Little Big Things

A sermon, based on 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13 and Mark 4.26-34, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, June 17, 2018

Samuel, commissioned by God to anoint a new king, a faithful successor to Saul who had turned away from God, was sent to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem. Surveying Jesse’s sons, Samuel, judging outward appearances, would have chosen any one of them. God, peering into hearts, had another idea, choosing David; the youngest son, meaning also the smallest in stature. David also was “ruddy (with) beautiful eyes and handsome”, in his day, marks of weakness, not outward signs of the strength necessary to succeed in a daily deadly world. And David, consigned to the lowly labor of shepherding the family’s sheep was so out-of-sight, out-of-mind that his father hadn’t thought to include him in the kingship lineup. Yet David became Israel’s greatest king and the one who shaped Israel’s expectation of the identity of the Messiah.

Samuel Anoints David, Giovanni Pietro Ligario (1686-1748)

Jesus says that God’s kingdom, the realm, nature, being of God, “is like a mustard seed” that, though tiny, when planted, grows into a mighty shrub.

Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

Little things can become big things. The sometimes benign and, at other times, sinister evidences of this principle appear throughout life and nature…

A river flows into a delta mingling with the waters of a mighty ocean…

A word spoken carelessly can provoke a fight, foment a war…

The sound of a solitary note can stir a music lover’s memory of an entire song and, in the heart of a composer, can be the seed that bears fruit in the creation of a symphony…

A kindly, gentle gesture – a soft, sympathetic touch of a hand on a shoulder, an earnest tear falling from the corner of an eye – can hearken to a broken heart or heal a wound, making reconciliation possible…

And of the many things I’m wont to say, I do not believe that anyone arrives at a place of good or ill without the often small helpful or hurtful labors of countless hands of countless folk, some unseen and unknown.

Little big things.

I recall a television commercial for an insurance company showing how small deeds of simple service, random acts of kindness added together nurture a spirit of community or, in the language of moral causation, good karma.(1)

A man, walking down a street, retrieves a baby’s stuffed animal that had fallen from a stroller…

The grateful mother smiles and later, in a coffee shop, allows an older woman standing behind her to place her order first…

Later, that woman waiting at the curb for the light to change, shares her umbrella with a man caught in a sudden downpour…

That man crosses the street and assists a woman to her feet who had slipped on the slick sidewalk…

Later, that woman driving down a grid-locked street, the air filled with blaring horns of frustrated drivers, signals to a man in a car, stuck on the ramp of a parking lot, no one having allowed him entry into the traffic. We recognize that man in the car as the one who returned the stuffed animal to the crying baby.

Little big things.

Last Sunday, I spoke of Jesus’ call to us, “Follow me,” to be his disciples who learn from him so to be his apostles sent by him into the world to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand. Then, given the reality that our lives present us with choices, some inevitably clashing with our allegiance to Jesus, I invited us, in those moments of conflict, to listen for his voice calling unto us: “Choose!”

This past week, thinking about my choices, I affirmed anew that there is nothing greater than my allegiance to Jesus; nothing greater than my desire to share with everyone the life and love of God’s kingdom. There is nothing else, but there is someone else. Me.

There are moments, many, when I choose my way over God’s way. And usually not in big things like consciously violating the 10 Commandments, but rather in little things that, in repetition, accumulation become big things…

A small indulgence in food or drink that, over time, hardens into a habit, and then an aspect of personality…

Or the immediate self-defense of anger when hurt that can fester into a grudge and a refusal to forgive…

Or secretly envying another’s good fortune (I suppose it’s no longer a secret now that I confessed it!) and, not wishing for any misfortune, but, perchance, should there be a fall from grace, delighting in a bit of unsympathetic, schadenfreude-esque satisfaction.

Clearly, I cannot speak for you. But I bet that each of us wrestles with, suffers from the same very human syndrome of choosing our will over God’s will.

Yet here’s some good news. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…

mustard seeds

which like a weed, aye, which is a weed that, as a weed, when planted anywhere, even in our self-interested hearts, takes root, sprouts, and multiplies…

mustard tree

taking over, transforming the acreage of our lives and living until we, in our daily, little words and deeds, become sowers of the seed through which God produces the big, majestic fruit of LOVE!


(1) Liberty Mutual commercial, “Responsibility. What’s Your Policy?”

Samuel Anoints David, Giovanni Pietro Ligario (1686-1748)
Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jan Luyken (1649-1712)

2 thoughts on “Little Big Things

  1. Thank you so much for this awesome sermon Paul. I read it several times yesterday but couldn’t get my words together for some reason.

    Little things can become a huge thing very quickly. I had to smile about the Liberty Mutual commercial! It’s one of my favorites of all time! I’ve had people do little things for me and I’ve done many little things for others. I do hope they’ve passed them on and they’ve grown like a mustard seed.

    These days it’s hard to see little big things working very well because there are currently huge things occurring that hurt so many people. I know many little things are occurring throughout the country because there are great people who want to plant those seeds and do God’s will, and we need to focus our time and energy on those. I think we are so upset by many things in the news these days that we lose sight of how incredible good little things can be.

    This sermon gave me some energy that I needed. For me it’s one of those empowering sermons that can spur us to action!!! I hope this week I can focus on doing God’s will even if we aren’t sure how it will turn out! Our faith should keep us focused on that little mustard seed and it’s possible growth!!

    Much love!


  2. Loretta, I think that all of the big, troubling things happening in the world spur me to remind myself of the little things. Truth be told, Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is the reminder. I simply, truly need to recall it, almost daily, and then act on it, not almost, but rather daily. For it is the truth at the heart of the parable, that little things, when placed by faith into the hands of God, can AND do make big things.

    Let us carry on!



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