Eighth Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL): “Little Boat by Little Boat, Little Bit by Little Bit” (The Mustard Seed/Romans 8)
Romans 8:26-39/Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
July 29-30, 2017
Holy Trinity, Manasquan
I saw Dunkirk last week. You may know the story: over 300,000 British soldiers stranded on a French beach at the beginning of WW II, boxed in by the Nazis, sitting ducks being strafed and bombed by the Luftwaffe, facing certain death unless they could be rescued. You’d think that would call for a formal military evacuation, right? But as I understand it there were at least 3 flies in the ointment: 1) the water was too shallow for carriers or destroyers to reach the beach to pick up the men; 2) those big ships make very large targets and more than a couple were bombed and sunk: 3) Churchill didn’t want to risk too many of the destroyers and carriers so early in the war. So he put out the call for the civilian fleet to come to the rescue. These were private citizens who owned fishing boats, pleasure boats, anything seaworthy, and who had signed up to assist in the war effort if and when called upon.
The movie focuses in particular on 1 small cabin cruiser, piloted by a man and his teenage son. With no military training and no weapons on board they bravely head across the English Channel into a war zone. On the way they pull out of the drink a downed flyer they found clinging to the wreckage of his plane, half frozen and completely water-logged. They haul him on board. He’s dazed but grateful, until he notices they’re heading east toward France instead of west toward Britain and safety. “What are you doing?? Where are you going??” “You’re going to evacuate the troops? In this?? You’re crazy….”
Yup, crazy committed to save whomever they could. And they were joined by hundreds of other small boats, thousands of other crazy-committed Brits. Little boat by little boat, little bit by little bit, they succeeded in evacuating the troops who had survived hell on the Dunkirk beach and the battles that preceded it.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed….” (Matthew 13:31) “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast….” (Matthew 13:33) Through the tiniest, almost invisible, least promising beginnings God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done. I don’t know about you, but I have to confess at times I’m tempted to despair that my efforts are too miniscule to make a difference. But then the Holy Spirit reminds me that I am part of a much larger whole, and that by God’s grace the holy outcome is more than the sum of our individual and even of our collective efforts!
Out of one thread God weaves a coat for the homeless. With one can God fills a shopping cart for the hungry. My call to a legislator is logged and becomes part of the magic 15 that I’ve been told is the # of calls that constitutes a groundswell of opinion and registers on the radar of my congressman and senators. I may see only my piece of the puzzle, but God sees the whole thing. Have you ever done a 500 or a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle? And feel your heart ache when it should be complete but isn’t because 1 or 2 pieces are missing? Never doubt that the puzzle piece you bring to the table is too insignificant to make a difference! You may pull out of the dock and appear to be the only boat headed east across the Channel, toward Dunkirk, but the closer you get the clearer you’ll see all the others who have answered the call and whose collective bravery will save the day – by God’s grace.
The movie makes it clear that as each day passed more and more of those poor soldiers exhausted from battle, hungry, thirsty, and cornered, felt abandoned and hopeless. One of them simply walks into the sea and disappears beneath the waves. But surely some among the 300,000 called to mind this weekend’s magnificent epistle from Romans 8:
31bIf God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?.... 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That passage is a favorite for funerals. Understandably. But it is a life-preserver for us not just in the wake of physical death; it is a buoy of hope to cling to when we are floundering in other storms that may not threaten to take our life but certainly try to steal our hope and sap our trust in God. Physical or mental illness, addiction, unemployment, family discord, homelessness, an unexpected pregnancy or the inability to conceive, financial worries, legal woes, divorce, betrayal….
Humanly speaking, every one of us at some point has probably flirted with the possibility or downright concluded either that God has sent the suffering we’re dealing with or that God doesn’t care to alleviate it because we’ve been naughty, not nice. Are you kidding me?? Hear Paul’s words again: God is for us!!! 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?.... Martin Luther hammered this message time and again: “To youis born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord….” (Luke 2: 11) “To you….” Not just to the whole world, not just to the guy down the block, but “to you.” And later during worship we will hear these precious words: “The Body of Christ, given for you”; “The Blood of Christ, shed for you.”
God is for us!!! God sent the Son, the beloved Son, the only Son, to be our salvation. God doesn’t send trials to weed out the weak. God isn’t interested in an exclusive club of the spiritually strong. “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners….” When our personal pain or the pain we feel on behalf of the world engulfs us, swamps us, takes away our breath and our words, God’s “Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:27) God wants so much to be in communion with us, so much to communicate with us, that God’s Spirit fills in the blanks and turns our silence into prayer. In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis has the master tempter Screwtape inform his devil apprentice Wormwood that suffering doesn’t necessarily turn the faithful into the faithless. He says that God:
…relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.1
When we hurt, we often lash out in anger toward God or inward in self-approach. If we could just remember: God is for us!! And though I may only see my one puzzle piece, God has a whole array of pieces that form quite a lovely Kingdom picture of which I am a part, and to which I am called to contribute my single piece. Especially when we feel we’re about to drown, in a trough between two huge waves, or in a trench, embattled before and behind, let’s remember that God is for us!! 32He who did not withhold his own Son [Emmanuel, God with us], but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?.... Help isn’t just “on the way.” It arrived long ago, in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, into which we have been baptized. We have daily access to its power. Certainly not every soldier survived to be evacuated from Dunkirk. Not every one survived the trip across the Channel either. But God’s promise held true for the non-survivors as well as the survivors – “Nothing will separate us from the love of Christ – neither death nor life – things present nor things to come….” He who promised is faithful. He will do this. Amen
1C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, NY: Macmillan, 1961, pp. 44-45, quoted in Roy A. Harrisville, Romans (ACNT), Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1980, p. 141.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham