Friday, June 19, 2009

Little -- A Sermon

So, I was driving my little smart car yesterday, and parked to do something.  When I went back to the car and wanted to get in,  there was a guy peeking in the windows and walking around it.  

Actually that happens quite a lot.  When it does, and they don't notice me approaching, I like to have a little fun.  My key has four buttons on it, and one of them is the red "panic" button.  It sets off an alarm and makes the lights flash.  I don't push that one.  I'm tempted but just can't bring myself to do it.  However, there's another button that unlocks the car.  When you push it, the car beeps just once, and the lights flash on and off.  It's just enough to make someone jump a little.  Maybe a mile or so.  So I did it.  And I enjoyed it.

The funny thing is, this almost always results in a conversation about the car.  It goes like this:  “What is it?  It’s so little!  What’s the mileage?  It’s so little it ought to get 100 miles a gallon.   How long does it take to wind it up?  Is it safe?  I mean, it’s so little!”

The next thing they say is either, “How can I get one?” or “What kind of nut are you for driving something so  little?”

We don’t really have a lot of respect for little in our culture.  Big is beautiful.  Fashion models are amazons.  Athletes are giants.  I can only name one NBA star who was ever my size.   Even in politics, tall wins.  I don’t want to sound defeatist but of all the presidents, only James Madison was shorter than me).    Our houses over the last fifty years went from large to obscene.  And some SUVs have gotten so big that people have to build new garages for them  As for churches, well, see if you can find any television churches with just 80 people in the pews.  

What’s so different about our society from others that makes BIG so attractive, and LITTLE so -- not?

Nothing.  It seems most societies like things bigger.  It makes them seem more powerful, safer, more important.  

Which makes the story of David’s selection as king rather odd.  The prophet Samuel was already unhappy with having to choose a new king.  Saul was still king, and although he wasn’t doing a great job, Samuel was loyal to him.  But in this story, God wanted someone new.

So Samuel went to Jesse as directed and started asking to see his sons.  And when he saw the first he said, “Oooh, he’s BIG.  He’s got to be the one.”  You know how the story goes.  He goes down the list of Jesse’s sons, each getting just a little smaller, until he’s left with the youngest and littlest -- and God says, “This is the one.”

The lesson, of course is,  “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  It doesn’t hurt, however, that David is handsome and strong -- and that he WILL grow up to be big some day.  

Jesus makes a similar point with his story of the mustard seed.  It is the smallest of seeds, our story goes, but it will grow into the largest of shrubs, and birds will make their nest in it.  Just like little David, that tiny mustard seed will grow to be BIG.

But wait a minute.  All those stories seem to say is that something little can eventually BECOME big.  So BIG is still good?

What if you’re me?  I’m never going to get any bigger than I am!  My car is as big as it’s going to get.  What about that?  What happens if St. James’ continues to attract, say 100 people a Sunday?  Are we failures?

Let’s take a step back and look at our two stories for just a moment.  Did you notice that after Samuel annointed David, there were no trumpets blaring or honor guards?  Nobody bowed down.  More likely Jesse looked at Samuel, then at David and said, “Huh.  That was odd.  Now get back to work.”

It was years before David would then take the reigns of power.  He was not only little but hidden.  Nobody knew what was special about him - or that he would ever amount to anything.  

In the Gospel, we have the same thing.  That tiny seed is planted and then practically forgotten.  Their growth is secret and private; between God and them.  Keep that in mind as we return to folks like me who are little and will never play in the NBA or churches like ours that will never be the Crystal Cathedral.

Is there any value in staying little?  The answer is Yes.  And No.  

Obviously, for me, there’s no choice.  I’m little -- and actually as time goes by, I’ll get littler.  That’s biology.  Our church will possibly stay small, and that’s also okay.  We live in a small town, and though we can grow larger, being a small community is rather nice most of the time.

But what is hidden and between only God and us -- our hearts -- THERE we can grow.  And trust me, we do not want to stay little in our hearts.  Actually we don’t want to stay small in our minds either, because each of us has the capacity to continually grow.  Growing in our minds keeps us alert and engaged.  It helps us understand the world we live in and be an active part.

In the same way, growing in our hearts helps us better understand God, helps us be more like God, more caring and empathetic.  Growing in our hearts forces us out of immature self-centeredness and helps us see how what happens to you -- or a brother or sister halfway across the world -- affects me.  It helps us get beyond fear of death and poverty and such -- all those things we’re constantly trying to defend against or rise above -- and let go.  

To be fully engaged and loving the world yet ready to let go at a moment’s notice, like letting go of a balloon.  That’s where the growing heart leads - which means most of us still have a lot of growing to do.  But that’s okay.  This is growth that’s open to each of us no mattter how big or little we are.

It may not be visible, but then, the best growth never is.  Amen.