The God of Little Things

Mark 4:26-34

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.


Mystery of the Creeping Kingdom

Mark 4:26-34

Note: I tried something a little different Sunday, a sermon that involved more conversation with those in attendance than preaching. I’m also trying to take better advantage of forums like Facebook to be in conversation about a biblical text before I preach it. If you would like to join in those pre-sermon conversations, go the the Sermon Shorts page on Facebook. I’ll usually have basic information about the Bible text for the week posted by Tuesday or Wednesday. “Like” the page, and you’ll know when new postings are made.

When I was in second grade at Jonesborough Elementary School in Jonesborough, Tenn., we would have multiple classes on the playground during the same recess period. It was a new school, and it had a really big play area: swings, slides and other playground equipment, an outdoor basketball court and lots of green space sloping down from the building.

When it was time to go in, a teacher would gather all the kids simply by standing at the top of the hill and raising her hand. We knew we had better get in line quickly.

One day, my friend Sam said he was ready to go in. No problem, I said. I simply stood in the right spot and raised my hand. I didn’t really expect anything to happen.

Something did happen, however. What looked like a sea of second-graders washed toward me, coming from the slides, the swings, and the asphalt court at the bottom of the hill. Now I had both hands up: “No, no, I was just kidding!”

Then I looked behind me. There stood one of the teachers, her hand in the air. I’m not sure she had even seen me, or that any kid on the playground had noticed me; it simply was time to go in.

It was an early lesson for me in how we don’t always recognize the power behind us, the real cause of events in which we find ourselves. Understanding that God is behind all kingdom-building moments is the point of our Scripture today.

It’s a simple idea. Trust that God is doing the work. God even does the initial sowing, working through Jesus Christ to draw us back into a relationship. Yes, we’re invited, even commanded, to sow seed alongside God. But it is word of God’s saving grace being poured out on all creation that grows the kingdom, not our efforts.

Dialogue Time:

1) Are you sowing? If not, why not? Some of the people involved in the conversation, either in our worship services or on Facebook earlier in the week, noted a feeling of inadequacy. We talked about how discipleship is the answer. We need to know God’s word well enough to be able to tell others about it in a comfortable, relaxed way. We also have to know how to build genuine relationships that give us the right to tell another person about Christ.

2) Do you know where the field is? I noted that it’s usually not in the church building. The days when the lost actually entered the church looking for answers are over. We have to go outside, understanding our church building to be a place for worship and training. We heard some encouraging reminders of people who have learned of Christ through the simplest outreach efforts. Those stories took us to the “mustard seed” portion of our text.

I am convinced that the mustard seed parable is there to show us we will be surprised by what happens. Our expectations are rooted in what we think is possible. God tells us the results of our sowing will be rooted much more deeply, in what God says is possible.

In fact, we could be like I was on the playground in second grade, holding up both hands, so shocked at the results of our efforts that our first reaction is, “We have to stop this.” The people rushing at us may look different, or have unusual worship ideas, or have sets of problems unfamiliar to us.

But with God standing behind us, we have nothing to fear. If we’re faithful in sowing seeds, he’ll show us how to handle the crowds of people wanting Jesus in their lives.