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In Praise of Small Things


“In Praise of Small Things,” the sermon by Pastor James Clarke for Sunday July 10, 2016.

Did anyone else see the season finale of Game of Thrones!? And you believe that Tyrion Lannister became the Hand of the Queen. Kind of like the Vice President. It’s a long and convoluted story.

Tyrion is a Little Person who started out as a debauch and a lush who was ridiculed as the “imp” – a character that seemed like comic relief. But over the seasons transforms into one of the wisest characters on the show. And now potentially one of the most powerful… As Hand of the Queen of Dragons…

That was one of the media events in our house so far this summer. Another one was the Euros in France. That is, the European soccer championship held every four years. And one of the biggest surprises this year was Iceland, which made it into the quarterfinals. They beat England!!

The population of England is 53 million. Iceland = 300,000. (10% of population in France for quarterfinal). England is home of the great Premier League! Iceland doesn’t have a league. Iceland lost to France 5-2. After one French goal, my older son, Aaron, complains about the goalie. And my younger son, Kenneth responds: “Give him a break – he previously quit soccer to become a film maker and works part time as refrigerator repairman.” They beat England!!

I have always appreciated soccer because stature is not a qualification for being a good player. Does anyone remember Diego Maradona? That guy was short!  5’2”. Small people are not esteemed as much as bigger people. I wish I was taller…. I quit basketball in junior high because I felt too small.

We Americans like big things… Shaquille O’Neil and Labron James… I was rooting for Golden State primarily because I like the relatively smaller Stephen Curry.

We admire big people… metaphorically too. The strong types – outspoken and full of self-esteem. I won’t name names. Confident rather than cautious. Doers rather than thinkers. Deciders rather than reflectors.

Did anyone hear about how former NYC Mayor Bloomberg, in the interest of health attempted to ban supersize drinks in the City? Are you kidding me!?  We like to supersize everything!

It would be an American prayer to say, “Please God, Supersize my life!” At least it would be a Joel Osteen prayer. Someone even designed a supersize cup that will still fit into the cup holder in our cars.

And speaking of cars, we are still infatuated with big cars. I remember in the late 1970s after the Oil Shock thinking that we would be wise and start to buy smaller cars. But have you seen some of the trucks people drive? They make me feel insignificant. I leave the hole in my exhaust system just so I can sound bigger…

Big cars, and yards and big houses. We all know the story of the growth in the size of our houses over the decades. And big portions….  I remember growing up going out to North’s Chuck Wagon – an all you can eat place. And we would pile it high; seconds and thirds….

Large landscape gardens, 20 ounce beers, big events… big fireworks and Mega churches too! Culturally we have lived, even if we haven’t consciously believed in it. Big… bigger is always better. And the biggest big thinkers of all come from Texas!

Amos didn’t come from anywhere like Texas. He was from a place called Tekoa, known as a part of the Judean wilderness. It was a nothing place. Kind of like Tekoa, Washington – anyone been there? In Whitman County population of less than 1,000. Ranked 420 out of 522 in affluence in the state.

Who of interest has ever come from Tekoa? Apparently Bing Crosby was born there, but he grew up in Spokane… a somewhat bigger concern.

Neither was Amos a big person… metaphorically. And I imagine literally as well. I also imagine him as follicle challenged. He was s dresser of sycamore trees – not a big job. An unlikely person from a small place to be called by God.

And Colossae was not a big town either. Not directly on the trade routes. John of Patmos did not include Colossae in the churches he addressed in Revelations. That went to neighboring Laodicea – a much bigger town.

Because the letters of Paul are so significant to us, so big for us, we easily assume that they were big places; that he was writing to big churches. But they weren’t. In the context of their surrounding world, they were extremely small and insignificant.

The Early Church did not start as a large populist movement. It started very small, ridiculed and taunted, called spiritual imps. Yet God worked through them… and Amos and many more small people and communities. Contrary to how we see and value things, God has worked and continues to work through small things.

I’m sure most of you know by now that I have a macro lens for my camera. It was a Christmas present from my wonderful family. Macro lenses allow one to take pictures of very small things, insects, flowers and beads of dew, for example.

Prior to having this lens, I paid scant attention to beads of dew. I wanted to take pictures of eagles, not the snails that we step on after a rainy night. But have we really looked at the pattern and color of the shells of those snails…. Each unique.

Speaking of patterns – taking pictures of smaller things has guided me to see consistent patterns in nature. Leaves that all have nine veins. The intricacy of a spider web. The spiral on shells that parallels that on the snail.

I took my camera and lens to the preschool once and took pictures of the palms of their hands and their eyes. Looking at the patterns of their palm prints that each one is unique, which was a great segue into saying each one of them is a unique creation of God. Looking at the depth and variation in eye color, eyes are incredibly beautiful.

With my new lens, taking pictures of small things became like a spiritual discipline. Previously I would go on a walk and not look at the small things, looking more precisely, closely, deeply. My wife, Paula won’t let me take my camera on walks with her….

I retrained how I see things to look more closely the smaller gestures people make, at facial features, which we just can’t do on email, and appreciate the smaller acts of kindness. To see the Spirit in each event, no matter how small in every occasion of experience.

In our religious culture, the BIG transformation is much appreciated. “Have you been born again?” Have you had one of those BIG conversion experiences? “Have you been baptized by the Holy Spirit?!”

But what about the progressive transformation that comes from paying attention to each diminutive experience? We need a better appreciation of small things in our world in our personal, spiritual lives as we pay attention to the smaller things in the Creation and the smaller attributes of our brothers and sisters. The tiny moments of grace.

And also in the larger world where too, we are infatuated with the big.

Globalization is seeing and thinking big. Not simply an economic system, but a spiritual way of seeing the world.

Our current economic system favors big business. Large corporations, huge retailers. Look what Wal-Mart has done to small businesses in small towns. Consider Agribusiness… which stresses the use of fertilizers, monocultures and the transport of food far distances. It makes sense in a free wheeling, ethically ambivalent capitalism, but has no vision for small communities.

I just finished reading a book by Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate, and it’s an alarming book. She essentially claims that our current globalized, deregulated capitalist system is unable to respond to the threat of climate change. She says that we need to change our worldview, the way we see things. And a part of that is to look more at local things at small communities.

Did you know that one of the responses to climate change backed by Bill Gates is called geo-engineering – spraying sulfate into the stratosphere all over the globe, which would block the sun a little and cool the earth.

No experimenting or peer studies. It would be like Big Pharma having a gut feel for a drug to ameliorate chronic pain and then just giving it to everyone! And then the Earth itself will be like many of us trying to balance our different drugs with all their side effects for the rest of our lives! Big business is behind geo-engineering because we won’t have to change our big portion lifestyle!

Naomi Klein says: The ancients called this hubris; the great American philosopher, farmer and poet Wendell Berry calls it “arrogant ignorance,” adding, “We identify arrogant ignorance by its willingness to work on too big a scale, and thus to put too much at risk.”

 So, asks Klein, what do we do in the meantime?  Well, we do what we can.  And what we can to is to consume less, right away. 

 Remember, Amos was a prophet. He went up to the Northern Kingdom, from his small, insignificant home town of Tekoa and told the people if they didn’t change, they would be destroyed.

But if he were here with us today, this is what I think he would be saying to us: “Open your eyes; change how you see things. Shrink.    That is, grow less become more local…. and small. Consume less – stop being so greedy. Be satisfied with what you have. Bigger is not always better….

Pay attention to the animals – even the smallest. To children, and their children. Work for the common good. Pay attention to each other – to each person, really pay attention. Look into each other’s eyes – see the patterns of color. Do not grasp onto any ideology or set of values if it isn’t working.

Remember from where your deepest set of values comes. Let Jesus be our guide and open yourselves to be challenged to change” Something like that… And then….. or else.

From the perspective of the world, each of us does not amount to much unless we have lots of money. I remember reading that Wall Street doesn’t really care much about the small investor. They are insignificant. The real power is in the hands a very few…. big people.

From the perspective of the world, we are very small consumers, mainly. But as individuals, insignificant. But God does not see the Creation that way. God does not work through the big guy, the wealthy, the powerful. The big sports star – that’s you Tom Brady!

God works through small insignificant people. Like Amos. Or a black man – originally ML King wasn’t significant. God through the Spirit is active in every occasion. The smallest occasions of experience. The smallest gesture. The gift of the widow’s mite. The single letter and one vote.

Naomi Klein believes that if anything is going to change, it isn’t going to come from the top, from the Big Guns. Rather it will be a ground swelling of small people. People like you and me.

From God’s perspective each individual has a unique handprint. Each is a child of God, and by that significant, with the potential to transform the world.

How silly and dim is it that the smallest coffee we can get at Starbucks is a TALL!? God hasn’t called us to live a Supersized Life, but a smaller, localized, relational life of connection and community, of small steps together in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Someone may wonder about why I keep taking pictures of beads of dew. If you’ve seen one bead of dew, haven’t you seen them all?       Not at all…. They like eyes are unique too. And what I find I love about them is that if one looks real close there is in them reflected the world.



Cedar Cross rainbow

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