Make It Ripple
Beloved God, I pray that you would shape these words. That the ideas, prayers, and theological work that I do here might be infused with your Holy Spirit. That these words would somehow become a word from you to your people gathered here. Where these words are in error, I pray that no harm would be done. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, loving God.
Last week, Renny told a story about a woman that this congregation took in and helped about a decade ago. He talked about how she keeps in touch and how, today, she is in a job that helps others in her community by working with child protective services way out in California. We never know how small actions can ripple out and change the world. This church, in small ways that many might never recognize, is making ripples around the world.
I’m still only learning, in bits and pieces, all that this church community has done and what individuals in this community have done to help “the least of these,” God’s children, in and around this community. Just this week, while covering for Pastor Renny as he took some well deserved vacation, I had the opportunity to help a handful of people.
I can’t even put into words how awesome it was for me to have a conversation with each person who needed a helping hand and be able to offer them some sort of help, either a voucher for clothing at Women and Children First, or a check to cover some of a utility bill. One woman I spoke with on the phone, after I told her how we could help, said to me, “This is the best news I’ve gotten all day. And it’s been a long day.”
I also watched a member of our faith community, unbeknownst to them, stop and help a family in need along the side of the road. It was a simple act of generosity and I’m certain was done out of a heart that has a long practice of doing simple helpful things. That small simple action may have a much bigger impact on that family, but it also had impact on my heart. Witnessing it, especially as it was not done in anyway that was meant to be noticed, inspired the observer, too! That has ripple effect!
We may never know how the simple act of writing a $100 check to a utility company might ripple out and change the world. Sometimes, often even, we never ever see any of the results of the things that we do. Occasionally we get to see some of the ripple effects. Sometimes folks return to thank us.
Many times they don’t, or they can’t, or even they don’t quite realize how profound the impact has been.
A little over a decade ago my family, with my young daughters, was looking at a Christmas through the lens of financial catastrophe. The 2008 recession had hit us very hard. Job loss and up to our eyeballs in debt, behind in our mortgage, and starting to wonder how we were even going to put food on the table. The very idea of Christmas was a crisis. I mentioned something about this to some people I was working with at the time and before I knew what had happened, this small group of co-workers organized a miraculous Christmas for my little family. This little act of love and generosity has had ripple effects on our lives in ways that we don’t even fully understand. My gratitude has inspired generosity to others and I have watched the myriad of ways that my daughters are generous, too. As they grow up, I expect that they will create more and more ripple effects for positive change in the world. Small actions can have huge effects.
The passage that we read today from Hebrews illuminates this idea of being faithful in small things and how we must have faith that small simple acts can have a huge impact.
The author of Hebrews writes, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faithful actions like offering Christmas gifts to a family in need or helping with a utility bill can result in outcomes that we never ever see. “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The author talks about the Hebrew ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Abraham left his home in search of a place God was sending him to. He had faith that God would bring something good far, far in the future. Indeed, it was so far in the future that Abraham could never possibly see it. Yes, he did finally get to have a child, Isaac, but the plethora of descendants beyond that? All those that continue to call him their father to this day? Abraham could never see all of that. But he was faithful in the small things that he was called to do.
“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” We act in faith without the satisfaction of seeing how those faithful actions will play out. Honestly, sometimes that’s frustrating! There’s a man in Burlington who I knew and got to know pretty well throughout my 8 years serving at First UMC. He was one of the street folk, as I liked to call them. I think he only came to one worship service once my entire time there. (and that was a small miracle.)
Mostly I saw him as I was going and coming from the church as he and a bunch of his friends would hang around on the street nearby. As far as I could tell, he was pretty much constantly drunk or high or both all the time. But, nonetheless, I loved him! I still do. He’s probably there now. But doggone it he frustrated me! He seemed perpetually stuck. Stuck as a 15 year old in the body of a fifty something. And that stuckness frustrated me! He’d come in to the weekly free suppers at the church and, after a while, he offered to help out. It wasn’t easy to let him help as his general intoxication made him a little wobbly, but the offer was there. Maybe that was all the movement I was ever meant to see. In the end, I had to remind myself (even as I remind myself again right now) that it isn’t our place to ask to bear witness to the results. Who knows what will happen in that man’s life? And maybe, just maybe, the love and joy we shared together will ultimately have made a difference in ways that might be huge and I can never ever know. We act faithfully, doing what God told us to do - love our neighbors, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger - and hope that God will take these small actions and help them ripple out. That’s the kind of faith that this passage is reminding us to have: A faith that looks to the future without expectation that we will see the end result.
Hebrews, this book in the bible that we’re reading from today, was written to a faith community in crisis. Apparently this group of gathered people that the author was addressing was starting to lose faith. It seems like their numbers were dwindling. Folks weren’t showing up as regularly as they used to. Those who did gather were worried and anxious. And that anxiety was having an effect on the community, too. This writing, which is rich in well thought out theology, was, it seems, essentially a pep-talk to a group of people who really really needed to hear it. The author is saying, don’t lose faith, don’t lose hope, hang on, God is at work in the little things that you do. Stay the course and God will work amazing things through you!
I think, perhaps, we need this bit of encouragement today in our church, too. Let’s not be anxious, and instead be hope-filled and faithful as we go about the work that we’ve been called to do. And in all things, let’s remember that this call to minister is a joyful thing! Let’s do our work joyfully and watch as God ripples out the results… remembering that we will never ever be able to see just how far those ripples really go!