Radical Hospitality for the Stranger

Radical Hospitality for the StrangerA sermon preached for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost on Mark 6:1-13, Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 on July 8, 2018 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

It’s a little disconcerting to hear Jesus’s words today when we might be unpacking from our summer vacation or getting ready to pack for a trip yet to come. I just returned from the Youth  Gathering and will be packing for vacation to New Mexico in a couple of weeks. My standard packing list is a page long with every conceivable contingency considered. I print it out for each trip and cross off what I don’t need—like mittens and a scarf for summer vacation. 

Jesus gave the disciples a packing list when he sent them out to share forgiveness, healing and freedom from all that breaks and possesses us: staff. They got one thing--a walking stick that could double as protection against wild dogs.

When we come up with a list of what’s required to do effective ministry and share God’s grace with new people, our list is pretty long. A standard church inventory is 2-3 pages long (page one is pictured)—and we could add a lot more to it, like curriculums, coffee, donuts, a parking lot, and paid staff. Jesus also had a list of what was required for effective ministry: 2 disciples + Jesus’ authority (the Holy ChurchInventoryJesusShortPackingListSpirit). I hope you’re feeling as uncomfortable as I am with the difference between our lists and Jesus’s lists.

We’re only six chapters into the Gospel of Mark and Jesus sent out the disciples for mission that required a radical dependence on the generosity and hospitality of others. Hospitality to the stranger was a cultural expectation in ancient Israel promoted frequently by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus asked his disciples to embrace a radical vulnerability when he sent them out two by two with nothing but a walking stick and the power of his authority and Spirit. Most itinerate preachers of the day would at least carry an extra shirt and beggar’s bag, but Jesus didn’t even allow that. Jesus promised that some would accept them, feed them, and rejoice in God’s love and healing power. Others, perhaps even their own hometown and family, would reject them, deride them, and refuse to listen—as happened both to Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading and to Jesus in our passage from Mark.

The only place I have experienced this kind of immediate, radical hospitality of a stranger was while traveling in Zimbabwe in Southern Africa during in seminary. When we got out of Harare, the capital city and into the rural areas, I learned that taking in travelers was a historical necessity for survival in the bush, so you would not be eaten at night by wild animals. A student at the university took a friend and I to his home in the eastern part of Zimbabwe. On the way, we got out and walked through some of the rolling hills, called the Eastern Highlands. Unexpectedly, we came upon a hut, and after the customary greetings, the old woman who lived there asked us if we would be staying for dinner. Radical hospitality toward the stranger.

Another weekend, a friend and I traveled to an indigenous Christian church that lived cooperatively on a rural farm, grew their own food, and worshipped under a tree. When arrived, they simply took us in. They included us in their meals, gave us lodging with one of their members, invited us to their evening prayer service, and we worked with them in the field during the day. At break time, we received a cup of tea and serving of vegetables like everyone else. It was so humbling to be received without question, and to realize that without their hospitality, we would not survive a night outside in the rural area alone. We were vulnerable; this kind of dependence opened us up to relationships, human connection, and Christian fellowship that we never would have experienced if we could have a booked a night at a Holiday Inn (which didn’t exist of course). We brought small gifts, but what we could bring was nothing in comparison to the hospitality and the sheer survival they offered us. Radical hospitality toward the stranger.

This experience gave me a window into understanding why Jesus sent out his disciples this way, with such vulnerability where they could go hungry, have nowhere to stay, or flunk miserably. In our reading from 2nd Corinthians, the Apostle Paul called this ministering out of our weakness so that the grace and power of God can be made manifest through us. When we get ourselves, our ego, our strength, and even our resources out of the way, we become a vehicle, an open vessel for Jesus’s power to come through us. Such a mission requires a radical dependence on God.

Jesus called the disciples and calls us to approach ministry out of our poverty, out of our need for God, out of our weakness, not out of our riches, for that is when relationships and human connections are made—person to person, vulnerability to vulnerability, stranger to stranger. Jesus calls us to minister without hiding behind our communal accomplishments and accoutrements, for when we are weak, then we are strong! God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.

The great news is that the disciples succeeded! They cast out many demons and anointed the sick and cured them—not because they had a 3-page list of assets and a 6-point strategic plan, but because of Jesus’ Spirit and authority working through them! There was no way the disciples could take the credit for their success—they went out with nothing—so God got the glory. That’s what Jesus calls all of us to do—to do ministry that we cannot do on our own, ministry that can only succeed through the power of Jesus, so that God gets the glory for success and not us.

For those of you who have been members at St. Luke’s for a long time, it’s hard not wish for the days of old with two services, triple the households, more staff, and more resources. And yes, church was fun and felt more successful when it was larger. But the truth of the Gospel is that St. Luke’s already has everything it needs for God’s mission in this time and place! This was true before I got here, it’s been true since the beginning of the church, it will be true tomorrow, and next year, and the next decade regardless of what the budget says, or the repairs needed to the building. (I’m not saying that buildings and budgets are unimportant; they are tools for mission, they are not the mission itself!)

Here’s the list of what Jesus needs for mission in Richardson: 2 disciples with a walking stick, + the Holy Spirit. We like to make it more complicated than that, but it really isn’t.

The only thing Jesus needs to grow the church and its mission is you and your faith in Jesus, walking beside you and your faith in Jesus. You’ll notice that Jesus didn’t send those first disciples into the synagogues where people were already praying, he sent the disciples into towns, villages and homes—out in the world to the stranger and the outcast who have not yet heard of Jesus’s love!

Church commentators say that the 21st century is more like the first century in its mission than ever before. People aren’t coming in here to experience God’s love, Jesus is sending us out there to save souls by sharing God’s unmerited grace and forgiveness. The mission of the church is to make sure every person we meet hears that God loves them no matter what. There are so many who have felt shamed and judged by Christians; it’s our mission to say that there’s nothing so awful in their past or in their present or in their heart that will prevent God from loving and forgiving them.

Now, we don’t have a culture like the first century or parts of very rural Africa that expects hospitality to be extended to strangers and travelers in the way I have described. But we do have an opportunity to talk with a new person every time we leave our house or apartment bringing with us a radical hospitality to the stranger. When you go to the doctor, the grocery store, a restaurant, or to Walmart, you encounter a stranger who checks you in or checks you out, takes your order, waits on you, or stands in line next to you. Many of these people would love to have you pray for them.

It’s as simple as saying, “Thanks for your help! Do you have any needs I can include in my prayers today?” When we’re in a restaurant, Dan and I try to ask the server, “we’re going to say a prayer before we eat and wonder if you have anything you’d like us to pray for?” We’ve had some people say, “No thanks, I’m doing pretty good.” And others say, “oh yes, thank you!” We’ve been asked to pray for kids’ starting kindergarten, sick grandma’s, upcoming surgery, and more. Many people are touched that we really see them as a person and care enough to ask! Not everyone will say yes. Shake off the rejection, don’t take it personally, and ask the next person, who just might be waiting and hoping that someone will care enough to ask what they need, and be reminded God loves them.

We need to start practice this simple conversation with strangers this week! Carol has been working tirelessly with Jerry and the Council to open Great Achievers Preschool in our education wing this August! We have a wonderful opportunity to enter relationships with new people who need to know that God loves them through our care, our prayers, and our radical hospitality toward the stranger. We all want to be comfortable talking with new people! We want disciples like you and you and you, who will be ready to serve coffee to parents dropping off kids at Preschool and asking how you can pray for them. We need grandparents ready to read stories, help celebrate birthdays or to “adopt-a-family” so that when some of those families visit worship, they will see a familiar face who will help them find the nursery, the bathroom, their way around a Lutheran hymnal, and the coffee and the donuts (the 3rd Lutheran Sacrament!).

StrangerMissionCardIt’s time to practice being a disciple who radically trusts his presence with us. The youth passed out cards, and I challenge every one of you to ask one person this week how you can pray for them. Write down where you did this and bring it next week as part of your offering, and put it in the offering plate. Maybe it will be so fun and freeing that you will ask two or three or ten more!

Jesus made it clear that as his followers, we are not just passive recipients and beneficiaries of his love and grace. Jesus gives us a mandate to witness and to pray, to heal and to love. When I go on vacation, I’ll probably use my packing list because I’ll need a change of clothes, but Jesus has already given all we need to step boldly into mission today, and that’s you, in vulnerability and weakness + Jesus to offer prayer and radical hospitality toward the stranger. When we succeed, God gets the glory!


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Still Growing at 56!

Still Growing at 56Today Dan is cooking my gourmet birthday dinner—a tradition he started right after we were married, so this is dinner number 27 or so! Even though we are new to Frisco, we have fortunately met a few friends who will join us tonight, and my sister Julie, who lives in Dallas, will be able to attend for the first time!

As I approach age 56 next week, I have been reflecting on how long it has taken to really know and understand myself and how I am wired. It was a great relief in seminary to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator which suggested that my personality is ENFP—extroverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving. That is, I am extroverted in that I gain energy from being with others. I take in information intuitively rather than through the five senses. I process information and act based on gut feelings rather than a logical thinking process. Rather than making quick, decisive judgements, I make decisions slowly by perceiving and keeping open all options. The Myers-Briggs test gave me the first real concrete step toward self-acceptance: I was naturally wired this way at birth, so I could stop feeling that I was bad or wrong somehow, and I could stop judging others who were wired differently from me. (There are 16 types in the Myers-Briggs inventory—how freeing!)

Since then, I have learned that I have what some spiritual leaders call high “mercy” gifts. This comes from having both intuitive and feeling traits. I easily feel the pain of others. This can be a great help in pastoral ministry; however, the challenge is to release others’ pain without carrying it around inside of myself. It has taken almost five decades and two major illnesses (breast cancer and severe chronic migraines) for me to accept that being intuitively and emotionally receptive also means that I am physically sensitive. (I tire more easily than many, and I have food allergies and sensitivities; migraines make me sensitive to light, strong smells and so on). I always desire to do more than my body allows, while it repeatedly finds ways to put the brakes on. I have been fighting this dynamic my whole life.

Adding to my struggle, like most ENFP people, I am an “ideas person.” I have at least 100 thoughts and ideas spinning in my head at any given time. I began as new pastor at St. Luke’s in Richardson, Texas three months ago; last week I started rattling off to Dan the 100 things I would like to do yesterday. My mind keeps spinning and my body keeps saying, “Slow down!” I asked Dan, “Why would God give me a mind with so many ideas, and a body that can’t execute most of them?”

Like a 2x4 to the head, the Spirit stopped the mental spinning and gave me the answer: because then I need others to accomplish anything significant. If I had the chance to go it alone, I would, but that’s not faithfulness. God calls us into community, mutuality, relationship, vulnerability and shared mission. My sensitive body not only reminds my ego and my will that I cannot accomplish much on my own, but also that that’s not how God wires any of us! Duh! I’m not sure why it’s taken nearly 56 years to deeply understand this, but better now than not at all! #neverstopgrowing.


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No Fear Can Shake My Inmost Calm

No Storm Can Shake My Inmost CalmA sermon preached for 5th Sunday After Pentecost on Mark 4:35-41, Job 38:1-11, and 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 on June 24, 2018 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Most people, when I ask them to describe a time they experienced God, share a moment in nature. Can you think of a time when you experienced a spiritual sense of peace and union with God in creation? It could be something as simple as digging in the dirt in your own garden or watching a hummingbird or cardinal from your kitchen window. Some of us may have experienced that sense of inner peace and the awesomeness of God when we first visited the Grand Canyon or one of the National Parks in Utah. Perhaps we felt it walking through a mountain forest with hush of an evergreen breeze and the soft pillow of pine needles beneath our feet. Some of us may have experienced God’s peace watching the ebb and flow of the wavs on the beach, the view of the lake from a cabin up north, or the wind bending fully grown crops on the farm of our childhood. Our family has had many such moments in the high red rock desert of northern New Mexico at a camp called Ghost Ranch. Whenever we went hiking, our children got along without a complaint and seemed to sense the peace of being together in God’s creation.

These experiences teach us of the eternal truth mystics have been saying for centuries: all of life is one. All of life in us, around us, and in the cosmos is connected. Our passage from Job affirms God’s presence in all of creation: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4). The Gospel of John begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” All life is one in Christ. Later, in John 17, Jesus prayed for his followers, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” St. Paul’s words in Acts were part of our Confession today, “In God we live and move and have our Being” (Acts 17:28). Rumi, a 13th century Muslim poet said, “We are one. Everything in the universe is within you.” St. Catherine of Siena in the 14th century taught that “The soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.” God is in all of creation; all life is one. We confess that God is the source of all life every time we proclaim the Apostle’s Creed in worship: "I believe in God, the Father, creator of heaven and earth." God has created all of life and as we have learned through the study of evolution, God continues to create life in us, through us, around us and beyond us in the cosmos.

While studying for my Certificate in Spiritual Direction, I learned a new word for the spiritual truth that all of life is one and that God’s creative work continues: cosmogenesis. Cosmogenesis describes that the evolution of the universe is on-going, with God as the dynamic power and force of love that allows continuing creation and change to occur. Since God creates through an evolutionary universe, God is present to all the cosmos and all creation from within; that is, all of life is One.

I was pondering all these thoughts about the unity of creation, God’s presence within all of creation, when I began studying our Gospel text for today from Mark. Jesus and the disciples have concluded a long tour of healing, exorcisms, more healings, and teaching through parables—mostly about nature, of course (seeds, mustard trees etc.). Jesus abruptly decided that they would cross the Sea of Galilee at night. Mark doesn’t tell us why they’re crossing at night—it’s an unusual thing to do since it’s more dangerous. I imagine Jesus felt it was the only way he was going to get some much-needed rest. Crowds had been following him and pressing in to be healed. Jesus didn’t have a chance to eat or rest because when he went in someone’s home, people would crowd in, and then they would cut holes in the roof to lower more of the paralyzed to be healed. Now at least some of the disciples knew the Sea of Galilee—it’s really a big lake—because they were fishermen. Jesus probably thought, “they can handle this, they’ve spent their life on the water—I’m finally going to get some shut-eye.”

But then a great storm arose. The Greek word for “great” is, “megas”—a mega-storm, a huge storm arose that started filling the boat with water. It must have been a biggie, because even the fishermen were scared. Water poured into the boat and looked like they could sink to the bottom. Terrified and scared that they were about to die, the disciples woke up Jesus, who slept soundly, as if the storm were a lullaby.

Let’s get this straight—the disciples have seen Jesus heal more people than they can count, cast out demons, make paralytics walk, and withered hands and limbs as good as new. Yet, none of these experiences with Jesus up to that point, kept them calm in the face of a mega-storm. The disciples were just as scared as if they had never witnessed Jesus performing healing, after miracle, after exorcisms, after more healings. Jesus had done all that, and now they think he was just going to let them die. It should have been obvious to the disciples by this point, that Jesus had power over just about everything; if he can tame a demon, then why not a storm? But the disciples do not yet believe, they do not trust Jesus.

The storm didn’t bother Jesus because, well, cosmogenesis! All of life is One! Jesus is the Word in the beginning, everything was created through him, and he is in God and God is in him, and God is present in all of Creation from within. Jesus was already One with the storm and knew it wasn’t a threat. Mark tells us Jesus calmed the storm and then he rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith. But what if it’s the other way around?

What if Jesus wasn’t rebuking the storm at all—what if he was really rebuking the disciples for their fear and distrust and panic, shouting, “peace, be still!” and the wind and the waves overheard him?

Maybe, it’s just like Psalm 46. The psalmist says, “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; [the Lord] utters his voice, the earth melts. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear.” And then the Lord shouts in verse 10, “Be still! And know that I am God!” It’s not the sweet small whisper of God, it’s a loud command to cease and desist. God shouted at the people for calamity to cease! “Be still! And know that I am God.” To the fear, panic, and calamity of the disciples in the boat, Jesus shouted, “Peace, Be still! Stop being so consumed by fear when I am right here with you!” How many times has God wanted to say to us, “Peace, Be still! Stop being so consumed by fear when I am right here with you?”

Mark says that at Jesus’s words, there is “dead” calm; the Greek word here is the same as it was before—“megas.” It was a mega-calm, a great calm in nature. But there was not a “mega-calm” in the disciples. Mark says that they were filled with great awe, and it’s the same Greek word again, “megas.” The disciples were filled with a “mega” fear and awe. “Who is this that the winds and the sea obey him?”

What if the real miracle of the story is not that Jesus has power over the wind and the waves and the rain—that goes without saying—what if the real miracle that Jesus wanted was faith and trust from his followers? What if the real miracle of the story is getting the human being to trust God’s power in Jesus Christ? Jesus knows he has power over the elements, but what about that part of creation with a developed brain, with human consciousness, and free will to choose God or not? What if the miracle Jesus was looking for in the boat, was for his human followers with consciousness and free will, to have faith and offer obedience to him the way demons and diseases, the wind and the waves do? The real question in the boat is not whether the storm in creation will obey Jesus, but whether or not the storm inside the human beings in creation will be calmed so they can trust and follow Jesus, even when they were scared.

Isn’t that really the story of Jesus and his disciples throughout the Gospels? Not that Jesus can command nature by healing people, feeding 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, raising the dead, and making a storm stop; the miracle that Jesus is waiting for and working for is the trust, faith, and obedience of his followers. And it’s not until after Jesus died and rose from the dead that the disciples, who denied him and ran away afraid, began to hike up their scaredy-pants and really trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Thank goodness they did or we would not be here today! This peace in the midst of the storm is what Paul proclaims in our second reading, “punished, but not killed, sorrowful, yet rejoicing, having nothing, yet rich.”

What about us? This story reveals that we don’t need Jesus to calm the storms of our lives. We need Jesus to calm us. “Peace, be still! Be still! And know that I am God!” In the midst of fear or disappointment, loneliness, illness, or the troubles of this life, the miracle Jesus is looking for is in us—in our complete, no-holds barred, throw-your-heart-over-the-bar trust that Jesus is with us, and no matter what, and that in death and in life, we belong to Christ!

The miracle Jesus is looking for is our conscious, free-will choice to trust and obey him come what may. That peace we experience in nature—the awesomeness of God—the feeling that all of life is One—that peace can be ours every day. It’s not a peace reserved for summer vacation or 30 seconds looking out your kitchen window. It’s a peace Jesus gives us every day of our lives, every moment of our lives, even in amid the storms of life. Jesus is the mega-peace we cling to and trust in our daily life, and in our life as the church. We don’t know what the future will hold nor how we’re going to get there. But we do know that Jesus is in the boat with us, and that He is one with God, and we are One with him. We know that God made every person in our community and in the world, and he calls for fearless followers who will hike up their scaredy-pants and follow him across the lake, through the storm, and over to the other side for mission, for love, for inclusion, for healing and for hope.

Cosmogenesis. The miracle isn’t Jesus’s power over nature—that’s been true since the beginning of time. The miracle is us—our mega-trust, our mega-faith, our free choice to rely on Jesus’ presence with us and with this congregation no matter what. “Peace! Be still!” And we respond, “No storm can shake our inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?”


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It's the Little Things That Mean A Lot

 Its The Little Things That Mean A Lot UprightA sermon preached for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost on Mark 4:26-35 dated June 17, 2018. Happy Father's Day!

Have you even felt like “nothing burger?” A nobody? A might-have-been? A small potato? For a number of years after I finished seminary, I struggled with an inferiority complex every time my seminary’s Alumni magazine came in the mail. I would thumb through it, reading about all the great stuff everybody else was doing, like getting a PhD, speaking at global theological conferences or becoming a missionary.

At seminary, a friend and I talked about getting a PhD; while I was home with three small children, she got her PhD and became a favorite professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. It's not that I think raising three amazing people into adulthood and contributing them to the world is unimportant; I just felt like I wasn’t making as much of an impact as a leader in the church as I had imagined when I was in my 20’s. Nothing burger.

After I went back to work, sometimes that feeling of inferiority would sneak up on me when I heard the ads for the “celebrated personalities” who were coming to the Maryville University Speaker Series in St. Louis. I have noticed that there are “celebrated personalities” coming here, too--the SMU Tate Speaker Series is promoting Leon Panetta, Thomas Friedman, and Kathy Bates. Or the AT&T Performing Arts Center Speaker Series is hosting Steve Wozniak, Billy Murry and Michelle Obama.

Our life can feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, like we are not making a big impact for good or for God. Nothing burger.

A visit with my old high school church youth director, Joani, several years ago, helped cure me of feeling like a nobody. She enabled me to shift my focus from myself and what I wanted to accomplish, to what God can do and what God wants to accomplish.

For many years, Joani has been the Chief Creative Officer at Group Publishing in Colorado—they publish all kinds of resources for youth, VBS curriculums, mission trips, day camps, leadership and evangelism training, and mission all over the globe. Joani always has great stories and this visit was no exception. She showed me this Prayer Bear (pictured) and told me it could be made in VBS, by youth, or a sewing group, and used on mission trips, and by members in their daily life. If you’re out and about and you see or talk with someone who’s having a hard time, you write an encouraging note or prayer, put it in the pocket and hand it to the person. Tell them that you’re praying for them and that God loves them and is with them. In my Prayer Bear, Joani wrote, "This bear is stuffed with love! Let it remind you that God's love is always with you along with the love of old friends!"

A member of their staff, "Ellen" was flying here, to Dallas to do a training for one of their programs. Ellen always had a stash of Prayer Bears with her and when she sat on the plane, there was a man serving in the army sitting next to her, coming home for his leave. They struck up a conversation and Ellen found out that he had received a Dear John letter from his girlfriend and he was so upset as he went home to deal with this painful break-up. When he got up to go to the bathroom, Ellen got out a Prayer Bear—wrote him an encouraging note, promised to pray for him, and that God would see him through this. She put it on his airplane seat and he found it when he came back. He was so touched and grateful! When the plane landed, he gave her big hug and thanked her for her love and support.

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how (Mark 4:26-27).

At the end of the weekend of training, Ellen got back on a plane in Dallas to go home back to Colorado. It just so happened that she was sitting next to another soldier who just completed his leave and was headed back to his unit. Of course, they struck up a conversation. This soldier told her about a buddy of his from home who just got back from serving a tour of duty and his girlfriend had sent him a Dear John letter. He was having a hard time, but he told this soldier that he met a lady on the plane who gave him a little stuffed bear and promised to pray for him. It meant so much to him, and he thought it was such a great story, he wanted to share it with Ellen. He got up to go to the restroom, so Ellen got out another Prayer Bear, wrote him a note and promised to pray for him, that God loved him and is always with him, and put it on his plane seat. He came back from the bathroom, saw the bear and said, “You're her! Oh my gosh, you’re the lady who gave my friend the Prayer Bear!"

With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade (Mark 4:30-32).

Who knew a little Prayer Bear seed could produce such a great harvest of love and hope and strength! How many people were uplifted and encouraged by one Prayer Bear whose story has been multiplied and shared many times across families, friends, flights, and army units?!

God can do so much with so little! It’s terrific that some people can have a great impact on the national or global stage, but more often, it’s the little things that mean a lot. It's the small, unexpected gestures that have the biggest impact. Think for a moment about the times in your life that have meant the most to you, that communicated love or forgiveness or acceptance or hope. It’s probably not the grand gestures or the big moments like graduations and big parties and holidays.

It’s probably the little things—the little seeds of love, kindness, and encouragement that people have offered:

• the unexpected card in the mail that encourages you—my sister, Julie has done that many times for me.
• the friend who listens to your bad day;
• the phone call just when you needed to hear a familiar voice;
• holding hands on a quiet walk;
• a cup of hot chocolate in the middle of a storm;
• a cup of hot soup when you’re sick;
• that moment when your grown child says, “you were right, Mom” or “thanks for the great advice, Dad.”
• when someone takes time that they didn’t have, to be with you.
• when your spouse surprises you with your favorite dinner, or flowers "just because."

Jesus says this is the nature of God’s reign. Something very small—a gesture of love and hope--morphs into something much larger, and it expands and spreads and multiplies from person to person, from community to community and around the world—just like that little Prayer Bear on an airplane seat. It can have a global impact that we don't necessarily see. Something that appears minor and insignificant—one little seed in the ground—one little message of encouragement or one little act of kindness turns into something magnificent because each of us, perhaps without even thinking about it, pays it forward.

That’s how God’s kingdom grows—it’s inevitable, it’s unstoppable! A mustard tree can grow to 9 feet, it has medicinal qualities in addition to great flavor, and though a shrub, it provides a home for birds and shelter for God’s creatures. Who knew a tiny seed could do all of that? Every kind act, every small gesture of encouragement, every expression of love, every offer of hope and help, becomes a life force that nourishes and sustains, a community that offers hope and healing, a place where the creatures and people of the earth find shelter and security and home. The inevitable, unstoppable kingdom of God grows among us and through us for good and for God! God can do so much with so little, because it’s the little things that mean a lot.

In thanksgiving for my Dad who’s here on Father’s Day, I’m going to conclude with a story about a mustard seed that my dad planted in me when I was about 7 or 8. It was a Saturday afternoon; my three siblings were otherwise occupied, and I was playing alone in the family room of our home in southern California. My dad came in and asked me if I wanted to go play Miniature Golf—or Putt Putt as it is often called. I was so excited! Being the extrovert, I asked if I could bring a friend, and he said, “Nope, just you and me.”

Off we went. With 4 kids, it was hard hard to get a lot of 1:1 time with Dad, especially because he traveled for work. The Mini Golf place had windmills, and little castle doors that opened and closed, and we just had a blast. I felt so important, so loved. In fact, every time I play mini golf, even when I have lousy game, I still always feel loved and important and happy. Nearly 48 years later, a seed of love and affirmation planted long ago, has become a mustard tree that still sustains and nourishes me, providing me with love that gives a sense of shelter, and security and home. When it’s my turn to pick the family activity to this day, guess what I pick? Mini-Golf! (I can’t wait to try the one up on Coit Road—maybe the youth and I can go in December--is that when it gets below 95* here?!).

All of us have a Father who wants to spend 1:1 time with us. God our Father is happy when we’re all together like this, worshipping and singing and loving each other. And, He also wants to spend time with us 1:1, so He can plant seeds of love and kindness, hope and encouragement in us, that we can spread throughout our day, and throughout our life! God has a role for each of us in helping to bring about the inevitable, unstoppable love of the Kingdom to heal and transform the world. Whether we take 10 minutes with our morning coffee, tea, or diet coke, or 5 minutes in the car before we go into work, these small acts of love flow from us when we're nourished by time with our heavenly Father.

We may not be destined for the national stage, but like Ellen, we are a “celebrated personality”  in God's Kingdom, filled with the grace and hope of our risen Lord! As Mother Theresa said, Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love. And God can do great things with our small things.

That’s where God does his best work, because the little things that mean a lot. God uses the little things to spread love and hope in the unstoppable Kingdom of God!


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linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.