the 15th Day of Pentecost
September 22nd, 2019
The lessons for today are:
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Click here to access these readings.
While in seminary, a couple friends and I took once took a retreat at a monastery down in Alabama (good ‘Father-Shippey’ kinda country, where the sweet tea flows like water). This was a Benedictine monastery, and so, because of their vows, they were super hospitable. They put us up in guest quarters (for free, too, because they couldn’t turn anyone anyone away), fed us (again, for free), and invited us to their prayer offices, which went from early in the morning until after dinner at night. Everything was, quite basically, taken care of for us. We were there to relax, breathe, and live apart from the busyness of seminary studies.
Now, that said, we had a lot to do. I brought, of course, tons of things to read. I had some good friends with me, there were all throughout the forest out back, and there were the beautiful prayer services that pulled me to the heart of my faith. It was at this monastery that I finally realized why things like the Eucharistic prayer need to be sung (so if you don’t like that we do that here, you can blame those good monks down in Alabama!).
So, yeah, I had a lot to do. But as time went on, I found that I did less and less. That first evening, I cracked open a book, and the following morning, my friend and I talked about seminary and life and literature, but as the days continued, I open my books less often. My friends and I talked less. Soon our walks were silent. Little things, like the sun or moon, or the monks singing or even just walking in procession – these seemed so much more important than anything I could read or that we’d talk about. The world around me seemed so full already; why add to it?
And if you think this is just old romantic Tim up here, I think these moments are pretty common in life. I remember when my two girls were born: those first few moments holding them, and that first night when it was just so perfect to just look at them – not do anything, not say anything, but just to watch them sleep. That was enough. There’s also the calm of baking, or gardening, or just walking, where the only things on your mind are the next step, then the next, then the next.
In these moments, you find that – or, at least, I’ve found that – the small things are actually really big. And not “big” in the sense of weighty and full of anxiety, but tat they’re full, important, exceptional, Spirit-filled. Small things like the weight of a little infant in your arms, or the colors of the sunrise, or the graceful way a monk bows – these matter so deeply. Small things can be, and often are, essential.
Now, our God is a God of small things. He’s the God of carpenters in little po-dunk towns like Bethlehem, he’s the God of a few fishermen who come to know God face-to-face, he’s the God of the lost, the hungry, the anxious, and the forgotten. And he’s the God of you and me as well.
But I think we often forget this. When we come to Jesus saying things like what we heard this morning, that “if we can’t be trusted in small things, how can we be trusted in big things”, when we hear that, we usually think that the big things are what really matter. And we think that, the small things are only stepping stones to the big things. We think: okay, I’ll do these small things and when I’m good with them, I’ll graduate on to medium things; and when I’m good with those, I can handle big, important matters. We do this with children. Right now, we’re teaching Gwendolyn to do chores. She’s four, so she can’t do much, so for now, she dusts the doorknobs. Soon she’ll be older and more capable, and so she can put away her clothes, or help with the dishes, or, you know, paint the house and do our taxes. But each step of the way, we give her something small, then build on it, with the intent that, when she’s older, she’ll be responsible with bigger things.
Now, I think this is good parenting (or, at least, I hope it is), but I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about. Jesus isn’t saying that, when we’ve gotten good at feeding the poor, we can graduate to working for world peace and forget about the poor, or that once we really get a handle on keeping this building in ship shape, we can handle the big stuff like keeping our national church in ship shape and St. James can go to rot. No, Jesus is saying that if you are faithful, if you are trustworthy, if you are honorable and good to the small details of life, there you will find God. Because what we think of as small isn’t really small; it’s essential.
For it may seem easy to us, but to someone who is starving, who is lost and doesn’t know where to turn, a bag full of food given with an open hand is a big thing. It may not seem like much, but a couple of dollars sent in love to a priest in Africa who runs a school for little girls to teach them and to keep them safe – that’s quite a lot for that priest, and it may mean the world to those little girls. And when we say a prayer, even just a quiet, short word to God, or we take five minutes from a busy day to sit with our Lord and Savior, we might think it a little thing, not worth much, but prayer has changed the world saved many from death and despair.
And when we see the world this way, when we see the weight and the glory of the small and the seemingly so insignificant, we see a light that we had almost missed, a brilliance that we had overlooked. For the world is not lost to darkness but alive with the light of God. And you will see that you yourself, and you yourselves together, are part of that light. No, not fully, for we are still beset with sin, and the hopes and efforts of our lives are still muddled and darkened. But the light of God, the living light of God, still shines forth, and it shines forth in all the good that we do, whether it’s big or small, whether we think it’s all that important or not. So do good. Do good with an open hand. Whether it’s tiny little things or great big things, who cares. Do good, love like Jesus loved and still loves you and will always love you.