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So Little, So Big
June 12, 1994

MARK 4:26-34

Have you ever felt discouraged? Defeated, disillusioned, ready to quit? We are in the midst of graduation ceremonies. I suspect that many of the graduates at some point felt ready to throw in the towel. They studied, but just couldn't seem to make sense of the material. Some don't do well on tests. Some have not learned good study habits.

A renowned headmaster of Harrow, an English boarding school, believed that certain boys were born to fail. He wrote in the permanent record of one young man, "He is forgetful, careless, unpunctual, irregular in every way. He is unable to conquer his slovenliness. He will never make a success of school." How would you like to have a teacher write a report like that about you? Wouldn't you be discouraged? Fortunately, Winston Churchill refused to believe that the headmaster's assessment of him was the last word!

For those of you who feel discouraged and are ready to quit, for those of you who at times feel that what you do seems pointless and hopeless, the parables of Jesus' which were read today have much to say. Jesus, in a rural country, talked about seeds. A seed is the word of God Jesus explained to his disciples earlier in the chapter, verse 14. The kingdom of God is spread, the kingdom of God grows, when the word of God is planted like a seed. Jesus said the farmer plants the seed, but does not do the growing. Who can understand the mystery of how a tiny seed turns itself into a plant or even a tree? The farmer waters, weeds, fertilizes, but doesn't have the power to turn the seed into a plant. Jesus said, The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

Jesus is saying our task is to plant the word of God, not to make it grow. Our task is to do what seems to be a small part of the process. The big growth is up to God. We plant the tiny seed--dig a hole, water it, add fertilizer, and put the seed into the hole. A small task. In the middle east there is a legend about a spindly little sparrow lying on its back in the middle of the road. A horseman comes by, dismounts, and asks the sparrow what on earth he is doing lying there upside down. "I heard the heavens are going to fall today," said the sparrow. "Oh," said the horseman, "and I suppose your puny little legs can hold up the heavens?" "One does what one can," said the sparrow. "One does what one can."

We are called to do what one can, to do what God calls us to do; the results are up to God, not us. Sometimes, our discouragement comes from not seeing the results of our actions. Sometimes, our discouragement comes from not being in control of the process. God controls the process, not you. Sometimes, our discouragement comes from seeing failure. I could become quite depressed if someone added up all the people who changed churches, or became inactive, while I was their pastor! But, I dare not remain discouraged. My job is to preach the word, teach the word, plant the seed. The condition of the soil is beyond my control. And, the results are God's. The growth is God's. But, I do become impatient.

Robert Spike was a pastor, civil rights leader, and executive director of the National Council of Churches' Commission on Religion and Race when he was murdered. What proved to be his last words to the Commission were prophetic. He said,

The long-term results of the battles for social change are never in the hands of the immediate contenders. There are always forces and factors more powerful than the precise dreams of the reformers. And the human capacity for sin is boundless. Pride and vanity and triviality are giants never really brought low. But the human spirit, molded by the plan of God, is more indomitable than that. What is asked of us is obedience to the moment, every new moment. God will take care of the centuries.

What is asked of you is obedience, obedience to the moment. God will take care of the centuries. We will never see the complete results of what we do. Moses died before he reached the promised land. Forty years, he worked with the people in the wilderness, training them, teaching them, readying them for the invasion into Canaan. They led him to the top of Mount Nebo, which today is located in Jordan, where Moses yearningly, longingly, thankfully, looked across the Jordan River into the promised land of Canaan. But, he died before they arrived. Moses planted the seeds. God did the growing. The long, long range is in God's hands. God asks us, Are you faithful? Are you obedient? God does not ask, Are you successful?

The second parable Jesus told was about the mustard seed. The mustard seed is a tiny seed. Jesus said it is the smallest of all the seeds on earth. Yet, it grows into a huge shrub that is often ten feet tall. In one growing season, it grows to ten feet. So big, from so small a seed. Sometimes we are discouraged thinking how insignificant is our action, how tiny is the seed. But, God does the growing. From a seemingly small act, a big result may grow. When God acts, the results are out of all proportion to the seed, to the act.

Husbands especially do not seem to understand how what they consider to be small, unnecessary acts become big deals to their wives. A wife complained to the marriage counselor, "All I ask is that he treat me as well as he treats the dog! When my husband comes home from work, he speaks to the dog, touches him, pats him on the head, scratches his ears, and then takes the dog for a walk. All I ask is that he treat me as well as he treats the dog!" The husband probably thinks, "What's the big deal?" But, what is so little to him is so big to his wife.

Of course I couldn't find it when I needed it, but studies show that the average father carries on a meaningful conversational with his children, when averaged out, a few seconds a day. Fathers may think it insignificant, a small thing to do, to talk to children when not disciplining, when not confronting. Fathers may think it small talk to ask a child how he/she feels, what's going on, just talking about nothing. But, so little is so big!

Didn't you find it ironic that the day after all the celebrating of the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day, one of the smallest turnouts in history voted in California? What was D-Day all about if it doesn't include the privilege of voting, of exercising the right of a citizen in a democratic society? So little, yet so big, is one person's vote.

My vision for our church's ministry includes small groups; small groups of people studying, sharing, praying, caring for one another, being the church to one another. Small group ministry may seem small, but yet it is big. When God is the grower, watch out.

This morning we are commissioning our first work team to Appalachia. They will join with other United Methodists and repair homes. They will see first-hand what it is to be poor, but proud. They will learn first-hand what Jesus meant when he said the greatest among you is the one who serves. They will learn to do something for people who have nothing material to give in return. What our team does may seem small in the face of gigantic social problems. Repairing one house may seem small, may seem insignificant, but when God is involved, and service is done in the name of Jesus Christ, the results are out of all proportion to the act, like a mustard bush from a tiny seed.

Do not worry about the seed once it is planted, the result is in God's hands. Do not worry about the smallness of the seed, the seeming little of what you do, God is the grower. What is asked of you is obedience to the moment, God takes care of the centuries.






Mark 4:31-32

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris