Do Something Small

Life is often overwhelming.  When we see the news, we wonder if we can do anything to change the world.  The recent United Nations climate change report says we are on the brink of ecological collapse, that the deterioration of the environment is escalating and that we may reach a point beyond which there is no return.

When we hear such declarations, we, like the Breton fisherman, confess that “the sea is so great and my boat is so small.”  We are tempted believe we can do nothing to shape the world and our hopelessness may turn to apathy.

Jesus once told the story of a farmer who had a successful year.  So successful that he expanded his storage facilities and dreamed of a life of comfort and pleasure, parties and prominence, only to die before his dreams were realized. He wanted to do something great but ended up with nothing.

Now there is nothing wrong with doing something great – as a matter of fact I tell our children that they can do great things, because God loves them. Their greatness may not be in celebrity status, power, wealth, or large-scale impact.  It may be, like the mustard seed, a small beginning that changes the world.

There are over 300 million of us in America, and just 60 of us in church today, and if we look in the mirror, we see only one of us when we begin the day. But we can make a difference. Therese of Lisieux said we are called to do “small things with great love.”  Mother Teresa counseled us to do “something beautiful for God.”  That’s the meaning of calling or vocation – that place where our gifts and passions meet the world’s needs, as Frederick Buechner reminds us.  Or, as William Sloan Coffin asserted, “a career seeks to be successful, a vocation to be valuable.  A career tries to make money, a vocation tries to make a difference.”

What difference does it make, we might ask?  But again, look at the mustard seed.  When I was a pious young child, I planted a mustard seed in our backyard. It began to grow and flower, until one day my mother told me we needed to cut it down, or it would spread to all our neighbor’s yards.  Just one seed can become a field of bright yellow flowers.

That’s the realm of God.  That’s God’s calculation.  Each one of us makes a difference.  Each one of us has a calling; each one of us can make a small change that can lead to something greater.  Jewish wisdom says that “when the Messiah comes, he won’t ask if you were David, but were you Bruce, or Jack or James or Pam or Tom or Bill or Marcia.”  Did you respond out of your gifts?

Mahatma Gandhi once counseled, “Live simply, so others can simply live.”  And that’s a place to start – by simplifying your life.  Living closer to the ground, being a good steward of your resources. Some of us know what this means: during World War II, our families lived simply to support the war effort.  The fate of the free world was at stake, and we needed to devote our resources to saving the planet.

William James spoke of the “moral equivalent of war,” and for us today this means putting the same effort in caring for the planet as we might in a national military emergency.  We need a sacrificial approach to life, because the fate of the earth is at stake – for our children and grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, and though the sea is great and our lives so small, we can do something.  We can live more simply, we can share resources, we can give more generously to the vulnerable, we can see that we are all in this together, and we can let our leaders know that they need to act – they need to imagine new possibilities for our nation’s and planet’s future regardless of what other nations do.  We and our leaders need to think green, act green, so that our great grand-children and the earth’s species may simply live.

So, today, do something small with great love?  Conserve, call MassSave for an energy audit, educate yourself on ways to live more simply for the planet’s sake, and let your voice be heard locally and nationally, not as a conservative or liberal, but as someone committed to the next generations who will live on God’s Good Earth.