cares about us at all.  Like the people of Israel, we say to God, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.”  We think occasionally to ourselves, “I should really pray more regularly, or go to church, or read the Bible,” but then another little voice says, “Ah, what’s the point?”  We feel like this empty balloon – deflated, a lack of energy, and not very inspired.

I think we sometimes are reluctant to talk about the Holy Spirit much because like those times when we feel like God is absent, the Holy Spirit is that elusive Presence of God that we can’t always see.  It’s hard to put our finger on exactly what the Holy Spirit is.  As we hear in the scriptures today, the Spirit is a breath, a tongue of fire, a voice from God.  The Spirit also apparently does some wild things, our readings remind us today – people might think we’re drunk, or we might see dead people walking around…we might have strange dreams and visions when the Holy Spirit intervenes in our lives!  This day of Pentecost reminds us that we need God’s Holy Spirit ESPECIALLY when we are feeling down, empty, and hopeless.  God gives us an amazing promise this morning.  When we are in the same spot that Ezekiel’s in – down in a valley, spiritually dried up, lost and hopeless, God says, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live!”  God doesn’t give up on us, but comes to us in our spiritual dryness and despair to breath new life into us so that we can live.

The Holy Spirit is God the life-giver, first and foremost.  The Holy Spirit is literally a breath of fresh air for our spiritual lives, an INSPIRation for us when we are feeling exactly the opposite.  I love how the prophet Joel describes it, as Peter reminds the early church in the book of Acts:  “your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”  The Holy Spirit gives life to those of us at every age so that we can be future-oriented dreamers and visionaries, people of God who KNOW that God gives us a hope and a future, even if we ourselves might not live to see it.  For our church, the Holy Spirit gives us dreams and vision for a better, brighter future – different perhaps than our past, but a future that brings hope that the church as God’s gathered people will live on!

Think back to the balloon exercise we did this morning.  Think about what the Spirit is able to do when God breathes new life into us.  We become open to God leading us in surprising directions.  We become joyful and full.  And when we celebrate the Spirit’s work in us together, it’s quite an awesome sight to see.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this?  May you go out today filled by the Spirit – inspired, joyful, and ready for the future.  Amen.


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