Happy Easter! This week we live in the afterglow of Easter worship celebrations, where we lifted up the name of Jesus as the one who overcame death, the cross and the tomb. For me, worship this Easter was more profound than it has been for a long time; it meant a great deal to me to proclaim hope, new life, joy, and peace, after the difficult year we have all lived through. The significance of Jesus victory has not changed, but it struck me differently this year.
This was also the smallest Easter I can remember in terms of worship attendance, naturally as many people still remain at home, waiting for their chance to be vaccinated and for the sense that the pandemic is really over. It is a good time for us to be reminded that God does not disparage the small. In fact, it is the context that he prefers. Here is a selection from Claiming the Corner that talks about just that -- God's preference for the small, precisely because it illustrates so well how God will bring the small to make outsized impact.
(from Claiming the Corner, chapter 3): "When we think about Jesus’ ministry, we see again God’s preference for the small and concentrated impact. Jesus changed the world by investing in a group of twelve men, and ultimately in a small, inner group of three. There were many more people in Jesus’ orbit, but those he discipled closely were those inner twelve. His choices of people for that inner group also shone a spotlight on God’s inclination for the small and those easily passed over. Jesus chose Galileans for his core ministry team. They were conspicuous for their country accent and unschooled ways. In fact, Jesus started his discipleship group with these fishermen, men who did not immediately command respect in educated circles. I love the description of when the group of disciples arrived together in Jerusalem, as told by Luke in his Gospel. They must have seemed like country bumpkins seeing the big city for the first time: “Look at the big buildings!” (this is a paraphrase of Luke 21: 5). I do the same whenever I visit Chicago. Yet Jesus redirected their focus: “But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down” (Luke 21” 5b – 6).
"Jesus invested in those whose potential only he could see. Their potential was more in their willingness to trust him, than what they had to offer. Who other than God himself would have started with insignificant fishermen on the Sea of Galilee to begin the most significant chapter of his saving work and plan? Jesus chose the most unlikely characters to form the proto-church. Only Jesus would do that!
"The Apostle Paul expressed this principle of the Kingdom in 1 Corinthians 1: 27: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1: 25 – 30).
"When my current congregation formed ten years ago, we sought out mission partners that were small. The idea was, as a small church, we wanted to also partner with small organizations to make an outsized impact. If we could concentrate our giving in this way, making a big splash in small ponds, we might help propel small and young mission organizations to the next level of their ministry. We felt that by doing this we were multiplying the effect that our giving would have. Of course, there is nothing wrong with giving to large, well-established mission organizations. They are doing significant work for the Kingdom of God. But there is something about the small mission project taking on a big challenge that reminded us of how Jesus operates. It reminded us of this parable.
"In the Parable of The Mustard Seed, we see that the Kingdom is small and insignificant in the beginning, but Jesus promised it would grow to be a large tree in which many would find shelter. When he started his ministry, Jesus was only one individual with a radical message, but slowly his message of the Kingdom of God caught the attention of the crowds. But Jesus did not start with crowds. He started in small towns where he preached, taught, and healed. Then he added those twelve unlikely individuals as his core group, training them up in what he was doing. From there, he added the seventy-two, and so on. After his death and resurrection, the Christian movement exploded. But still, it has taken two thousand years to reach where we are today. Jesus even talked about himself using a small metaphor: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12: 24).