'Though few and small and weak your band . . .'
The Microbe is so very small
You would almost need a microscope to see a mustard seed, for it too is so very small. But we remember what Zerubbabel, the Governor of Jerusalem said, when he laid the foundation for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem: 'Despise not the day of small things'. ('Zechariah 4: 10')
Anyone who knows the Bible will know how important small things are. Gideon's small band of three-hundred soldiers defeated a Midianite army of thousands; five smooth small stones felled the giant Goliath; a handful of meal and a small jar of oil sustained the widow of Zarephath through years of famine; five barley loaves and two small fish fed five thousand; and now the tiny mustard seed in our Gospel lesson becomes a great tree in which birds find shelter.
It's easy to discount small things, or indeed small people, just as David was discounted in our Old Testament lesson. Samuel, the prophet of God, had come to Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse's sons as king of Israel. When Eliab, the eldest son, was brought before him, he saw a fine young man who looked every inch a king, and Samuel thought, 'Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the Lord.' But no: somehow Samuel understood that God is concerned with the unseen, with the heart of the man, and not with the outward appearance, however attractive and appealing it might be. And so it was with Abinadab the second son, and Shammah, the third, and the four remaining sons, seven splendid specimens of manhood, any one of whom would have worn the mantle of kingship with dignity and flair.
'Are these all the sons you have?' asked Samuel. 'There is still the youngest,' replied Jesse, 'but he is looking after the sheep.' 'Send and fetch him,' said Samuel. And so, the smallest son was brought in, and David, the shepherd boy, was anointed and made the shepherd-king, anointed by God to lead his people and to live on throughout their history as the greatest of their kings.
This principle of the potential sizeableness of the small is infinitely heartening to us here in St Cuthbert's. Time was when St Cuthbert's was a power in the land. Some of you here today can remember when people flocked to this church in their hundreds, the Sunday School was crowded with children, the organisations flourished vigorously, and the mission and outreach of the congregation had a powerful and beneficial impact on the parish and on the city.
It's good to recall those days, but we can't live in the past, nostalgically harking back to the great flood-tide days of spiritual influence and importance. The times are different now: we don't have a big membership any more, and we don't have big attendances any longer. We're a small church now, not a big one, but we don't despise the day of small things. Rather, we collect what strengths we have - and we have many - and march forward in the power of Christ, remembering the tiny mustard seed in the Gospel story which grew to a great shrub where the birds made their nests, and the small shepherd boy who became a great king.
So far as I know, none of us here is ever going to be a king, but we can all be what may well be the next best thing, the King's heralds. Do you recall what happened when Samuel anointed David? 'Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.' The Spirit of the Lord can come upon us too. However, few and small we are we can still feel the power of God's spirit at work in us, and dream the dream that God has for this church, this city, this world.
The Spirit we are talking about is, of course, the Spirit of Christ. When his Spirit fills us we become his heralds, not just by what we say, but perhaps more so by what we do and what we are. As his heralds we proclaim his gospel and radiate in our lives the light and warmth and power of Christ, so that the people we meet encounter good news, those who are downtrodden hear a word of hope, those who are disadvantaged find a kindly hand to help, and we find courage to speak out and step up on behalf of all of God's children, whenever and however we are called to do so.
In a literary magazine some time ago, there was a review of a book on the poet William Blake. In the course of the article, the reviewer praised the book, but he pled with his readers to read the poet's own work, and said that the cry raised by all the world's great literature was, 'Read me, do not write about me, do not even talk about me, but read me!' Is not that the cry raised by Christ today? - 'Live me, do not talk about me, do not debate about me, do not even argue for me, just live me!' And if we do, who knows but we will find that there are still great days ahead for wonderful church of St Cuthbert's.
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