The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 13, 2021
God wants to collaborate with us! Yes, He takes the initiative. Yes, He does all the heavy lifting. But He wants to work in partnership with us, with His doing His part and our doing ours. The only question is, What is our part?
In figuring out the right balance between our depending on God and being dependable for God, some of us tend toward the error of being hypo-responsible; and others of us, toward the error of being hyper-responsible. In other words, some of us may not do our fair share; and others of us, may do too much.
I belong in the latter camp; and, because of that, I can get in God’s way, like an apprentice carpenter who, while in theory “shadowing” a master carpenter to learn the trade, tries too hard to be helpful, interjects themselves where they don’t belong, and thereby interferes with the job’s getting done. Some of us, you see, take ourselves too seriously. We over-estimate how crucial our contribution is, and hang as much of our hope on our doing our part as on God’s doing His.
G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “Angels can fly only because they take themselves lightly.” We can keep our efforts earth-bound by being duty-bound and hyper-responsible. And, when we are full of ourselves, we can’t be full of the Holy Spirit.
The first of today’s two parables counters hyper-responsibility. It depicts God’s kingdom as growing like the seed for which a farmer does next to nothing. The farmer just scatters it on the ground and then goes about their business, until such time as the seed on its own yields its fruit and signals them to gather in its harvest.
Of itself, God’s kingdom brings forth its blessings. Our contribution is just to allow its seeds to germinate in our lives and to wait in hope for them to work their wonders, no thanks to us. The first and foremost work of faith then is to trust in the fruitfulness of what God does all by Himself.
Thus, when some folks asked Jesus, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” Though we may be eager to work for God, the primary task is always to rely on the work God has already done, apart from our involvement. Our faith in God is the root of our salvation while our work of love, justice and witness is the fruit of our salvation.
Let us never forget that, just as root precedes fruit, so faith precedes works. All our works are secondary to and derivative from God’s prior works.
Our believing may feel like doing next to nothing. Yet, with next to nothing, God generates big results. Though our faith be the size of a mustard seed, “the smallest of all the seeds on earth”, from such a tiny thing God produces “the greatest of all shrubs”, one so large the birds can make nests in its shade.
I am trying to repent of my hyper-responsibility and rest in greater dependence on God. I’m making progress in a process that is often two steps forward and one step back. I am like the children in a news article I recently read: In the country hamlet of Darlington, Maryland, a mother of eight returned home to find her five youngest children on the living room floor huddled around a wiggly, squirmy, black-and-white blur of something. The perplexed mother looked closer. To her dismay, she discovered it was a family of skunks! In her horror, she screamed, “Run, children, run!” And they did. Each child grabbed a skunk and ran.
And I keep grabbing my hyper-responsibility and running with it. But I hope to more often let go of my skunk; and I believe I am, by God’s grace. It has to be by God’s grace, for I can’t be hyper-responsible in letting go of my being hyper-responsible. I need to depend on God to set off each big bang in my creation as the new man God is developing in me to become.
I move forward toward that reality by imitating trapeze artists, by learning to let go of what I’ve been holding on to and trusting that someone up ahead will grab me before I fall. A trapeze artist once described what it takes to fly through the air. Most of all, it takes complete trust in a catcher. The performer said, “The public might think that I am the great star of the show, but the real star is Joe, my catcher. He has to be there for me with split-second precision and grab me out of thin air as I hurtle toward him in the long jump across…The secret is that I the flyer do nothing, and he the catcher does everything. When I fly toward Joe, I only stretch out my hands and rely on him to catch me. In truth, I must do nothing. If I tried to catch the catcher, I’d break Joe’s grip, and maybe his wrist – and fall to my death. I must not grab at him, but let him grab me. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch. A flyer must do nothing but trust his catcher with outstretched hands.”
My main part in moving my life forward as a disciple of Jesus is to do nothing but trust Him with outstretched hands. His part is to catch me and send me forth as I could never send myself. I don’t advance by my decisions and determination, but by my depending on Him.
And now, as we all swing forward together, as we let go of church as it’s been and stretch out our hands to the new thing God is making it, let us believe a bit. Let us depend on God to catch us and send us forward. With just a mustard seed of faith, it ought to be a blast!