16th June 1991
Year B 11
The Problem of Size
Ezekiel 17: 22-24
2 Corinthians 5: 6 end
Mark 4: 26-34
This morning I want to deal with a question which troubles a lot of Christian believers at one time or another in their earthly lives.
I am going to call it the Problem of Size
No I'm not thinking of the problem of being overweight, though goodness knows some of us myself included could afford to shed a stone or two if only for our own good.
No. The problem of size that I want to deal with is the one which the writer of Psalm 8 could see clearly when he said to God:
"I look up at your Heaven's, made by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set in place – what is man that you should spare a thought for him, the son of man that you should care for him?"
In other words the psalmist is saying "Look God, I'm so small by comparison with the rest of your creation that I just don't see how I can be of any importance to you or any one else".
Most of us I fancy have had a thought like that from time to time. Late one night last week I was standing on a hill in the countryside in south-west France and the sky was carpeted with stars in a way we never see it in places like London, partly because of the dust, partly because of the glare of the street lamps. And beneath that amazing starlit sky I found myself asking that very question myself. When the universe is so big, and this earth by comparison so small, and myself just one individual among so many millions of others how can I possibly be of any importance to anyone, least of all to the Creator who made (as we say in the Creed) "heaven and earth, all that is, seen and unseen"?
As I turned the question over in my mind, these are some of the ideas that came to me.
Firstly you and I don't as a matter-of-fact attach all that much importance to the size of anything or anyone in comparison to anything or anyone else.
If we did it would mean for example that we thought an elephant was more important than a horse, and a lorry more important than a car or a bicycle and all of them as being more important, or in the case of the bicycle on nearly equal importance with a man because they are bigger.
In point of fact we don't think anything of the kind, though I must say that the amount of time and trouble some men spend on their cars might lead one to think so.
But let's take it to stage further. If we really believed that "size means importance", then a person weighing 15 stone and standing 6 ft tall would be just that much more important than one weighing only 10 stone and five-foot high. And by the same token most children would matter less than most adults, and babies least of all. The fact of the matter is of course that we treat babies and young people as being in some respects more important than adults, particularly if they are part of our own family.
So whatever we feel at a given moment, what we believe and act upon in our daily lives is something quite different. I believe, by the way, that feelings of wonder such as I had beneath that starlit sky in France last week in fact are really rather important For you and me to realise from time to time that we aren't the centres of the universe but one amongst many many other creatures for whom God cares is a healthy reminder which we could all do with.
But to say that we need reminding of one fact is not to say that its importance should be exaggerated. If we start drawing the wrong conclusions I mentioned importance for instance) then we should do well to forget about it for a bit till we come to our senses.
Let us now turn to the lessons this morning which all have to do with size in one way or another.
In Reading One the prophet Ezekiel sees God as taking a tiny shoot off the top of one of the cedar trees of Lebanon and planting it in the high mountains of Israel. There it will grow into another big tree (from a tiny shoot remember). Birds will come and nest in it. and have their young, and all the trees of the field will realise that it is the Lord's doing.
Two points here. One is that growth is a vitally important part of God's plan. It's not so much what size something is now that matters; it's what it will grow into and the whole growth programme in between.
Point Two is that God does the selecting. He chooses one tree rather than another for a particular purpose and that does if you like give that particular tree a type of "importance". But it's an importance derived from God, not belonging as of right to that tree. If God chooses (and he probably will choose to do so) it will be another, different tree he selects for the next job. And in his final sentence Ezekiel reminds his readers that the God who bestows importance by choosing, can equally well cut trees and people down to size if he wants to. He exalts and He humbles. He raises up and puts down. Importance is a very short-lived feeling for most of us.
Jesus takes this idea in the parable of the mustard seed and develops a bit further. The smallest seed grows into the biggest shrub. Not overnight, he reminds his hearers, it all takes time and its growth is largely unperceived. Night and day whilst men are sleeping or doing other things, unnoticed its growth continues according to God's plan. And all this growth is not just for that seed's benefit but for the creatures which will turn to that bush for shelter when it has grown to fruition. The birds benefit as well.
So also God's choosing of you and me and the growth he has planned for us are not just for our sakes. He wants other people to depend upon us. Maybe he wants to give us children of our own. Certainly he wants to use us as branches on which our fellow Christians can depend and be supported. And then there are always neighbors, people we just happen to be near to, from time to time, who need our help. "And" (said Jesus in another place) inasmuch as you do your good deeds to the least of these (size again!) so you do it to me".
And that brings me to the Second Reading from St Paul. "We are always full of confidence" he says "because we know that what we do by faith really matters both in this life and the life to come". No matter how unimportant or insignificant we feel ourselves to be. That feeling is an illusion. As individuals we, our growth, our doings really do matter to gone.
Every decision we make in life is really important. It will either help or stunt our growth into the being that he intends us to be. Every time we put our own immediate interests before his chosen purposes for us we make it less likely that we shall ever become what he intended us to be.
By contrast every time we accept and co-operate with his plan for us we shall grow that tiny bit more into what he wants. We probably shan't notice anything of course at the time. But sooner or later other people will begin to notice that we have changed, and changed for the better.
The present day world in which it is God's will that men should live and grow to be even like him, remember, is largely ignorant of (or disregards) God's plan for them. Taking and peddling drugs, perform or having an abortion, steal or cheat our fellow beings, are all examples of things which are not only wrong in themselves in the sense that God has said "Don't do this" but they are the living denial, the very opposite of the things which make us grow. Those who do such things are really not giving God, or themselves, a chance and they are certainly stunting (or preventing) so the growth of those who are meant to depend upon them.
So size doesn't matter. Growth ( in the right direction) does matter. In the Day of Judgement says St Paul, each of ours will get what he deserves for all the things he did in his life: good or bad. Most of us will begin to discover long before the day of judgment the results of our choices. Where we have done his will we shall look with some satisfaction on the result, even though it was all God's doing. When we have turned our back on his will there will be the bitter reflection of "what might have been, if only........"
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