Yes, the devil can be in the details. But God is there, too.
There are lots of places a preacher can go with Mark’s seed-related parables. I want to focus on one fascinating, comforting takeaway. The infinite being, the one mighty enough to make and stand outside the entire universe, has a powerful interest in what looks to us like the little parts of creation.
We actually have two parables here, but both focus on the mystery of life, the kind of life that sustains other life, a nurturing presence springing forth from the seemingly insignificant. No matter how technically sophisticated or scientific we become, a seed remains a wonder, bringing out childlike curiosity in most people.
We tend to think of spiritual beings acting for good or evil in grand, sweeping ways. The last time I preached, we talked about a vision of God’s majesty—his angels alone are enough to overwhelm. Jesus is reminding us that the battle between good and evil also occurs on a level we might consider “small,” although I wonder if such concepts as “big” and “small” mean much on that spiritual plane of existence.
Indeed, the devil seems to enjoy thinking small. Often, small is where he can do the most damage. All we have to do is think of a cancer cell, a malformation in a strand of DNA, to understand how evil can do great damage at a tiny level.
And yet, God promises his kingdom is erupting from similarly small places, spreading and growing until evil is ultimately destroyed. As we learn more about physics, it seems the universe’s tiniest parts are wired with God’s will, undergirding God’s plan. For example, quantum physics tells us that if two tiny particles ever interact with each other in a process called “entanglement,” they continue to influence each other, no matter how far they separate. From a theological perspective, this can say much about the power of relationships and prayer.
God’s emphasis on the small also says much about our need to pay attention to the little things, what we sometimes call the details. As Christians, we are quickest to have this conversation if talking about work ethic.
And work ethic is important. As I thought about this, my mind went to some news stories I’ve read in recent years about the discovery of the Titanic’s wreckage. Researchers have even recovered some of the pieces, and it has become clear the problem with the great ship was not in her massive decks, stacks or bulkheads, but in her tiniest parts. Her rivets were not manufactured properly, making them brittle and prone to shatter upon impact with an iceberg or any other solid object. Someone somewhere failed to pay attention to something small, and havoc ensued.
The importance of detail is true in our spiritual lives, too. I’m not saying we have to become obsessive, but we do have to pay attention to what may seem like the small aspects of our lives.
Are we allowing God to work through us in the small places? Is he the God of our world’s details?
How we interact with a child who can barely talk may not seem like an important practical matter. The child cannot hire us, fire us or affect us in any real way. But like seeds, children have tremendous power to bloom into something great in God’s kingdom. Words, looks and actions can be either water or herbicide to them. Our actions and words should tell them about the love of Jesus Christ even before they can say his name.
What we do with the socially small, the people with no influence or power, also is one of the great tests of how we are doing as Christians. Jesus worked through such people, choosing them to be his disciples, to share his power and perform his miracles. Ignoring them is very much like ignoring Christ, the source of eternal life.
And then there are the little details of our personal lives. Do we treat them as being important to God? Do we consult him through prayer and Scripture in the small things, or do we wait to run to him when the devil’s little cancer cell has reproduced and grown massive? Perhaps this is the deepest meaning of praying without ceasing, reaching a point where God’s will guides every second of our lives.
We are called to be mindful that nothing in creation is “small.” All of creation has the potential to glorify God; that means in all things great and small, there are infinite possibilities.