Sunday, June 14, 2015
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.