Sunday, July 26, 2020
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
"From the Smallest Thing"
Rev. Dr. Scott Landis
There is an old saying or strongly held belief that “good things come in small packages.” I think it was an excellent marketing strategy from those in the jewelry industry – and smart on their part. I remember so vividly a Christmas when I was a young boy – when I realized just how true this saying can be . . . . [Story of the Mother’s Ring]
It’s fascinating, really, what can come from the smallest thing – both exceeding joy and intense sorrow. The Covid-19 pandemic has made us all painfully aware – showing us how something so small – invisible to the eye – can grow rapidly and exponentially into a destructive force that consumes all our attention and resources. Something you can’t see with the naked eye has, in effect, crippled our entire world. From the smallest thing.
The passage that we read today from the gospel of Matthew turns our attention to something else – small but mighty. Using parable as his teaching technique – Jesus explains how the Kin(g)dom of God can emerge from the smallest thing. In his parables, he reveals how something that is so tiny – also almost invisible to the naked eye – can ALSO grow exponentially, offering us sustenance and a treasure worthy of our attention and resources.
I find it very interesting how something so small can be the source of that which is completely destructive as in the case of the virus. While another thing – also very tiny – can be such a creative force resulting in the Kin(g)dom of God. Both can spread so rapidly – but to what end?
In the parable, Jesus stresses the smallness of origins as the tiny mustard seed is the basis of a huge shrub that can blossom from it – so big that even the birds of the air can nest there. And how yeast, barely visible to the naked eye, can be the source of multiple loaves of bread. I’ve been told of the prolific nature of sourdough starter that is making its way all over many communities during this time of pandemic.
Jesus takes this all a step further in his teaching. You may remember when he tells another gathering of followers that all one needs is faith “the size of a mustard seed” in order to embody all the power and strength we need for our lives. He said, in Matthew 17, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mountain move from here to there – and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.” Try telling that to Haleakalā.
The idea being that from the smallest thing – the tiniest amount of faith – can spring forth the most amazing results. [Pause]
I wonder, as you hear me say those words – how that “truth” sits with you? When you hear this assertion of faith – does it ring true for you? Of course, these words may look good on plaques that hang on our walls – or bumper stickers we affix to our cars, but has that notion borne itself out in your life? Or has your experience been different? I wonder?
Perhaps you remember the opening line from M. Scott Peck’s best-selling book of the late 1970’s, The Road Less Traveled. He begins with a line to which most of us can relate when he stated, “Life is difficult.” It’s realization that most of us can’t possibly comprehend (nor do we want to) in the first half of our lives. Those early years are, for many, a time of striving, growth, promotion, acquisition, and ladder climbing. But, then somewhere around mid-life, we hit a wall. A marriage ends, or a spouse or worse still – a child dies. We are let go from our dream job. Or, we receive a challenging diagnosis. The possibilities are endless – but the reality almost always catches us off-guard – a reality that we never imagined coming face-to-face with as we discover for ourselves that “life is difficult.”
It’s then that we need to re-hear these teachings of Jesus – and maybe even more so this wonderful affirmation from St. Paul that I read from the book or Romans. Like Scott Peck, Paul begins with the undeniable reality that sometimes life is unbearable. Paul meets us at our lowest point – a place with which he was very familiar. That place where life is SO bad – we don’t even have words to pray. It’s then that Paul says, we need to allow the Spirit to intercede – to pray on our behalf, “with sighs too deep for words.”
It is there, Paul says, is where God searches our heart, and loves nothing more than the honesty we voice when we cry out clinging to the smallest seed of faith as our hope. “What then are we to say about these things?” To which Paul asserts, “If God is for us, who can possibly be against us?” [Pause]
I’ve never been a huge fan of Paul. I find his words sometimes very “off-putting” and in some cases downright offensive. Alternatively, Paul has written some of the most beautiful and compelling words in all of scripture. I have read his words in 1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “Love chapter,” at almost every wedding I have ever performed. Conversely, these words in Romans 8 have been my mainstay at almost every memorial service over which I have ever presided. Listen to them once more,
“It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Pause]
There are and will be times like that Christmas morning when the perfect gift is given, and all seems right with the world. There are magic moments in our lives that we never want to forget – those moments that hold overwhelming delight in our memories. But there are also times when we are so overwhelmed with grief or sorrow, or even personal physical pain that we wonder “God, where are you? Can’t you see what I am going through?” Or the pain is so intense, we can’t even muster a word – and groaning becomes our prayer.
And that’s precisely why I wanted to lift up these words today. To remind us – our hope, our healing – our help – our strength can come from the smallest thing – a mere modicum of faith – and that nothing – nothing – nothing can ever separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. This, indeed is good news.
Mahalo ke Akua.