St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

Being Faithful in Small Things

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 1, 2006

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!

“We cannot do great things,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “but we can do small things with great love.”

St. Francis came upon an almond tree in the dead of winter. He said to it, “Speak to me of God” and the tree immediately burst into bloom.

My dear friends, a follower of Jesus will produce works of radiant, transcendent love, small and large. Every moment is an opportunity for us to bloom like the almond tree, to be lost in love for all creation, to do every tiny thing we do with great love, to cultivate the divine life, to take another step down the road, to find joy in everything, to come alive anew with every breath. There is nothing to stop us except ourselves.

The Lord calls us to the highest purpose. We do well to love those who love us, but not well enough. It is wonderful to do good to others, but not good enough. It is good to lend to others to whom we can expect repayment, but not nearly good enough. It is good to love those who love us, but that is not the highest love. Why are these not good enough?

St. Basil puts it like this: “The human being is an animal who has received the vocation to become God.”

These are not nearly good enough because we are called to be better than that. We are called to be like God who makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the bad, who forgave his torturers from the Cross, who emptied himself to suffer and die for them most of all, those “sheep lost in the hills”.

Utterly selfless, utterly and completely selfless. That is what it means when St. Paul writes, “He did not think his identity with God was something to be grasped.” Although he was God his immense love moved him to leave that identification behind in order to be “counted among the sinners”, that is you and me and everyone born into this world. Then St. Paul tells us something mind-boggling. We are capable of having this very same attitude in us, this very same way of seeing things can be ours. He calls it having the mind of Christ. If we want to follow Jesus we must cultivate in us “the mind of Christ”, intentionally and consciously.

To do this we must understand that the “mind of Christ” is not yet our mind. The roots of the things that cause the world to suffer are planted deeply in our own hearts. For example, if we are not willing to forgive our enemies from the heart, as Jesus commands, then we not only sentence ourselves to lives filled with bitterness, revenge and resentment we project these very things onto the world around us. The seed of unforgiveness can produce fruit as small and tangy as sarcasm and as full-bodied as genocide. We have to peer diligently into our hearts to find these seeds and root them out so that we never return evil for evil, so that when we are insulted what comes as response from us is blessing. We are not able to do so because we have not cultivated forgiveness as an attitude and as a daily practice in our lives. If we do not cultivate forgiveness consciously and intentionally, then when we are in need of the fruit of forgiveness we will find that it is always out of season inside us. So it is with all the virtues. So it is with the Christian life.

What good is it to love only those who love us? It is not good because it is not good enough. Jesus calls us to something much higher than that. We are called to love our enemies just like we do our loved ones. Christians are called to go beyond what is expected, what is normal, what is typical. Our lives should be filled with surprising, even shocking examples of extreme and intentional selflessness where the “simple radiant joy of loving is enough”. We begin with small things. Loving our enemies, giving to others expecting nothing in return, doing good to those who mistreat us really are small things in comparison to what is possible. But if those are too big for us, then we must start even smaller than that. We can give our full attention to what ever is before us to do and we can fill each action with love. It may be nothing more than smiling at a stranger, but every good deed has value in and of itself. Nothing is too small, nothing is insignificant. Dishes can be washed just as gracefully and thoughtfully as one can attend to the wounds of the dying.

And we move on to great things that are beyond our imagination because the seeds of divine love we cultivate through selfless, loving action begin to grow like the mustard seed into a huge tree. If we are faithful in small things, then the Lord will give us even greater things to do.

There is no reason each one us could not begin this very moment.