By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
I read an amazing book recently. It’s entitled, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. The thesis is in the subtitle: “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” To drive home the point, there’s a diagonal line across the title on the cover of the book. If you look closely, you’ll see that it’s actually a book match. It’s hardly worth noticing until you consider the potential – just one tiny book match is all it takes to start a raging forest fire or destroy a home.
Little things can make a big difference. I’d like to explore this thought in the sermon today, as it relates to new life in Christ because, well, to be honest, we all have a tendency to downplay our importance. What can we do as individuals, or as a congregation, to make a difference for the Kingdom of God? The need is so great and our resources are so limited.
While conventional wisdom would say, “Amen!” to that, the Bible says, “Not so fast.” The truth is Jesus has a lot to say about the importance of little things. My hope is that, as you listen to his words, you’ll realize what a difference you can make in the lives of those around you.
Let’s begin with faith. How strong is your faith? How well do you understand the Bible and the doctrines of the Christian faith? I’m guessing when it comes to matters of faith most of you would prefer to take a back seat. Yet, listen to what Jesus said,
“… if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed,
you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’
and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
• You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to know that God is love, and that the best way to get along with others is to love your neighbor as yourself.
• You don’t have to pass an ecclesiastical test in order to pray for someone who’s hurting, or to forgive someone who’s hurt you in some way.
• You don’t have to be able to defend the doctrine of the Atonement or explain the Trinity in order to share the Good News – just know that Christ died for the forgiveness of sins that we might receive the promise of eternal life through faith in him.
You don’t have to know all that much because what matters most is not how much you know, but how much you care. A simple, “God loves you, and I love you, too,” can be all it takes to lead someone to Christ. “If you have faith as small as a tiny mustard seed … nothing will be impossible for you.” Jesus went on to say,
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast,
which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal
until it was all leavened.”
A little yeast is all it takes to make the dough rise. Just a pinch of salt can flavor a whole pot of stew. That’s a word we need to hear. Minden Presbyterian Church is a small church as churches go, and the world we live in will be quick to tell you there’s not much a small church can do to make an impact on the community, much less the world-at-large.
That’s because the world equates influence with strength and size. Mega-churches may have clout, not small congregations. Yet, look at what Jesus did with twelve ordinary men. He taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he showed them how to live in community with each other. After he ascended into heaven and they were filled with the power of his Spirit, they went out to plant the seeds of the gospel in Africa, Asia and Europe. As a result, the church of Jesus Christ prospered and grew to worldwide proportions.
It doesn’t take an army to win the world for Christ. All it takes is a few good men and women who are willing to follow Jesus and invite others to join them.
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But let’s not stop here. Jesus has much more to say. For example, he and his disciples were standing in the courtyard of the temple watching the people offering their gifts to God. Some gave more than others. Then a poor widow came along and took out two small brass coins, hardly worth a penny, and put them in the receptacle. Jesus said,
“Most certainly I tell you,
this poor widow gave more than all those who are giving into the treasury,
for they all gave out of their abundance,
but she, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on.”
Little things can make a big difference. For one thing, a lot of small contributions add up to a healthy church budget. Plus, when those who have little give generously of what they have, it inspires those who have much to do the same.
Did you read Marilyn Miller’s article in the newsletter a few weeks ago? She introduced a young missionary couple we’ve committed ourselves to support. Their names are Nick and Amanda. They have two daughters, ages four and two. They’ll be going overseas soon, first to learn the local customs and language, and then to share the gospel and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Here’s the deal: We’ll send sixty dollars a month to the World Outreach office in their name. Compared to what they’ll need to live on, that’s not much. But then, we’re not the only ones supporting them. When all the commitments come in, they’ll be fully funded.
Little things can make a big difference. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the feeding of the five thousand. A huge crowd followed Jesus up to a hillside where he taught them about the Kingdom of God. As the day wore on, the people got hungry, so Jesus told his disciples, “Give them something to eat.” Philip said,
“Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them,
that everyone of them may receive a little.”
Just then Andrew came to Jesus and said,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish,
but what are these among so many?”
Jesus had everyone sit down. Then he took the little boy’s lunch, and he blessed it and gave it to the disciples to distribute among the people. Not only was there enough to go around, there were twelve baskets full of leftovers.
Whether it’s your time, your gifts or your service to others, little things can make a big difference when you’re willing to entrust what you have to the Lord.
The fact that it was a child who gave Jesus his sack lunch brings up yet another point: When it came to picking someone who was most likely to experience the fullness of God’s grace and love, Jesus didn’t pick a learned scribe or a Pharisee or a priest or a Levite; instead, he picked a child. According to Matthew,
“Jesus called a little child to himself,
and set him in the middle of them, and said,
‘Most certainly I tell you, unless you turn, and become as little children,
you will in no way enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.'”
This echoes what the prophet Isaiah said so long ago about the dawning of the New Creation:
“The wolf will live with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf, the young lion, and the fattened calf together;
and a little child will lead them.”
The word for child in the Bible is micros; the plural is mikrōne. It literally means, “little ones,” and includes the poor and powerless, as well as the children. It refers to those who have little to offer and who are prone to getting in the way.
Yet, remember what Jesus told the disciples when the people brought their children to him to be blessed? The disciples wanted them to go away and leave Jesus alone. But no. Jesus said,
“Allow the little children to come to me!
Don’t forbid them, for God’s Kingdom belongs to such as these.
Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive God’s Kingdom like a little child,
he will in no way enter into it.”
Have you seen the movie, Letters to God? You can check it out at the Webster Parish Library. It’s based on the story of an eight-year-old boy named Tyler Doughtie and his battle with cancer.
As the story goes, Tyler wrote letters to God every day, not begging God to be healed, though he certainly wanted to get well, but expressing the full range of his emotions and his concern for those around him. The postman read his letters and shared them with others. They touched everyone who read them and inspired them to look to God with the simple faith of a child.
Tyler died in 2005, but his legacy goes on. At the end of the movie there’s a whole gallery of pictures of those who’ve written their own “letters to God” in their fight against cancer.
Letters to God is a great illustration of how little people, as well as little things, can make a big difference. But the greatest illustration of all is this: When God saw the sinfulness of man and how we revert back to our sinful ways, time and time again, God intervened once and for all … not in some cataclysmic event, but in the birth of a baby born in the little village of Bethlehem.
Who would’ve thought, looking down at this tiny baby lying in a manger that he was the Son of God, the Savior of the world?
Let’s see if we can bring this home. We’re living in a perilous time. The problems of the world are staggering: Starvation and hunger; wars and rumors of war; the ever-growing threat of terrorism; the rapidly changing mores of society; the precarious state of the economy worldwide.
On the national scene, we hear of corruption in the IRS, the VA, and the Department of Justice. Elected officials are indicted for malfeasance of office. Closer to home, we get daily reports of shootings and stabbings and robberies, mostly drug-related. A recent survey said that only 28% of those polled think the United States is the greatest country in the world today.
The problems are so overwhelming we don’t where to start. The Good News is it’s not all up to us. God is on our side, and God will have the last word.
No one knew this better than Martin Luther. In his day, priests were abusing their power, exploiting the fears of the people and preying on the people’s ignorance. The corruption ran deep, all the way from the local parish to the Vatican.
Luther was only a little fish in a big pond. He certainly didn’t have the wherewithal to take on the Pope. So, here’s what he did: He sat down and made a list of his complaints. He came up with ninety-five. Then he posted the list on the door of his church and invited everyone who was willing to come and talk about them.
In the grand scheme of things, it was a small thing to do – a simple list of 95 Theses. But then, little things can make a big difference. As it turns out, it sparked a revolution and led to what we know today as The Protestant Reformation.
In closing, here’s what I think Martin Luther would have us remember:
“Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing;
Were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name.
From age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.”
And though this world with devils filled
should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
Let us pray: Lord, give us courage to speak and act in faith, confident that your Word will not return empty and void, but will accomplish your purposes, according to your will. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.