Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Big Things in Little Packages

Big things come in little packages.

Now that’s something we hear all the time. And yeah, you know, sometimes it’s true. But often what I’ve found is big things come in bigger packaging. That’s really the norm. If you want to cram in more stuff, you’ve got to get a bigger box. I’m relearning that as I’ve been unpacking my stuff into my new house. My wife observed that when she and I returned from the Peace Corps almost ten years ago, all we had to our name were two backpacks of smelly clothes and a Persian rug…but now, well, those days are now long past.

And oftentimes, too, little things come in big packages. I mean, if you’ve ever ordered anything off Amazon, like a small book or something like that, you may find this giant cardboard box sitting on your front porch. And you open the box and find that half the packaging is packing peanuts (or, rather, those plastic pillows because packing peanuts will apparently outlive us all in the landfill).

It’s literally fluff, filler, nothing at all. It sometimes feels that you’ve just paid to ship air across the country.

So, big things come in little packages? Not very often, it seems.

Perhaps that’s what’s so surprising about this statement. And that’s the goal. We value the efficiency, the economy of space. If you’ve flown recently, you certainly know that trying to get your things in the overhead compartment. Bigger does not always mean better.

It’s hard to get everything we want into one tiny, elegant package. It can be a rare and beautiful thing. And when it’s done right, it makes to sit up a little and pay a bit more attention.

Think of that expert packer Mary Poppins. She just kept pulling things out of her bag, more and more to the point of absurdity. But you can’t look away to see what gets pulled out next…

And that’s really what Jesus is getting at today with his mustard seed metaphor. Mustard seeds are really small…think like a poppy seed.

But when you plant it, grows and grows into these giant bushes. What is stuffed into that seed?

The kingdom of God is like a really well packed bag. You can cram a lot into it, and you get a lot out of it. There is so much potential…and there’s always a surprise in store.

I’ve been here with you for six months now. And during my time here, I’ve heard things like, “Oh, we’re just this little church.” “We’re so much smaller than we used to be.” “Oh, we’ll never get back to the way we were before.”

And it’s true, we are indeed a small church, and when you look back to the way things were twenty years ago, yeah, it’s true: we don’t necessarily have the same resources.

It’s easy to take this mentality and to really limit ourselves. We don’t have the means, we can’t afford it, this is not something we can really pull off.

Yet, something really struck last year as I was telling my friends and my colleagues that I was taking a call down here. “Christus Victor-Ocean Springs? Yeah, I know about that church. Yeah, I’ve been there.”

Many of them have been here through the work of Camp Victor, which this church helped to start and support.

50,000 people, in fact, 50,000 volunteers have come into contact with the fruits of your efforts. When I was at Synod Assembly this year, everybody I talked to knew about Christus Victor, partly because your former pastor is our bishop, of course, but also because of the reputation this congregation has for service to the community, for answering the call to love and serve our neighbors.

That spirit doesn’t just disappear because time has passed. That doesn’t go away just because we’re smaller than we once were. Like the seed planted into the ground becomes a seedling, grows and maybe gets a little untamed, with some nurturing, care, and maybe a little strategic pruning, it thrives again.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some conversations with folks about service, outreach, where we’ve been and where we’re going. And they’ve got some really exciting things on the table. If you haven’t been felt involved in the church’s outreach lately, I think you will soon. In September, we’re working on sending a group to Hattiesburg to help people who are still recovering from storms. This fall, I want us to be focusing on out there. On how we get ourselves, our name, our picture of the Gospel to people out there—through service, through education, through simply sitting down and talking with them.

I’m not talking about anything major. I’m not talking about anything expensive. Simple and straightforward. These are seeds—we don’t have to transplant an entire tree just yet.

But here’s the thing about the mustard seed: it spreads. It takes over. It just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

The kingdom of God is like that mustard seed, or (perhaps more appropriate to us here in the South) like a kudzu seed. Once you take it out of the bag, and put it in the ground, you are not going to be able to contain it.

It takes work, it takes cultivation, it takes water (perhaps the water from right there). It takes some initiative and sacrifice from us. It takes prayers and time and, yes, money.

But when I think about what is before us, what possibilities there are, the fruits of the harvest that we and our neighbors will enjoy—well, it’s hard not to be excited. God makes all of this possible. God has given us so much, so many things just under our noses, waiting to be unpacked and cultivated.

Through Jesus’ love and sacrifice we see the true nature of God’s kingdom, the true promise of the seed. All of us are lifted to eternal life with God and we live today for the sake of God’s world. In Jesus’ words today, we become the greatest of all shrubs, and with God’s help, we put forth large branches, so that the birds of the air and the hungry and the needy and the orphans and the widows and the lost and brokenhearted can all make nests in its shade.

So this summer, as the trees and the bushes and the gardens flourish all around us—in spite of the fact that our attendance numbers and giving may dip a little bit—I challenge all of us to think about the mustard seed, to see ourselves as that little seed, that little church, packed with promise, filled with grace, ready to burst forth with new energy and life and love.

If we do this, if we think like this, and act like this, through God, we will soon find that big things do indeed come in little packages.