Little Things Mean A Lot

John 8:1-15; Proverbs 30: 24-28 

I am working hard to complete a book on the Sermon on the Mount. It made me think: If, by chance, the church reopens the biblical canon, I have something I would like to slip in with the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who think small, for they shall become a people of hope.” Hope happens when you get your hands on something you can do something about!

Hope does not overtake us in an avalanche of abstractions. We are not usually lifted out of despair on the wings of theory. Hope most often comes to us in tiny concrete acts. Sick and in pain, she asks, “Would you please fluff my pillow and wet this washcloth?” I did not come close to healing her hurt, but she said, “Thanks, that helps.” And it did. It helped her to feel a fresh cushion for her head and a damp cloth for her face. It helped me because I felt some hope that I could make a difference in her situation, if only for a few minutes and to a small degree.

America lost one of her prophets and I one of my favorite authors in the summer of 1990. The “big C” got Walker Percy in the midst of the heat of his beloved Louisiana. His last novel was entitled The Thanatos Syndrome. In it, Dr. Tom Moore, a psychiatrist, had been off to prison for two years on a drug charge. While in prison he kept up a golf course as part of his labor. After being released from prison and upon returning to his home, Dr. Moore reflected upon what prison had done for him: “Living a small life gave me leave to notice small things – like certain off-color spots in the St. Augustine grass which I correctly diagnosed as an early sign of chinch-bug infestation.” Then he adds, “Instead of saving the world, I saved the eighteen holes at Fort Pelham and felt surprisingly good about it.” 

“Blessed are those who think small for they shall become a people of hope.” Sooner or later we God-called folk are going to have to face up to it: much of following Jesus has to do with the little virtues of life. So, for a few moments I ask you to “think small.” 

“Think small.” Nothing unique here. This is a universal idea. All the sages of all the ages have said it. 

And the musician joins in. Buried deep in my psyche are the somewhat syrupy words of Rosemary Clooney better than forty years ago. I wake up one morning, and the tune is skipping across my mind. Do you remember it? It has something to do with little things meaning a lot. 

I got out of bed, grabbed my Bible, and turned to Luke 10:25-37 and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. I read it again to see why we call him good. Have you ever noticed the specific shape and size of his compassion, the little acts of goodness he gave the wounded one? 

He cleansed the man’s wounds with oil and wine.

He wrapped those wounds.

The Samaritan let the man ride his donkey.

He took him to the nearest inn.

He nursed him through the night.

He paid for someone else to take care of him.

He promised to defray additional costs. 

“Think small,” say all the sages of all the ages. And the Wisdom writer of Proverbs joins the chorus, extolling the virtues of ants, badgers, locusts, and lizards, small creatures that can teach us big humans a lesson or two: 

“Four things on earth are small, but they are exceedingly wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they provide their food in the summer; the badgers are a people not mighty, yet they make their homes in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard you can take in your hands, yet it is in kings’ palaces” (Proverbs 30:24-28). 

“Think small!” Jesus spent so much time camped around this idea that we overlook it. He had twelve disciples, not twelve hundred. Notice the sparrows, he said. Look at the lilies, he said. Remember the mustard seeds and the little children, he said. Hand me the five loaves and two fishes, he said. Look at the little things so you can see the big things, he said. Look at that teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy, little-bitty piece of bread you hold in your hand. Eat it! And as you try to chew it slowly and silently, remember the BIG things in life. You come from God! You live by God! Little things, like bread, mean a lot. 

It is true! All the sages of all the ages, especially Jesus of Nazareth, have admonished us to think small. And here is a Great Big irony: hope is born when we learn to think small. 

Think of this truth as it relates to our ecologically endangered world. I don’t know about you, but I find myself almost hopeless when I hear all the statistics about what our greed is doing to the air and water and forests and animal and marine life. It is overwhelming, and I tend to throw my hands up in despair. To do something about all this is like trying to stop a hurricane by waving your fist at it. But I saw a little book with the brash title Fifty Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth.  

I would be less than honest if I told you that I have transformed my ecological sinful life. But an interesting thing did happen. The book gave me hope. I’ve tried some of the “simple” suggestions. It makes me realize that if enough of us set our mind to it, we could make a difference by doing little things like recycling paper, preserving water and planting trees. Sure, some great big things have to be done as well! But what many of us need is hope, hope that things can be different, hope that we can make a difference. My argument is that hope will be born within us as we begin doing some little things to save this garden God gave us. 

Finally, think of this truth as it relates to the life of a local church. After more than six decades in the church, I am confirmed in the conviction that activity engenders hopefulness and inactivity produces hopelessness. When Christians are involved in little ministries of compassion and care, of teaching and training, of visiting and praying, they more often than not become hopeful about the church, both the local church and the universal church. But when we sit on our thumbs and do nothing, cynicism seeps into our spirits. And when we constantly fix on achieving the unrealistic, we also often lose hope. Hope comes with the rediscovery of smallness. 

I call on you – I invite you - to “think small.” This is no invitation to glorify the personal at the expense of the social, to forget the corporate ills of community life and to focus on the individual. It is certainly no effort to produce small-mindedness. God knows we have our share of that. This is, however, an effort to find a highway to hope. It is a reminder that hope happens when we act or speak or pray in small ways. 

Little words, tiny phrases, not only civilize us, they Christianize us. “Thank you.” “Forgive me.” “I understand.” “So good to see you.” “Please come back.” “Tell him we really missed him.” “You are so important to us.” And the amazing thing is not what they do for the person to whom they are spoken. The amazing thing is what they do for the person who speaks them. They give hope. They make you know you can make a difference. 

Would you do it this week? Think small. Write one card of encouragement. That ream of letters can wait. Visit one person in pain. You can’t see them all. Pray for one person of your church fellowship. There will be time to focus on the many others. Thank your preacher and elders for their untiring work. 

“Blessed are those who think small, for they shall become a people of hope.”