Sermon – Proper 20, Year C – September 23, 2007
Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a 19th century British Reformed Baptist preacher who remains highly influential amongst Christians of different denominations, among whom he is still known in various circles as the "Prince of Preachers."
At the height of his fame, he preached to thousands in
Charles Spurgeon is the perfect illustration for today’s gospel lesson, in which Jesus says, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”
People like Charles Spurgeon inspire many people, but they also discourage many people who ask themselves, “How can I, with my small gifts, do as much for God as someone like this, to whom God has given much greater gifts?”
There was a popular song in the 1950’s recorded by Kitty Kallen called Little Things Mean A Lot. The lyrics start out with:
Blow me a kiss across the roomSay I look nice when I'm notTouch my hair as you pass my chairLittle things mean a lot
Give me your arm as we cross the streetCall me at six on the dotA line a day when you're far awayLittle things mean a lot
The song celebrates how love is expressed, not in big romantic ways, but in the small everyday words and gestures that mean much more in the long run. In ministry, little things mean a lot too. We are all in ministry, whether we realize it or not, the ministry of the baptized towards each other and towards the world. Any gift we have to give is the Lord’s gift to the world, not our own. We need to realize that small acts of ministry are often the most effective.
I recently read this story online: An elderly widow, restricted in her activities, was eager to serve Christ. After praying about this, she realized that she could bring blessing to others by playing the piano. The next day she placed this small ad in the Oakland Tribune: "Pianist will play hymns by phone daily for those who are sick and despondent; the service is free.” The notice included the number to dial. When people called, she would ask, "What hymn would you like to hear?'
Within a few months her playing had brought cheer to several hundred people. Many of them freely poured out their hearts to her, and she was able to help and encourage them.
Clearly this widow understood that small acts of ministry can have big results. She didn’t say, “I can’t serve God because I am too old” or “I can’t do as much as I used to, so I’m going to sit back and let others do what I can’t” or “I don’t have anything to give that will make a difference in people’s lives.” She asked God to tell her what she COULD do. And by using the gift that he had given her, she was able to be effective in her ministry.
So what gifts are you hiding under your bushel? Ministry can be as big as leading people to Christ like Billy Graham and as small as sending cards to shut-ins. As big as writing books that inspire millions of people like Philip Yancy, or as small as giving rides to church to those who can no longer drive themselves. Little things mean a lot in ministry. So why is it so often we end our ministry before we even have begun?
We are not faithful in little because we are little in our faith. We are our own worst enemies, talking ourselves out of doing what we can by minimizing the effect we can have. We make the mistake of believing that only large ministries can have an impact in the world, when small ministries may actually help people in many ways that large ministries fail. We want recognition, a 100% success rate, and enough time, energy and motivation to keep ourselves going forever. We tell ourselves that if no one notices what we do, that if we fail sometimes at what we attempt, and if we get tired and discouraged, that we are not succeeding.
David McCasland, noted biographer of Oswald Chambers, wrote:
When we long for success, God says, "I will reward you."
When we ache for recognition, God says, "I see you."
When we are ready to quit, God says, "I will help you."
Whether our service is public or private, our responsibility is the same—to be faithful.
Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, wrote:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Whatever you do. Not “in all the big things you do” or even “in all the things you do in church”. There are ministry opportunitites everywhere if you only look for them; holding a door open for someone, telling the waitress at the local diner what a great job she’s doing, or giving your place in line at the grocery store to someone with just a few items. Little things mean a lot.
There’s an old hymn by Kittie Suffield that goes:
1. In the harvest field now ripened,
There's a work for all to do.
Hark, the voice of God is calling,
To the harvest calling you.
2. Does the place you're called to labor
Seem so small and little known?
It is great if God is in it,
And He'll not forget His own.
3. When the conflict here is ended
And our race on earth is run,
He will say, if we are faithful,
"Welcome home, my child, well done."
Little is much when God is in it.
Labor not for wealth or fame.
There's a crown and you can win it,
If you go in Jesus' name.