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The First Congregational Church, Columbus
August 1, 2004 - 9th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Ronald Botts, Preaching
Measuring Life in Milliseconds
Ezekiel 17:22-24; Mark 4:26 -32

“Tell me what the weight of a snowflake,” a sparrow asked a wild dove.

“Nothing more than nothing,” was the reply.

“In that case I must tell you an incredible story,” the sparrow said. “I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. It wasn’t a heavy snow, like in a raging blizzard, but light and airy as in a dream.

“Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. At one point their number reached exactly 3,741,952. I remember that because when the next snowflake fell onto the branch—nothing more than nothing, as you say—the branch broke off.”

Having completed her story, the sparrow flew away and left the dove to ponder what this tale meant. Now the dove was used to such deep thinking. Ever since the time of Noah doves have had to deal with weighty issues such as peace, renewal, and hope. Why even to this day, they’re the very symbols of those things.

So the dove thought and thought and thought. Finally she figured out the riddle of the sparrow’s story, at least as it applied to the things most important to her. “Someday,” she said to herself, “someday just one more small voice will be raised for peace, and the world will once and for all change for the better. Just one more will make the difference.”

The weight of nothing more than nothing. Building on that story from Pax Christa, perhaps only one more letter written to a decision-maker might bring victory to a cause. Perhaps only one more dollar might help a charity reach its goal. Perhaps only one more practicing of a piece of music turn the corner on its mastery. Perhaps one more call on a client might seal an important deal. Sometimes three million snowflakes can fall, but it is the next one which will make the crucial difference.

Some years ago when I worked with the American Lung Association I handled all the applications for pulmonary research grants in Ohio. We were naturally very concerned with such diseases like emphysema, asthma, and lung cancer. While many studies have been funded over the years, by the Lung Association and others, obviously no final and complete solution has been found to date for any of these debilitating illnesses. Still the support of grants continues.

Medical research can be compared to links in a chain. Each study adds something new to the picture, even if it is to discover that a certain approach is not the answer. From the past we have hope that someday a dedicated researcher will make the comparatively small discovery which will put that final link in place, and another disease will have been conquered. The weight of nothing more than nothing.

In the life of a person a single day is usually not of real importance, much less an hour or minute or second. Unless, of course, that day is one’s wedding day, the hour is the interview that brought a sought-after job, the minute is the time it took to sign the final document to purchase a home, the second the reaction time to avoid a serious accident. Then each of these units of time become of utmost important.

If anything, our modern electronic and computer-dominated world has helped us to recover the importance of small units of time. Much can happen in a second, or a fraction of it. When technology fails to accomplish its work in microseconds, it fails totally. Conversely, when everything meshes precisely as designed, then amazing results can be seen. The weight of nothing more than nothing. A length of time which is nothing more than nothing.

Life teaches us to think big. Our scripture lessons for today would tell us to do just the opposite, to first think small. Jesus even used such an analogy to describe the kingdom of God when he compared it with a mustard seed. It is something, he said, which starts out extremely small, almost unnoticed, and grows little by little until it achieves its fullness.

The readings today remind us that everything that is done to the good, no matter how small, will become significant in the end. Every minute that is spent in witnessing to what we believe will contribute the realization of God’s realm on earth. Every dollar shared generously will bring about an increased understanding that all humanity is kindred. Nothing more than nothing but, taken together, they are evidence of how the kingdom grows.

If you ever listened to Mother Teresa or read anything she wrote, you will have noticed that she often referred to herself by saying, “I am nothing.” In fact, she used those very words in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize with sincere humility. Consider, though, how much that “nothing” added up to, how much her work changed life for those whom she ministered to, how much she inspired others to unselfishly direct themselves as well for the good of others.

Jesus labored perhaps three years in relative poverty, accompanied by twelve unknowns, and he preached to the “nobodies” of the world. He had no army, no deep-pocketed contributors, no influential politicians pleading his case. At the end of his earthly life, it must have looked as if there was nothing to show for all his love and concern. But one after one after one, people came to know him as Lord, the one who could change their lives. The weight of nothing more than nothing.

Another Teresa, St. Teresa of Avila , reminds us of this obvious truth: “Christ has no body on earth now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ’s compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.”

The work we do, the time we spend, may seem of little importance in and of itself. A kind deed, a few moments of prayer, may seem unimportant. But taken together, these small acts can result in things far greater than we imagine. Sometimes we may not even know the effect of our lives on others.

So don’t let a day go by, an opportunity be squandered, without realizing the possible loss. The small gifts we offer can help build the kingdom of God on earth and do change the world for the better… bit by bit by bit. Maybe one of your gifts will make a crucial difference in the life of someone else or in the future of our community. There is nothing positive that we do that isn’t also significant when we offer it as a response to the love we experience in Christ Jesus.



Copyright 2004, The First Congregational Church