Wednesday, May 31, 2006

God Doing Big Things in Small Ways

A Sermon for the Feast of the Visitation

I confess to you, my sisters and brothers, and to the whole church in heaven and on earth, a vice so ingrained and so habitual that no amount of therapy and operant conditioning seems to be able to cure it: I am addicted to trashy religious television.

Last night I saw another installment in the movie version of “The Left Behind” series. I didn't mean to. I just landed on it while channel surfing. This may have been part two or three, I couldn’t tell. But you know you’re in trouble when the Big Star in the picture is Mr. T.

God help me, I love it. Pray for me.

Two things occurred to me before I forced myself to change the channel to something wholesome, like C-Span:

First, to paraphrase the late Canon F. Bryan Williams (who has gone to the nearer presence of our Lord not ten days ago) “There is no trash like religious trash.”

Second, Christians are often fooled into thinking that since God is God, and Bigger than Big, then God must only work in Very Big Ways.

This is certainly the impression from the very earnest performances (based on very earnest writing) in the Left Behind movies. Our Very Big God must work in Very Big Ways—with drama, machinations, and conflict. God creates the universe, God battles evil, God ends history. Very Big Things.

Well, the joke’s on us.

Look at today’s Gospel. Two women, both pregnant, one very old and one very young meet up in a house and when one greets the other, a baby does a somersault. This is neat, but so what? Before my daughter was born, Peg knew that she would be a dancer before anyone. But in the first century, such things were considered providential. A baby leaping in the womb after her mother hears a voice is considered a sign from God.

God is doing Something Big, alright; but in very small ways.

People wish for God to make himself known to real people, out in the open for all to see. Okay, so he does, but not with special effects—but he is born a baby, with the consent and obedience and faith of a mother. And not in a castle in a kingdom, but in a small town.

Mary did not go around with a court stenographer to write down her words, so we don’t know exactly what Mary said on hearing Elizabeth tell her baby jumped for joy. So the Gospel of Luke must be up to something.

Luke punctuates small wonderful moments with canticles fit for a choir, to remind us that in God’s economy, God does Big Things in small ways. Luke saves the angelic choirs for shepherds, the really good canticles for pregnant mothers and old fogies who spend their lives in the temple, and the cool miracles for everyday people to remind us over and over again that God does Big Things in small ways. And that God, the creator of the universe, works through everyday lives.

So how is God transformming creation today? Through our compassion and through our forgiveness. God changes the world by how much slack we cut one another, how thankful we are and how we teach and care for one another. The dignity we afford to others shows the dignity God affords us. How we love and by how we let Christ rule in our hearts and how we give thanks to God in everything we do reveals how God does Very Big Things in very small ways all the time.

Here we are, during lunch break on a business day breaking bread and hearing the word and praying. While the world is distracted and preoccupied doing Very Important Things, God is once again doing Very Big Things in very small ways.

Just as God was doing Something Big for us and our salvation when two pregnant women met in a very small town, God continues to do great and wonderful things through ordinary people in the Great Small things we do, giving thanks to God in Christ as we go.

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

Lessons: Colossians 3:12-17; Psalm 113 or Canticle 9; Luke 1:39-49

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