Sunday, August 21, 2011

How Big is Great?

Exodus 2:1-10
Matthew 16:13-20

Since I was a child I had flights of fancy and fantasy that I was destined for something "great". Exactly what that "great" might be and how it would look was - and still is - a whole other matter, but to a child (at least to me), "great" was driving a big, ol' tractor in a bean field ... or riding around on a big, ol' fire truck ... or moving mountains with a bulldozer, or even driving a "big" truck. To a child, "great" means "big" not only because of sheer size but also because of the impact such things have. We notice "big" and even have to make room for "big", but we don't often realize "big" is not always "great" and "great" does not always have to be "big".

Last Sunday alone is a prime example. I shared a story about an elderly couple who lost everything - and I mean literally EVERYTHING - they owned, including their home, in a recent tornado. On the spur of the moment, a united congregation given an opportunity offered a "great" gift to these folks in predominantly small increments. Each of us as individuals may have wished we could do more as several of you expressed, but we often overlook what happens when we join together in a common purpose. Our gift - which combined made this effort alone "great" - was joined with gifts from other area United Methodist churches. The result? Columbia County United Methodist Christians made an unmistakably "great" impact on the life of a family that surely felt little more than despair only weeks before! Relatively speaking, the gift itself may not be considered so "big" in the grand scheme. The impact, however, will be "great" - especially in the name of our Lord!

It is hard to use Moses' life as an example of anything but "big" because of the great and wondrous things the Lord did through Moses. Moses is still very highly revered in Judaism because he was instrumental in delivering the Lord's Covenant to the Lord's people. Though it was the Lord who freed the people of Israel from bondage and slavery, it was Moses who led the way out. It was Moses who confronted Pharaoh and announced the plagues of judgment against Egypt. It was by Moses' hand that the Red Sea opened wide to allow the people of Israel to escape, and it was by Moses' hand that the sea swallowed up the pursuing Egyptian army. Moses did things "big", at least in the eyes of the people who witnessed these remarkable events. But it was Moses' FAITH through which the Lord acted!

There is no arguing that the Church universal does not enjoy the influence it once had on American society and does not make quite the impact it once made in people's lives. Loss of faith, loss of vision, loss of dedication, loss of humility, loss of integrity in trying to be everything to everyone all combine to make for an institution that has, quite significantly, been reduced to little more than a building on a corner to be open and used only on Sundays - and only for an hour. It is no small thing to consider that for 2000 years the Church has been preaching the Lord's Return and for 2000 years the faithful have watched and waited for such a "great" cataclysmic event, the likes of which can only be imagined by the incomprehensible imagery in The Revelation. And for 2000 years the faithful have watched as evil seems to flourish and continue to prosper in spite of the Bible's clear promise that evil will one day be judged for what it is.

Yet in spite of the losses which seem so "big" numerically, there are pockets of evidence that the Church is still very much the Body of Christ. There are those shining moments when a person finally "gets it" and presents himself or herself - and/or their children - for baptism into the Lord's Covenant and into the community of faith. There are those times when preachers can look out among the congregation and actually see a tiny glimmer of hope in the eyes of someone who has finally made a connection between the reality of the world which is and the future reality of the world that will be. It does not seem like much and it does not happen nearly often enough, but these blessings come in such small doses that should help us to remember that as "great" as our Lord is, He still spoke even to the prophet Elijah in a "still, small voice". It may not have seemed like much at the time, but it was enough for the time. It clearly was not "big" ... but it was "great".

It is always interesting to me that as "big" as Jesus really was through the miracles He performed and the healings by His hands, He intentionally suppressed "great". Peter finally seemed to "get it" when he confessed Jesus as "the Messiah, the Son of the living God", as it is written. According to Jesus, Peter was proclaiming not a human conclusion but a divine revelation; that is, a statement of pure faith in something revealed but not yet fully realized. It does not seem like much as written words on a page and perhaps seems even less when Peter later flees for his life, but the "great" is expressed in what the Lord will do with this proclamation of faith as the foundation upon which the Church, the Body of Christ, will be established not only to keep the "gates of Hades" at bay but to also teach the faith for generations to come; including today ... and beyond.

At any given moment the Church may not seem like much, but this is only because we rely primarily on what we can see with our eyes. We tend to look only at the surface for what is readily evident and fail look deeper at what is to come not according to what we can conceive with our minds but with what the Lord can do with and through our faith, the faith of the Holy Church. If we rely only on our physical senses to inform us and enlighten us, we can still do "big" things that will do some good, perhaps a lot of good.

$1000 is a lot of money that can go a long way and, like a basket with a few loaves of bread and some fish, will be a blessing to someone who has nothing. Each would be "big" within a particular context, but each would also play out very quickly because of their inherent, physical limitations. $1000 is only $1000 and five loaves of bread is only five loaves; once they're gone, they're gone. However, if these things are channeled through and offered to the Lord in faith, the "great" impact each will have will be in accordance not with our human sense of compassion but in accordance with the trust we place first in the Lord and HIS compassion! In other words, we offer "big" as a community of people, but offered through a community of faith it is the Lord's Mighty Hand that makes it "great".

This is the foundational faith divinely imparted to Peter. He did not draw this conclusion based only on what he had already seen with his own eyes or experienced by his own hands. It is rather the faith he has experienced much more profoundly; it is the faith that goes far beyond Peter's own proclamation. It is the faith that transcends "personal salvation" that, according to Jesus' own words, will build AND sustain His Body the Church long after He is gone. It is the declaration of establishment not of an "institution" but of a "movement" that will endure through the ages. It is the faith that will call many who experience it forward - AND - will drive many away who refuse to look deeper.

The Church is no doubt strengthened by the active participation of people - and - the Church's impact is diminished when people fall away. There is indeed strength in numbers. It must be noted AND embraced, however, that the Church as the Body of Christ is perfected only in faith. For it is in faith, big or small, that the Church is made "great".

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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