“…he does not know how.” (Mark 4:27)

The church is prone to thinking big.

“The world for Christ” is a pretty ambitious motto –

and an admirable one, I suppose;

one that gets us thinking and dreaming on a grand scale.

Not just globally, but nationally and locally –

we are driven to think big as God’s people,

sure that, if there are enough of us, all leaning in the same direction,

we can affect positive change in society at large.

What’s more, we believe that we can return to those

“thrilling days of yesteryear” – a time when the church meant something –

when our opinion was heard and considered valuable,

and “our” way of thinking, doing and being was embraced by all.

The simple fact is that even when the church ‘meant something’

to a larger segment of society, the church was the biggest game in town

because it was the ONLY game in town.

Those thrilling days of yesteryear were thrilling because our orbit was smaller –

our communities were central to us,

and everyone in them followed a similar path.

We worked and worshipped side by side – we kept to ourselves,

and believed that ours was a model for every other community to follow;

indeed, within Canada, that was the case.

We were assured, once upon a time,

that our collection of small, often isolated bodies of believers

would grow and expand – such was our goodness, and the rightness of our cause – until we had, in our own way, one community at a time,

conquered the world for Christ.

Thinking big is an admirable past time,

but it leads to frustration and disappointment on an equally grand scale.

The church is not now what we imagined it might be.

The mighty dream of doubling church membership in the 70’s was abandoned –

such initiatives were tried by a variety of denominations – and fell flat.

We know of churches, south of the border or well beyond our borders,

who seem to have solved the ‘numbers’ problem.

Stories of ‘congregations’ numbering in the tens of thousands –

four services on Sunday; multiple staff; overflowing youth programs;

huge, well appointed ‘sanctuaries’ that resemble concert halls…

Surely these are signs of success, we say…

But they represent particular solutions for churches in very specific environments.

This is not the norm – nor is this a pattern we can expect to follow.

Yes, Jesus preached to crowds and ministered to the multitudes –

but these events were not the primary models for his ministry.

“[it] is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. “

There is a ‘planting’ and a ‘harvest’ –

the harvest often in disproportion to the planting;

(a little is planted – much is harvested)

and the means of growth is not really understood.

A mystery, I tell you – and what’s more, a mystery of divine origin.

Jesus is not talking about the church as we know it – 

only we would dare to take something as grand as the kingdom of God 

and reduce it to something as ordinary as the church –

Jesus is not talking about the church but about our lives in faith –

in the company of other faithful people –

in the knowledge of the promised presence of the living God –

And it starts small.

It’s like a handful of seeds thrown into the dirt with a muttered blessing

it’s like a single, insignificant seed

that grows to become a massive, extraordinary, life-sustaining shrub.

No one makes big plans if they have started with such an insignificant offering

but faith demands that we take full advantage of the weather, the soil, the water

and those small moments, to plant and pray.

Planning and dreaming and speculating on the results is not evil,

but it is not always helpful.

General assembly has just ended,

and once again, hundreds of faithful, hopeful Presbyterians

have spent time together in Vancouver planning, worshipping,

and dreaming together about what they think the church should be (or could be)

only to return to what the church is –

a tiny, weary and often frightened collection of people seeking God together.

The planning is put to one side when the questions of existence are faced;

how shall we continue to tell our story, and God’s story,

in light of our circumstances (what ever they may be)…

Big doesn’t cut it – the grand landscape is not comfortable for us –

we are tired, we are weak, we are small.

And Jesus’ counsel fits us perfectly: remember the mustard seed –

there’s nothing to it; no one would predict the size of the plant

from the size of the seed – but there it is, larger than life.

Our own efforts may seem small and insignificant

when compared to the ‘wider work of the church’

but they are all part of the wider work of the church.

As congregations we support Presbyterians Sharing and the work of PWS&D.  Individually, we are moved (in faith) to support the work of charities and humanitarian efforts that follow Christ’s injunction to “love our neighbour as ourselves”.

In all these things and more, we are sowing mustard seed.

We meet – over soup and biscuits

to offer conversation and companionship to folks from the community.

We meet – in the stores and in the streets

to share the highs and lows of our lives.

We meet – in worship

to celebrate the victories of our lives, and to celebrate Jesus victory over death –

and maybe, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like much.

But Jesus never promised we would be the biggest game in town –

he promised that if we told the story and stuck to our guns,

we would, in fact, be abandoned, scorned, ridiculed and persecuted.

What Jesus did promise is that in all that,

we would not be forsaken by the One who’s story this is.

What he did promise is that if we planted our seed, the Kingdom would come

and that it’s coming would be like nothing we could imagine.

Week after week, we gather, a small group offering those things

that mark us as the beloved children of the Living God –

we offer worship – we celebrate the Sacraments – we dance at weddings

and cry at funerals, and in all these we are moved by the gift of the Spirit

to rejoice in the goodness and mercy of God,

revealed in Christ Jesus.

Small things, maybe, to us and to everyone else.  So be it.

We leave the big things – the mystery of it all –

to the Master of Mystery, whose promised kingdom comes even now.

Amen.

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