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The Call to Worship
From the mustard seed a great and mighty shrub emerges.
All: Good things can come from something that seemed so insignificant!
The spore of the yeast can leaven the whole loaf of bread.
All: We can be those people who bring hope and peace to God’s world.
Come, let us praise the God of great and mighty wonders.
All: Let our spirits soar in gratitude for the opportunities God gives us to serve.
Lord, you place before us the images of the small--the tiny mustard seed, the grain of yeast, the small treasure--and remind us that we, though we think of ourselves as small, are not insignificant in your kingdom. Open our hearts and our spirits to you in thankful remembrance of the ways in which we can serve you throughout all our lives. AMEN.
(call to worship and prayer from http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1141/worship-connection-pentecost-6-yr-a)
The Psalter (20.7-8)
7Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. 8They will collapse and fall, but we shall rise and stand upright.
The Wisdom of Shannon L. Alder
“Dignity…the moment you live your dreams, not because of what it will prove or get you, but because that is all you want to do. People’s opinions don’t matter.”
“Jesus said, “With what can we compare the kin-dom of God…? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
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The Little Things
Our gospel lesson today is one familiar to me from my childhood… the story of the mustard seed. My memory is that I’ve heard countless sermons preached on the concept that we are required only to have faith the size of a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, in order to tap into the vastness of God’s mercy, love, and abundance. Said another way we don’t have to have a massive strong faith to please God, all we have to do is make a very small beginning and God will do the rest.
There’s a beautiful message in this story about the natural world and our responsibility for caring for the environment as a point of faith. The mustard seed growing into a large, strong, healthy plant is made possible only when there is fertile soil free from chemical or radiological contamination, a stable climate and growing season, enough water to fuel the plant’s growth, and enough sun to allow the plant to perpetuate photosynthesis all of which are necessary for the plant to thrive.
This story is also an example of how seemingly insignificant actions or inactions in our lives can have an enormous impact on our ability to grow, change, and adapt to the circumstances of our lives and the world. Large results are always a product of a series of small actions. Every goal is accomplished one task at a time. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,” said Lao Tzu perhaps seven thousand years ago. Jesus was not giving us a new teaching. He was framing an ancient archetype in the language and culture of the people to whom he was speaking at that particular point in his life on earth.
And Jesus was not suggesting that we have to go some great distance from the point at which we find ourselves to avail ourselves of an opportunity to make a difference. Sometimes, even oftentimes, our greatest opportunity to act for justice, to speak for those who are voiceless, is right in our own backyard, right in front of our eyes.
Planting seeds is not an endeavor that produces instant result. Planting, cultivating, weeding, and watering is a process that takes time. Gardening is something that requires us to participate in small actions day-by-day, week-by-week, waiting for the ultimate fruition of our efforts. We are invited to co-create the realm of God here on earth rather than waiting for God to bring it forth full grown without our participation.
My self-centered desire is to be viewed as a leader, as someone who is considered “the best”, excelling by making great contributions to the world. Our readings today remind us that a good life and a life of purpose is not built on large actions producing large results. Rather a successful life spent working for justice is built on small actions made over and over, wherever we find ourselves, using whatever opportunities are presented to us.
When we find ourselves concerned about what other people think of us often we are concentrating not on the little things that we need to be doing to sustain our spirits, but overly anxious about proving points or attaining things. And this month that we celebrate Pride is a good opportunity to dissect the word because it has been misunderstood and, in some cases, demonized.
Most of us have heard pride listed as one of the seven “deadly” sins. But I submit to you that having pride in ourselves as children of God leads us to respect the dignity of every human being. And that respecting others fuels our work for justice in the world. It is not pride that is deadly, it is false pride…. The kind of pride that is based not in who we are but in what we have or what we have done; pride not in our belovedness but in our superiority.
Yesterday I attended the annual Pride Interfaith service and the Pride Parade in Boston. Once again I was awestruck at the diversity of people who are concerned with protecting the dignity of every human being and our God given right to choose who we love and with whom we choose to make a family. Yesterday I was reminded again how the little things can make such a huge impact in our lives. Things like remembering those we love, taking time to spend time with friends and family, choosing to sing and pray together in corporate worship, and reveling in our diversity rather than becoming preoccupied with whether we measure up to someone else’s idea of success.
Let us go forth from this place today as gardeners rather than CEO’s. May we understand that pride in taking each small step toward a goal of justice is not a bad thing, rather it is that very pride that reminds us that we are all God’s children and all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Let us fully embrace our responsibility to ensure that all God’s children live in peace, with food, clothing, shelter, and fulfilling work to do. And may we always remember that this can only be accomplished by allowing our faith to be expanded and magnified by the creator of the universe.
As I’ve said many times here, the Pirkei Avot 2:28 says, “"It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it." It’s not our job to do the great things that change the course of history. But it is our responsibility to do the little things, one day at a time, right were we find ourselves, to bring to light the realm of God’s justice in the world… not the big, magnificent sacrifices but the little things that God uses to move forward along the long arc of justice. Amen