+ One of the things we priests encounter on a regular basis are people who tell us about why they don’t attend church anymore. In fact, that’s very common. Invariably, whenever I do a wedding or a funeral and sit with people afterward at the receptions, people get to feeling a bit guilty and start telling me why they don’t attend Church. Which is good. I like hearing those stories. They’re important for all of us to hear on occasion. And one of the most common reasons, I’ve found, is that, oftentimes, it is not issues of their belief in God, or in anything spiritual that causes them to stop attending.
In fact, I very rarely ever hear someone say they stopped attending church because of God. The number one reason? The Church itself. Capital C. The oppressiveness of the Church. The actions of the Church. The close-mindedness and the restrictions of the Church and, more especially, those agents of the Church who feel that their duty is is to uphold he institutions of the Church over the care of those who attend the Church.
(Those agents are the same ones who, it seems, forgets that WE are the church).
And even then, it’s not big things that do. It’s not giant things that drive people away from Church. It’s sometimes small things. A comment made at coffee hour. A seemingly innocent critique. A shake of a finger from a priest or a bishop from a pulpit.
I hope I haven’t been guilty of that. I don’t know to tell anyone here this morning: small things do matter when it comes to the Church, to our faith in God.
Jesus definitely understood this. In our Gospel reading is Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to the smallest thing they could’ve understood. A mustard seed. A small, simple mustard seed. Something they no doubt knew. And something they no doubt gave little thought to. But it was with this simple image—this simple symbol—that Jesus makes clear to those listening that little things do matter.
And we, as followers of Jesus, need to take heed of that. Little things DO matter. Because little things can unleash BIG things. Even the smallest action on our part can bring forth the kingdom of God in our lives and in the lives of those we serve. But those small actions—those little seeds that we sow in our lives—can also bring about not only God’s kingdom but the exact opposite. Our smallest bad actions, can, destroy. Our actions can destroy the kingdom in our midst and drive us further away from God.
Any of us who do ministry on a regular basis know this keenly. You will hear me say this again and again to anyone who wants to do ministry: be careful about those small actions. You’ve heard me say: when it comes to dealing with people in the church, use VELVET GLOVES. Be sensitive to others. Those small words or actions. Those little criticisms of people who are volunteering. Those little snips and moments of impatience. Those moments of frustration at someone who doesn’t quite “get it” or who simply can’t do it. “Use velvet gloves all the time,” I say, and I mean it.
None of us can afford to lose anyone from the church, no matter how big the church might be. Even one lost person is a huge loss to all of us.
I cannot tell you how many times I hear stories about clergy or church leaders who said or did one thing wrong and it literally destroyed a person’s faith. I’m sure almost everyone here this morning has either experienced a situation like this first hand with a priest or pastor or even a lay person in a leadership position in the church. Or if not you, you have known someone close who has.
Now, possibly these remarks by ministers were innocent comments. There may have been no bad intention involved. But one wrong comment—one wrong action—a cold shoulder or an exhausted roll of the eyes or a scolding—the fact that a priest did not visit us when were in the hospital or said something that we took the wrong way—is all it takes when a person is in need to turn that person once and for all away from the church and from God. That mustard seed all of a sudden takes on a whole other meaning in a case like this. What grows from a small seed like this is a flowering tree of hurt and despair and anger and bitterness.
So, it is true. Those seeds we sow do make a huge difference in the world. And I can tell you, I have done it as well. I have made some stupid comment in a joking manner that was taken out of context. We all have. So, knowing that, we now realize how important those mustard seeds in our lives are. We get to make the choice. We can sow seeds of goodness and graciousness—seeds of the Gospel. We can sow the seeds of God’s kingdom. Or we can sow the seeds of discontent.
We can, through our actions, sow the weeds and thistles that will kill off the harvest. These past several years you have heard me preach ad nauseum about change in the church. Well, I am clear when I say that the most substantial changes we can make in the church are not always the BIG ones. Oftentimes, the most radical changes we can make are in the little things we do—the things we think are not important. We forget about how important the small things in life are—and more importantly we forget how important the small things in life are to God.
God does take notice of the small things. We have often heard the term “the devil is in the details.” But I can’t help but believe that it is truly God who is in the details. God works just as mightily through the small things of life as through the large. This is what Jesus is telling us this morning in this parable.
So, let us take notice of those small things. It is there we will find our faith—our God. It from that small place—those tentative attempts at growth—that God’s kingdom flourishes in our lives. So, let us be mindful of those smallest seeds we sow in our lives as followers of Jesus.
Let us remind ourselves that sometimes what they produce can either be a wonderful and glorious tree or a painful, hurtful weed. Let us sow God’s love from the smallest ounce of faith. Let us further the kingdom of God’s love in whatever seemingly small way we can. Let that love be the positive atom which, when unleashed, creates an explosion of goodness and beauty and grace in this world.