Little Things. Big Promises

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany/Lectionary 6
February 15, 2009
2 Kings 15

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

It is such a little thing, really.
Just a ball.  Just a glove.
But the sound of the two meeting –
    especially when that ball is thrown 60, 70, 80 miles per hour
        by a big league pitcher on his first day of Spring Training – which was yesterday!
        in Florida towns such as Viera, Clearwater, or Bradenton –
        is a beautiful thing.
As simple as it is, that sound of ball verses glove
    is one that brings joy and hope into the heart of baseball fans after a long, dark winter.
One little sound.  That’s all it takes.
It is a sound that sends even a Washington Nationals fan into a fantasy land,
    triggering all kinds of “what if” scenarios –
        what if that new second baseman turns into a superstar?
        what if our pitching staff becomes (suddenly and miraculously) unhittable?
        what if . . . our team actually begins to win more often than it loses?
Soon, with that ball in mitt “pop” still ringing in our ears,
    thoughts of late season walk-off home runs,
    big efforts by bench players,
    and a World Series parade down South Capitol Street fill our hearts and minds.

Sure, there is no promise that our Washington Nationals –
    and yes, I did say, “our,” even though the Phillies will have a special place in my heart –
    will do anything of significance this season,
        but on a cold winter morning that little sound of ball versus glove
        gives us baseball fanatics so much hope.
For even this team,
    this Washington Nationals ballclub
        which finished with the worst record in the league last year,
    for even this team, right now, is undefeated.
One little sound, dear friends, fills us with such hope.

In a few minutes we’ll hear another little sound,
    one that should give us a hope much greater than any baseball team can offer . . .
We’ll hear the sound of water being poured over Cameron Michael Mayer’s head,
    perhaps the sound of some screaming, too,
        and most significantly, the sound of sacred, ancient words of promise:
    “Cameron Michael, I baptize you in the name of the Father,
        and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And, a few minutes later in the liturgy, we’ll hear,
    “Cameron Michael, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit
        and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”
Such a little thing – a few splashes of water, a collection of ancient prayers and blessings,
    and a dab of oil to top it all off . . .
Such little things . . . yet such a profound promise, such a sure and certain hope . . .
Yet for nearly two thousand years the church has taught
    that these little things are the means of God’s great and abundance grace.
Through these little things God claims Cameron Michael Mayer as his own.
Through these little things God claims each and every one of us.
Through these little things God makes us his children.
Through these little things God knits us into a family of faith.
Through these little things God awards us the promise of new life and salvation.
God chooses to act through little things.

But . . . but we can find it hard to believe that so much could come out of so little.
Naaman, the Syrian general in our first reading,
    had a similar problem.
Sick with a debilitating skin disease,
    Naaman swallowed his pride and crossed the Jordan River,
    not with the clenched fist of military aggression, as he had done many times,
    but with hands full of extravagant gifts
        to lay at the feet of the prophet who could heal him.
With royal letter in hand, an entourage that would make any dignitary proud,
    and a virtual treasury on wheels,
    Naaman came to the King of Israel in search of the prophet who might make him well.
When Naaman finally arrives at the prophet’s house, Elisha doesn’t even come out.
Instead, Elisha sends a messenger to deliver the simple instructions:
    “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times,
    and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.”
This unheralded announcement of a rather simple cure sends Naaman into a fit.
“Surely for me he would come out, wave his arms around,
    call on the name of the Lord, and cure me. 
    And this Jordan River? 
    It is nothing compared to the great rivers of Syria!”
Insulted by the indignity of being greeted by a messenger,
    and the unsophisticated nature of the healing remedy,
    Naaman stomps off, turning his back on the prospect and promise of healing.
But then one of his servants, much lower in rank than the mighty general,
    pleads with him to give it a try –
    “After all, Sir, if he had asked you to do something more difficult,
    you would have done it, wouldn’t you?”
So without the fanfare traditionally reserved for an imperial general,
    in a rather dinky river in the territory of a beleaguered backwater nation,
    this proud Syrian general finds his cure and is healed.
Through that little river, with little pomp and circumstance – none, actually –
    at the urging of a lowly servant,
    through those little things, God brought healing –
        indeed, new life and the gift of faith – to Naaman.
Through such a little thing, God did so much.

So this gets me to thinking . . .
    what are the little things in our lives through which God is doing so much?
What are those unceremonious occasions
    or where are those off the beaten track locations
    where God calls us for life-changing encounters?
What are the ordinary, the little, the seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives
    that God, with the promise of faith,
    makes extraordinary?
Searching for a Naaman-like miracle might send us scratching,
    but what about something much more simple, yet just as holy and consequential?
Yesterday in our Parish Hall
    the Arlington Interfaith Council,
    which is comprised of community nonprofit and religious leaders,
    met with county leaders, including the chair of the county board.
It was an opportunity for leaders in the faith community to gather with our elected leaders,
    to discuss issues of common interest,
    and raise issues of common concern,
    as the faith communities and county government alike
    seek ways to provide for the wellbeing of the Arlington community,
        particularly those who have the greatest need.
It may not have had the miraculous drama of a healing –
    nobody’s sickly skin
transformed before our eyes –
    but it was a holy moment for in our lovely but rather unassuming church basement,
        out of the limelight and without much in the way of pomp and circumstance,
        God was at work in the gathering,
        turning our attention from selfish concerns
        to the needs of those who struggle simply to get by,
            calling us to works of healing, renewal, and life-giving compassion.
Just a simple encounter, a conversation,
    wherein hopes were born and commitment renewed despite the challenges that we face.
God was at work yesterday in that little meeting.

The little things.
Keep your eyes and ears open for the little things through which God may be working.
In your life, there are all kinds of little things,
    whether in the community at PTA meetings, scouts, or civic associations,
    or in your family life, in the way you care for and nurture loved ones,
    or in your daily tasks at home or at the office,
        faithfully fulfilling the work to which God has called you . . .
These little things become vehicles for Gods’ work in the world,
    little means of God’s great and abundant grace.

But . . . but there’s some of that Naaman doubt still lingering.
Doubt that God really acts through these little things,
    doubt that such small acts,
    such ordinary settings,
    can be the place and manner of God’s engagement with the world.
I mean . . . it almost sounds like a fairy tale,
    a cliché driving the contrived story line of a made for tv movie.
I admit it . . . it can sound like that.
    But where do you think this storyline about little things came from, in the first place?
Isn’t it sad that one of the great storylines of the Bible –
    that God does great things through rather small means –
    has so become intertwined into our culture’s traditions and folktales
        that we miss it?
Long before there were Disney movies about the triumph of the underdog,
    the Bible told a story about a small boy David slaying the great giant Goliath.
Yes, the Scripture is full of stories of the small, the lowly, the insignificant,
    doing grand, mighty and significant things by and with the power of God.
And so we hear these stories,
    and in this place we live into this storyline through the Word and sacraments,
    but nonetheless we can too quickly dismiss it or fail to appreciate its grandeur,
    for it sounds like a fairy tale.
But in a world where bigger is better,
    might is right,
    and accumulation of wealth and goods is a full contact sport,
 hearing stories of a quite different God,
    and enacting ancient promises with small gestures imbued with grand meaning . . .
    these things – these little things – ground us in a big hope,
    turning our eyes from the visible and tangible stuff of this world,
        to the far greater and as yet unseen hope
        to which our Christian faith bears witness, and for which we pray every day . . .
    namely that God’s kingdom come,
        that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven,
        a future Kingdom where we will enjoy the promise of life everlasting.
Little things.  Big promises.
For Naaman.  For Cameron Michael.  For you.
Thanks be to God.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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