I want to continue the theme of Pam’s message from last week, because in many we ways we can’t hear too often that spiritual truth: From small beginnings come great blessings! According to scripture, that’s God’s way with humankind!
Who would have thought that David would become Israel’s greatest leader? He was not only a mixed-raced child of an immigrant Moabite great grandmother, Ruth, he was also the youngest child in a society in which greatness depended on your place in the birth order. And, yet when the prophet comes to visit, he passes one son after another until he finds the shepherd boy. Perhaps he saw something the others didn’t; perhaps he saw a keen intelligence or a courageous spirit or leadership skills waiting to burst forth with the right mentoring.
Who could imagine Abraham Lincoln becoming our nation’s greatest president? He wasn’t born to wealth, he didn’t have a big bucks daddy to start him out in business, he didn’t go to private schools. From the frontier, ungainly, often compared to an ape by his political enemies, an unsuccessful politician, and prone to clinical depression. And, yet, within Lincoln was greatness of spirit, an iron will, a clever strategist, a willingness to learn from others and even do the unthinkable in today’s political climate – gather some of his political enemies to help him lead the nation, “a team of rivals” that together preserved the union in a time of crisis.
Who could imagine one of America’s greatest minds bursting forth from a deaf and blind young girl – Helen Keller?
From small beginnings come great blessings! That was the heart of Jesus’ message of God’s realm. To the untrained eye, looking only at externals, God’s realm isn’t much to look at, at first. Imagine scattering seeds on the ground, broadcasting them with apparent randomness as impoverished farmers did in Jesus’ time. Who knows what will come up? Most of them won’t germinate; yet those that do will produce a crop great enough to feed the family.
Imagine a mustard seed, a small seed, becoming the greatest of bushes, a home for nesting birds. When I was a boy, growing up in the Salinas Valley, I heard this story in church and decided to plant some mustard seeds in our backyard. I found a McCormick spice tin filled with mustard seeds, dug a few holes and waited for them to grow, and they came up. I watched their progress as they grew in my Mom’s garden. Then one day my Mom found them and said we’d have to cut them down or they’d spread throughout the garden and our neighbor’s gardens as well. If you’ve ever seen a field of mustard seeds, you know what I mean.
Yes, from small beginnings come great blessings, but not in isolation. Small beginnings need the nurture of others to succeed. David needed the wisdom of Samuel to guide him. Abe Lincoln needed his step mother Sarah to grow his intellect and spirit. Though illiterate herself, she saw depth of intellect and character in this young boy. As one biographer notes:“Sarah Lincoln had an appreciation for the value of an education. She recognized early on there was something special about this boy and defended his right to pursue his intellectual development.”
Ann Sullivan saw a great mind imprisoned in Helen Keller. All she needed were words to set her free, and so as she poured water over her hands, Sullivan made symbols and a new world burst forth for Helen.
Seeds need gardeners, and children and youth – and even adults – need gardeners of the spirit. We all need someone to see more in us than we see in ourselves. Nearly fifty years ago, two pastors saw something in a long, blond haired, scruffy bearded college freshman, who had just returned to church. Shorty Collins, six foot seven, the legendary Baptist college chaplain and anti-war activist, asked me to help him lead a service at a nursing home, and then passed it off to me, with no safety net, and somehow I succeeded in leading hymns and sharing messages with the residents. Senior Pastor John Akers saw a theologian hidden beneath my hippie persona and asked me to help teach an adult education class, and I’ve been doing it ever sense.
“It takes a village,” it takes someone with vision to look beyond appearances and see the giftedness hiding within.
Today, our vocation at South Congregational is to be a place of spiritual horticulture. We are called to look beyond appearances here in church and see the inner beauty and giftedness oft-hidden by youth and age alike, or by our own self-deprecation and quirkiness. We are also challenged to look outside our church and see the great harvest present in a tiny seed of mission – holiness in a homeless person, saintliness in a single parent, creativity in a child, dedication in disabilities, illumination in an elder.
So, look for the seeds, look beyond appearances, see the angel disguised in every person, and become a gardener of the spirit, creating with God a harvest of blessings.