The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 6, 2019
Wolves had not been seen at Yellowstone National Park in decades. They had been over-hunted. But in 1995, park officials introduced fourteen wolves back into Yellowstone.
Researchers from Oregon State University realized the first thing that happened was that the wolves controlled the massive deer and elk population. In just a few years, the trees and shrubs of Yellowstone that had been over-grazed by the deer and elk started to flourish again. Trees nearly shot up overnight. With the trees growing again, the birds started to return. And with trees, the beavers started to build dams again, recreating habitats for fish and amphibians. But that’s not all. The wolves also kept the coyotes population down, which meant that rabbit and rodent populations grew again. With those small animals in abundance, birds of prey came back and the bear population flourished. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all happened - because the deer weren’t eating the grass and vegetation, erosion became less of a problem. The rivers started flowing better again. The water became swift and the channels clear. Think of this - that over time, fourteen animals and the pack that grew after them changed the entire ecosystem and even the physical landscape of Yellowstone National Park.
“Increase our faith!”the apostles plead to Jesus. But in wisdom, and in love, Jesus doesn’t provide them with more. Because faith does not come in small, medium, and large - it’s what you do with your faith that matters to the Lord God. Sure, a mustard seed is tiny, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to produce a tiny plant. The mustard is in fact a large and unruly bush. What might seem to us as a tiny amount of faith can accomplish incredible things for God’s Kingdom.
The reintroduction of the wolves at Yellowstone is an example of “trophic cascade.” Where the introduction of one predator, over time, changes the entire ecosystem. My friends, done in faith, this is also the work of the church. Our work, though we might not have vast amounts of faith, can and should change the world around us. Indeed, the purpose of a parish church in a city like ours is to change that city for the gospel. The point of the church is not to grow, the point of the church is to change the people in it and the people around it.
In just a few moments, we will commission our mentors and prayer partners for our adopted school, Salyers Elementary. It may not be much - one hour once a week with one kid may only be the size of a mustard seed compared to the myriad of issues those kids and that school faces. But would you know, that Salyers Elementary School has in fact, gotten better. Not much, but better. It may only seem like a trickle now, but those wolves only ate one deer at a time. But day by day, week by week, year by year, you are making a difference. Consider what else we God has accomplished here.
We have completed Phase 1 of our Master Plan, and now we consider again the mission and the ministry before us. The AlAnon group that meets here provides great relief and comfort. Small groups formed out of our Lenten program this year continue to grow and thrive. New groups are forming to help people in times of grief, heartache, and transition. Just this weekend we took our youth on a confirmation retreat. And I’m going to tell you, it was as powerful a spiritual experience as I’ve had in a long time. The youth of this parish are hungry for the gospel, hungry to serve God, the Church, and the world. It may not look like much now, it may only seem to be the size of a mustard seed, but this is a New Beginning.
When Deacon Bob and his jobs ministry help one person get one job, when the Brotherhood of St. Andrew prays with one lonely kid at their retreat, when a mentor helps one kid read one book, when you come together to cook one meal for one homeless person, when a Sunday School teacher tells one kid one story; it is a sign of this New Beginning. The Holy Spirit can take whatever we offer, even just a mustard seed, and make it become something beyond our wildest imaginations. Your commitment to this church, both in time and in money, makes all the difference in the world to someone else. It is your commitment that will change the world.
I pray that this parish church becomes the trophic cascade for the people, the community around us. I pray that our presence, our ministries, our outreach, our commitments to this church would change the world around us. I pray that others see us as a church that is divided - politically, ideologically, theologically - but as a church that is able to live with each other despite these differences. That we are able to break bread together without screaming at each other like they do every night on your favorite cable news show. In a world prone to hate and violence, I pray that we become a trophic cascade for love and understanding. Perched from our little spot here on Spring Cypress Road, I pray that you and I live together in such a way that our little mustard seed here becomes a great, big tree for all to see - for all to see the goodness of God. I pray that we are able to see each other as pieces of the same puzzles, as brothers and sisters without distinction, but all committed to the same vision. All committed to the work of the Lord Jesus in our midst.
But of course, this takes your commitment. Yes, it takes your time. Yes, it takes your talent. But we must not be shy about this - it takes our money as well. And yes, the standard for giving in the church is 10% of our income. Let me put it another way. We keep 90% of what God has given us. The part we give, the 10%, is but a mustard seed compared to the riches of grace given to us through Jesus Christ. When we give 10% it’s not a burden it’s a joy, because we’re liberated from the rat race, we’re freed from the onslaught of advertisements demanding that we buy, buy, buy because we give. And all of our 10 percents, working together change the world around us for God.
As we do during our pledge campaigns, I am asking a parishioner to join me up to share a bit about their own commitment to Holy Comforter, about why they are joining in this New Beginning. So, Selene, if you would come forward.
Who are you and why did you start coming to Holy Comforter?
Our theme for the pledge campaign is "New Beginning." How do you see yourself as a part of this new beginning?
Why do you support Holy Comforter financially?
Finally, my friends, remember this one last thing. The one last trophic cascade. There was once a man who became unpopular. He aggravated those in power. And so they mocked him, stripped him naked, and executed him alongside two criminals. On the face of it, the cross, that Good Friday, didn’t seem like much. Just another execution in the Roman Empire. But that seemingly small act has not stopped reverberating around the world, a trophic cascade of mercy and grace and love. That death on a cross for me and for you has made all the difference. That act of faith on the part of Jesus Christ, though it looked as small as a mustard seed at the time, has trampled down death and sin forever. That act of faith, upon the cross, and in the empty tomb, has given you a New Beginning.
Your gifts, your ministry, your passion for this parish and its mission and ministry is not in vain. What you do in faith is multiplied by the Lord God and made into a New Beginning.