Sunday, June 21, 2009

Small Pride

1 Samuel 17: 1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49
******** United Church of Christ
June 21, 2009

I want to begin by telling you three stories about being small. Once upon a time there was a boy, a boy who was small. All the other boys were bigger than this boy, whose name was Tim. Tim would always be getting into a fight. Out of a hundred fights he was in, his record was one and 99: one win, 99 losses. He was what folks would call scrappy—you know, hot-headed, with lots of bravado, rushing in where angels and many others fear to tread. You’d have thought his size would have kept him out of the fight, that after the first few times his nose got bloodied, suffered assorted bruises and a black-eye or two, he would have thrown in the towel. But Tim just didn’t know when to quit.

You see, Tim was Irish and Polish. He would joke and say that it was his Irish blood that got him into the fight but it was his Polish blood that kept him from knowing when to quit.

Being a small church can sometimes feel like that, like a small boy fighting the big guys and always getting pushed down. But a small church also doesn’t throw in the towel when the going gets rough. Instead it digs in its heels and keeps on going, even where angels fear to tread. And it is the blood of Christ pulsing within each of you that makes it possible.

In the year 500 BCE in India, Prince Siddhartha meditated in a cave for 40 days, eating only the food he could find in the forest, drinking only rainwater, searching for a way to end suffering. At the end of the forty days he was nearly dead from hunger and dehydration. A young girl from a nearby village saw him stumble out of the cave and gave him some milk and rice pudding. From this simple gift Siddhartha realized that he must find the middle way to reach balance and be released from suffering. He then went to meditate under the famous tree where he then attained enlightenment. He became the Buddha or ‘awakened one’.

Being a small church can often be the simple gift of a meal to someone who is hungry or being a place where everyone is spiritually nourished. And you never know who it is you are serving or where they are on their journey toward God. In the letter to the Hebrews it reads “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hospitality is key to a thriving small church.

And then there’s the story about an entire family in Calcutta, India that was suffering from malnourishment, nearly on the brink of starvation. Mother Theresa put some rice into a sack, a few handfuls—all that she could spare—and delivered it to this desperately hungry family. The mother was so thankful and joyous, she instantly took the bag of rice into their small cooking and living space. In a few moments she came out with half of the rice in a container and rushed down a small alley. Puzzled, Mother Theresa called after her, “Where are you going with that rice?” The poor mother replied, “I know another family who has nothing to eat, who also needs rice.”

Being a small church means you know what it is to do without but you also know how rich you are compared to others and so you share what you have. And amazingly it is always enough. When we celebrate Communion and give thanks we’ve been saying these words by Ted Loder: “As we have been drawn to this table and to you, O Lord, make us aware not so much of what we’ve given as of all we have received and so have yet to share. Send us forth in power and gladness and with great courage to live out in the world what we pray and profess, that in sharing, we may do justice, make peace, and grow in love.”

These stories are not to promote violence, or Buddhism or giving away half your budget to the poor. Rather they illustrate that small does not equal inadequacy or insignificance or weakness or scarcity. In short (no pun intended), being a small church means you know the power of small. And the power of small is the power of God.

In this morning’s scripture lesson we read the old familiar story about David and Goliath. Usually the part we remember is the end, how David slew the Philistine giant with a sling and one of five smooth stones. What we may not remember is that before King Saul sent him out into battle, he outfitted David with his own heavy armor, helmet and sword, overpowering this young boy with weapons meant for a grown man. Saul thought that if you’re going to do a big job like facing a giant, then you need the best equipment that money can buy.

In its mission to be Christ’s body in the world, the small church doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, all the high tech stuff, the ‘heavy armor, helmet and sword’, that some big churches have. Small churches realize that the abundance of resources that they do have, that they come from God, and so put their confidence in the power of God to help them face their giants with the simplicity of a sling, five smooth stones, and a gutsy faith.

But it is a power to be reckoned with: it’s the power of compassion that moved a young girl to feed a hungry stranger. It’s the power of sacrifice that inspired a poor woman to share with her neighbor. It’s the power of stubborn courage that kept a small boy from backing down.

It’s the power of justice that spurred this church in the sixties to welcome people of color though it was widely unpopular, the power of justice that moved this church to be a part of the Open and Affirming resolution within the Connecticut Conference, that inspired this church to form a town-wide anti-hate task force in the face of hurtful discrimination against gays and lesbians or anyone else. It’s the power of hospitality that welcomes the homeless for a home-cooked meal and the nourishment of being treated like a human being. It’s the power of community that motivated a handful of summer residents to form a church almost 125 years ago, the power of community that surrounds each person who walks through those doors with love, prayer and acceptance.

It is all this power and more, it is God working through you that allows what appears to be small to do big things for God. ******** United Church of Christ, you may be small fry but you are a force to be reckoned with. How will you use your power in fresh and innovative ways? How will you rely on God for the continued abundance needed to do big and small things for God and God’s neediest ones? Where is the next edge of the horizon that will lead you to step out in faith? What are the simple gifts with which God has endowed each of you to bring to the table?

Thanks be to God for small churches with generous hearts, deep faith, and powerful dreams, who do big things for God’s kingdom! Amen.


Andy said...

I have been more humbled by the burning faith of a small congregation (or a single believer - I'm looking at you, Cindy)then I was when I toured the Vatican. "Less" really is so often "more", isn't it?

Cynthia said...

You humble me.

And yes, less is more. It allows you to go deeper, I think.