Little Things (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost)

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I’m one of those people who always makes lists.  Sometimes, I even make lists of lists!  Lists help me to remember important things.  They assist me in organizing my days.  And like many people who make lists, I get a sense of accomplishment whenever I’m able to cross things off my list (or delete those things now that most of my lists are in the notes on my phone.)

Sometimes, the things on my lists are big and important things.  But usually, I can remember those.  So, the things on my lists are often smaller, more immediate tasks.  Plus, smaller, immediate tasks can be quickly done and checked off, so that I can get that aforementioned sense of accomplishment!

Lately, though, I’ve noticed that there are a number of small things that I just haven’t gotten around to.  They’ve stayed on my list for weeks.  And none of them would take that long.  I know I should do them, but I just haven’t.

Here are three of them:

  • Re-make my regular check-up appointment with the dentist… (I had an appointment, but it got canceled during the lockdown.  So, they called me weeks ago and said I should re-schedule.  But I haven’t yet…)
  • Take the car in for a recall … (apparently, there’s a very minor chance the fuel pump won’t work right at some point in the future…)
  • Get the propane tank filled for my grill … (I add this to the list when I swap out the empty tank for a full one.  But it’ll probably be a couple months before the current tank runs dry, so…)

I usually knock little things like these off my lists pretty quickly.  And so I was wondering why I haven’t gotten around to these and things like them.  And I realized that these, like so many little things in life, aren’t hard, and they’re not time consuming.  But they’re also not fun.  They’re not exciting or interesting.  And they don’t seem to be really necessary right now.

That’s the way it often is with little things in life.  And I was thinking about that as I read today’s Gospel, because Jesus spends a lot of time today talking about little things – a mustard seed; an invisible amount of yeast; or even a pearl, which to the untrained eye wouldn’t maybe seem all that exciting. 

And yet, Jesus uses these things because he says that the kingdom of heaven is often made known and experienced through little things.  And sometimes, like the things that sit on my list, these things don’t at first seem all that fun, or exciting or even mission critical during times of great stress and conflict.

And yet, we all know that that’s often not the case.  Little things that seem insignificant can end up becoming mission critical down the road (I mean, if that fuel pump actually fails, I’ll be stranded some place and that WILL be mission critical!)  Little things that seem small often grow into bigger things (I mean, if I actually have a small cavity and don’t know it, it WILL get bigger.)  And little things that don’t seem all that exciting now could have a way of exciting me in the future (you really don’t want to see how I react when I run out of propane in the middle of barbequing something!)…

Sometimes, the little things really are the most important things.  And Jesus points out that these important little things are often the ways God works through us to make the kingdom of heaven a real and tangible experience in the life of others in our world.

And so these brief parables point out that little things that we do to be faithful followers of Jesus are important:

  • Even when they don’t seem all that flashy or exciting –  the “pearl of great value” is still lying around to be found by the merchant because it didn’t seem flashy or important to other buyers; and sometimes, the unexciting, unflashy stuff is what really makes a difference … (a couple of weeks ago we had a Zoom discussion led by Tami Bulla about issues of policing in Maryland; Tami made the point that people like her who work for the police (and others in local government) really do take seriously the comments of constituents, and it makes a difference when somebody is willing to show up or send an email that says, ‘I’m concerned about this’, or even, ‘I’m glad you’re doing this – keep it up.’; it may not be as flashy or exciting as posting righteous indignation on social media, but those kinds of small things actually do make a difference in the lives of people in our community…)
  • Because we do them together – one grain of yeast doesn’t do much of anything; but when they grow together, they all make a difference.  Often, I think I forget to buy food for Gaithersburg HELP because I don’t think a couple of cans of food is that big a deal.  But watching in these last few months what happens when everybody does that, makes it clear what a big difference that can make.  The same thing is true in fighting the pandemic when we’re all willing to wear masks, wash our hands, and stay 6 feet apart…. When we all do those little things, big things can change…
  • Maybe most importantly of all, because God can do big things with the little things we do – all these weeks we’ve been reading about seeds.  All the sower does is plant the thing.  The sower can’t actually make the seed grow and bear fruit.  But if the sower just does that one little thing, God will do great things with that one little thing.  Sometimes, the thing that’s made a big difference in my life has been something someone said or did, thinking it was a small thing.  Sometimes, the things people have told me that I did that made a huge difference were things I don’t even remember doing, because it seemed like such a small, trivial thing.  And it was.  But God took the thing and did something great with it. It wasn’t me, or you.  It was God making the small thing into something amazing.

Jesus reminds us today not to ignore the small things, or think they aren’t important.  Little things make a difference, and can even be the ways in which God’s presence and love are most powerfully experienced in the lives of others.

So maybe the lesson I need to remember – and maybe you do, too – is not to ignore the little things, or let them sit on my list.  Send an email to an elected official.  Buy some food for Gaithersburg HELP.  Wear your mask.  And reach out to that person who you think may need a friend.

Sometimes, the little thing you do won’t seem like much.  And you may never see a result.  But Jesus promises that many of the little things you and I do are indeed powerful, not because we’re so powerful, but because God is able to great things even with our weakness.