Little Big Things

The text of the sermon, based on 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13 and Mark 4.26-34, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021


God commissions Samuel to anoint a new king; a faithful successor to Saul who had turned away from God. God sends Samuel to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem. Samuel, surveying, judging Jesse’s sons by outward appearance, would choose any one of them. God, looking on the heart, has another idea. David. Jesse’s “youngest” son, meaning also the smallest in stature. Even more, David was “ruddy (with) beautiful eyes and handsome.” In ancient times, marks of weakness, not visible signs of the strength of leadership. Still more, David, relegated to the lowly labor of shepherding the family’s sheep, was so out-of-Jesse’s-sight-and-mind that it hadn’t occurred to him to include his baby boy in the kingship-lineup!

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

In these biblical passages, I behold a spiritual principle made material. In David’s case, in his flesh. Concerning Jesus’ teaching, in the matter and manner of seed and earth…

Little things can become big things.

Evidences of this principle abound. A river flows into a delta mingling with the waters of a mighty ocean. A careless word or callous deed can provoke a fight, foment a war. A simple chord stirs in a music lover’s memory an entire song. A solitary note, in the soil of a composer’s soul, is the seed that bears fruit in the flowering of a symphony. A sympathetic touch of a hand on a shoulder can hearken to a broken heart. An earnest tear falling from the corner of an eye can be as healing balm to a wounded relationship, making reconciliation possible.

Little big things.

Some years ago, an insurance company launched an advertising campaign with an imaginative commercial illustrating how small deeds of simple service, random acts of kindness taken together nurture a communal spirit. Or, in the language of moral causation, good karma.[1]

A man, walking down a street, recovers a toy that a baby had dropped. 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 green light, shares her umbrella with a man caught in a sudden downpour. That man crosses the street and helps a woman to her feet who had slipped on the slick pavement. Later, that woman, driving down a grid-locked street, stops and signals to a man in a car, stuck on a parking lot ramp, no one having allowed him entry into the traffic. We recognize that man in the car as the one who returned the toy to the crying baby.

Little big things.

In last Sunday’s gospel passage, Jesus had launched his ministry. The religious establishment, considering him a threat to their authority, sought to discredit him, accusing him of being possessed by the devil. Others thought he was crazy! His family, alarmed, wanted to restrain him. When informed that his mother and siblings had come, wanting to see and to speak with him, Jesus asked rhetorically, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” then said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”[2]

Throughout this past week, I contemplated afresh what it means to do God’s will; especially as life presents us with choices, some inevitably clashing with Jesus’ call, “Follow me.” Thinking, praying about my choices, I reaffirmed there is nothing greater than my allegiance to Jesus. Nothing greater than my desire to share with everyone with word and in deed the life of God’s kingdom. There is nothing else. But there is someone else. Me.

There are moments, many when I choose my will over God’s will. Usually not in big things like breaking the 10 Commandments. But 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 my personality. Or when hurt, my immediate self-defense of anger that can grow into a grudge, then a refusal to forgive. Or secretly envying another’s good fortune and, perchance, should there be a fall from grace, delighting in unsympathetic, schadenfreude-esque satisfaction.

I cannot speak for you. But I bet 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. And a mustard seed is like…is a weed! A weed when planted anywhere, even in our self-interested hearts, takes root. Sprouts. Multiplies. Takes over, transforming the acreage of our lives! So, that we daily sow our little mustard seeds of words and deeds from which God produces the big, majestic fruit of Love.

© 2021 PRA

[1] Liberty Mutual commercial, “Responsibility. What’s Your Policy?” (c. 2006)

[2] Mark 3.20-35

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