Feelin’ Small

This past month the sermon series has been about “Little People” or at least those who are “feelin’ small” due to their situation in life.   The first sermon was about faith as small as a mustard seed, and then we moved to the Samaritan leper who came back to thank Jesus, another widow who had no power, yet persisted against the powerful until she received justice, then to the man who beat his chest asking for forgiveness and in his “smallness” (humility) he went away justified with God.  Then, we came to Zaccheus, who really was a “wee little man.”  And each week, Jesus continues to love them all!  This series is finally done, but the concept goes on and on!!

There are many ways that we can “feel small” in our own eyes.  It’s easy for each of us to begin to think “Why do I seem to always be overlooked?  God doesn’t even see me.  Doors aren’t opening the way they should.  I never seem to get a break.”  Small churches sometimes begin to think that way, too.  We look around us at churches that are growing despite what seems to us as faithlessness to GOOD news, those that actually do spiritual harm to some folks, those that teach hate and their actual message is BAD news of condemnation.  Why are they growing in numbers?  At the same time, all of OUR efforts seem to be wasted, though we are bringing good news of love and grace and peace for all.  Shouldn’t we get some of the rewards for that?  Shouldn’t our numbers grow?  Shouldn’t our budgets get met?  Shouldn’t our buildings glow!?

Well, the actual fact is that those “other” churches are rarely growing either.  I’m guessing that the mega-church folks across the way are choked by some of the same insecurities, just on a different scale.   But, since WE are still numerically smaller than they, we “feel small” because we are comparing ourselves to others.  We are not focusing on mission, but on our size, our “success” (however it’s measured), on Sunday worship, not on weekly ministry.  Comparing ourselves, can become self-condemning, and grows into a self-fulfilling prophecy of real ministry spiraling downward.

In another era we would say that our only measurement should be “souls saved.”  Yes, I said another era.  We don’t usually think in terms of saving souls as if it’s a once and for all type thing.  But, we might want to measure in terms of lives touched, rather than in bottoms in the pew.  The culture in which we live has changed drastically.  Our Christian lives are no longer lived inside the church buildings.  (Thank God!  That’s the way it should have always been!)  If we are involved with living out our Christian values, seeking peace and justice, striving for changing the world… well, then, we may be out there in the world instead of in the pew on some Sundays.

Don’t get me wrong! – I STILL want to see you all in the pew!!  I AM your pastor, you know.  And I still believe that it is in community that we strengthen our faith and renew our commitment.  However, I’m not going to sweat the fact that in reality, “regular” church attendance, for some, and especially for the younger generations, is not every single week.  I DO, however, want to know that you are living out your faith in other ways.  The point is, we need not “feel small” over the fact that there are fewer there many Sundays than there was a decade or more ago, IF we are living our faith, being faithful to good news, seeking justice, and living love as a congregation.  Remember the church is not a building, the church is a people.  The church gathered is Sunday morning.  The living church is out THERE in the world, being Christ to the lost, lonely, hungry, and searching.  Ministry is connecting with these, and perhaps bringing them in, but certainly making a difference.

We small churches sometimes want to substitute activity for real ministry. And we think that adding “programs” will make a difference in how we feel about ourselves as a church – the more activity the better!  But, “faster and bigger” doesn’t always mean “better and stronger.”  (Sometimes it means tired and more demeaned.)

So, I guess the point is, I don’t want to hear any more “small talk” – moaning and groaning about how things once were and wishing to live the hey-day again!  What I want to hear from you is the voice of “NOW talk” – what are we planning and implementing that is about today, about real ministry with people who need the church (as the people of God), talk that is about mission and ministry.  The numbers may or may not come, but let’s remain faithful to the call.  Jesus loves us little people and little churches, and calls us to follow.

As a deer longs for flowing streams…

As many of you realize, I’ve been sharing with you on Sundays a series of sermons, “The spirit still speaks,” based mostly on the stories of Elijah. A few Sundays ago, the “mantle” was passed to Elisha, and now the sermons will come from some stories of Elisha the prophet and others, before we move back to the regular lectionary.

As I look back over this series, I realize that there could have been some others about Elijah:  Like Elijah defeating the 500 prophets of Baal, as his sacrifice was consumed and theirs was not!  Like Elijah suddenly becoming frightened for his life, after bravely standing up to Jezebel and her foreign prophets and Gods, and him fleeing and being fed by ravens while living in a cave.

Elijah like the rest of us, of course, was a man and not just a prophet.  So, he experienced what we all experience – a full range of human emotions:  love, anger, fear, shame, insight, humility, pride…

Fawn

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God… Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?… I say to God my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully… My adversaries taunt me… continually, “Where is your God?”    (excerpts from Psalm 42)

Elijah spent some time in depression when Jezebel threatened his life and he fled.  He was secluded for 40 days and nights, and then went to Mount Horeb.  There an angel told him to wait for God to pass by.  There was a great rock-splitting wind, but Elijah did not find God in the wind.  There was an earthquake, there was fire.  God was not in them.  Then there was sheer silence.  That is where Elijah heard God’s voice.  The voice told him what he was to do next.

I think that there are times when we each get depressed about where the turn of events has taken us.  We can’t seem to find God in the present.  We become direction-less.  We view the past with nostalgia, and the future with fear, and the present is filled with indecision and a feeling of exhaustion from the whirlwind-like lives we have been living.  We have sought God in all the BIG things, the stressful, stringently power-focused, mighty acts in which we think we will find God.  In the gala events of the church.  In the mighty blow-out pipe organ or in frenzied worship.  In the busy-ness of church life, as if in the doing and doing, the whirlwind, we will find ourselves faithful.

Maybe, just maybe… if we stop focusing on noise and hustle-bustle, and instead stand on the mountain in the midst of sheer silence, we will hear the voice of God telling us where to go, and what to say, and how to do what God calls us to.

Just a suggestion.  What do you think?

Faithfully,   Pastor Karla