Read: Psalm 19
But strive first for the kingdom of God
and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
So do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Last week I presided over the funeral of one of our church’s dear old saints. She had picked as her Scripture texts Psalm 19 and Matthew 6:33-34, a rather remarkable pairing.
As I was digging around in some Psalm 19 commentaries, I came upon Scott Hoezee’s wonderful use of the famed Hubble Space Telescope photo dubbed “The Pillars of Creation.” It’s an image that captures well the psalmist’s wonder–“the heavens are telling the glory of God!” Indeed–these three gaseous giants stand at about six trillion miles in height. One might present that image to any mere mortal and dare her to fathom the greatness of God.
In the presence of such greatness, one inkling might be to shrink into ourselves and feel ourselves to be insignificant. This isn’t always a bad thing – it can be humbling and comforting. But it can also render us into defeat. Psalm 8 begs the question: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”
Who am I that God should care for me?
When we turn away from the heavens, from the handiwork of God, we face another force of greatness. The powers of evil, the presence of darkness, can at times be overwhelming. And again, we are confronted with our finitude. What can I possibly do that will matter? What difference can I make?
My book club has spent the summer slogging through War and Peace. One of the many overarching themes we’ve discussed is the quest of the characters for a sense of order and purpose.
At our most recent meeting, one member bemoaned her own frustration in the face of seemingly futile efforts to accomplish anything in response to injustices we perceive around us. How do we make sense of being Christian, of the way in which God works, of our own faith, if we can’t muster enough resolve to tackle these problems head on? She wanted immediate action. She wanted big solutions. Otherwise, she cried, what’s the point of any of it?
I get it. We want to do big things in the face of big problems, and before a big God.
I didn’t have any good answers for her, except to repeat what I had been told the day before by the son of the dear old saint. As I sat with the family to plan the service, they described their mother over and over again as a woman who served others with grace and gentleness, never seeking credit, and not in an attempt to make something of her life. She lived with steadiness, faith, and contentment. She did small things in great faith, with great love.
Her son reflected that all this made him think of another woman, the fictional character Dorothea in George Elliot’s Middlemarch. In particular it made him think of the final few lines of that novel:
Her finely-touched spirit had still its fine issues, though they were not widely visible. Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
This was what I suggested to my friend. There is a time, and certainly a need, for big, momentous actions. But in the face of the evils we perceive, in the face of seemingly unconquerable mountains and unanswerable problems, we are also called to do small things in great faith, with great love. We are called, in the face of our worry and despair, to seek first the kingdom of God. For labor done in the kingdom, however small, is never insignificant.
Hoezee goes on to say that what is perhaps most remarkable about the Pillars of Creation is that they are a nursery of new stars. The God who created the heavens is not yet done creating. God is doing something new in the heavens.
And God is doing something new on the earth. What looks to us like a single magnificent monstrosity is really a collection of relatively tiny new things happening.
Just so in the kingdom.
Little Things with Great Love: The Porter’s Gate