THE TRIVIAL AND THE TREMENDOUS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
On April 18, 1906 San Francisco went through the worst catastrophe of California history. An earthquake devastated the city, and a fire broke out that left that once thriving metropolis a heap of smoldering ruins. The cost in lives and property was beyond calculation. Yet, in the midst of all this destruction and death people were preoccupied with the trivia of life. A mortician sat on the front steps of his office and polished coffin handles, like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. You want to get angry at this man for giving himself to trifles in the midst of such a major disaster, but the question is, if the handles needed polishing, why not do it? It is a trivial task, but coffins would be needed, and people would demand that they be clean and shiny. The trivial cannot be evaded or avoided, for it is a perpetual part of life.
It is a crazy world where you cannot get life set up like a furniture store. All of the chairs in one place, and all of the beds in another, and the lamps and dressers in still another. And all the nuts and bolts and plastic and packing materials are isolated out of sight so as not to detract from the beauty. In life all of this stuff is mixed together with the trivial and the tremendous in the same room. No matter what tragedies people go through, they still have to pay the light bill, dust the end tables, put twisties back on the bread, and dozens of other trivial duties to maintain order. The trivial is inseparable from the tremendous in every day life. We sometimes feel guilty about it if we go on doing trivial things when there is a tremendous crisis going on. You are not always involved in what is a major issue, but you are always involved in what is minor, and so the trivial is a perpetual part of all of our lives. You get rest from the tremendous, but the trivial is ever with you. Gamaliel Bradford wrote-
I think about God, yet I talk of small matters.
Now isn't it odd how my idle tongue chatters,
Of quarrelsome neighbors,
Fine weather and rain,
Some trivial style,
Fashion shifts with a nod
And yet all the while
I am thinking of God.
What Jesus is saying to us in this paragraph is that we must take the trivial seriously, for how we deal with a value, even the least of God's commands, will determine our status in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, the trivial can be tremendous. Jesus goes so far as to say, not a jot or tittle is insignificant. Not the smallest letter, or the least stroke of the pen is really trivial. In our system, not the dotting of an i, or the crossing of a t, is so trivial that God will neglect it, or ignore it in His plan. Every detail of value, however trivial, will be fulfilled, therefore, nothing of God's law and revelation is so trivial that we can ignore it without loss. The silly poet wrote-
One day I sat upon a chair,
Of course the bottom wasn't there;
Nor legs, nor back, but I just sat,
Ignoring little things like that.
But little though they be, you cannot ignore them and prevent a fall, and so it is with the least of God's laws.
Jesus says, if you want to be a nobody in the kingdom, just ignore the trivial, and violate its purpose, and teach others the same, and you've got it. But if you want to be somebody in the kingdom, you have got to see the trivial can be tremendous. One of the major problems of Christians all through history is the promoting of their own gifts and activities to the detriment of others. The hand says to the foot, I have no need of you. The Christian in evangelism says, the Christian in social service is wasting his time. What good is a cup of cold water if a man is going to hell? The social service Christian says, what good is the Gospel to a man who is starving and thirsty? Christians fight each other saying, I am the greatest. Jesus says, not so, for they are both least in the kingdom if they teach that the least commandment is unimportant. The greatest are those who know obedience to all of God's will is important, and they teach and do it, for the trivial cup of cold water, and the tremendous message of the cross are both part of God's plan.
We get an insight here into the way God works. God is into the big, for He created the whole vast universe, but the fact is, He built all the bigness of creation out of the small. The whole of everything is built upon the trivial. The trivial little atom which is so small and insignificant in itself, that I can rub millions of them off my hands and not see any difference, are the basis for all that is tremendous. The poet wrote-
Little drops of water, little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land.
Time has many aspects to it, and goes from seconds to minutes; to hours; to days; to weeks; to months; to years; to decades; to generations; to centuries; to millenniums; to eons. But if you really want to see when time is important, watch the Olympics where victory and defeat depend on 1,000's of a second. All that makes it such tremendous competition is in those trivial moments of time. In daily life we do not waste years, months and weeks, but we waste minutes and hours, and here is where the real battle with time is. It is not on the upper level, but on the lower level of the trivial, and how we do on this level can make a tremendous difference in life. The same is true with money. We don't waste millions and thousands, but we do waste pennies to dollars, and what we do with the trivial always makes a tremendous difference.
God builds your life into what is tremendous by what, in itself, is trivial. The seemingly insignificant events in life are the stepping stones to what is significant. Some boys brought an injured shepherd dog to Florence Nightingale. She agreed to help heal the dog, and as she ministered to it she became infatuated with the idea of ministering to suffering humanity. Her compassion for a dog led her to become the Angel of the Crimean War, and mother of modern nursing. The trivial led to the tremendous. This is the way God has worked in millions of lives.
Most of us would agree, it is a rather trivial choice as to which pair of socks you wear. President James Garfield had his whole life changed by his choice of socks. The day he was to leave home for a long trip he injured his foot chopping wood. The blue dye in the home-made sock he wore poisoned the wound, and he had to cancel his trip. While he was home recovering, a revival broke out in his community, and he was converted. He wrote, "New desires and new purposes then took possession of me, and I was determined to seek an education that I might live more usefully for Christ." His choice of socks led to his choosing the Savior. The trivial led to the tremendous.
One of the lessons Jesus most often sought to teach us is the lesson on the largeness of the little; the significance of the small; the mightiness of the minute, and the tremendousness of the trivial. Michaelangelo labored on detail, and someone asked him why he would bother with details that no one would notice. He replied, "Trifles make for perfection, and perfection is no trifle." Jesus said that those who are faithful in a very little are faithful also in much. If you give a money manager $500.00, and he loses some of it, you will not trust him with $5,000.00. If he does well with a little, then you will trust him with a lot.
One sheep is a trivial percentage of a flock, but when that one is lost, it becomes a major issue, and the 99 are left in order to focus on finding the one. The trivial becomes the priority. The trivial mite of the widow was like the pennies of the little child in the Sunday School offering. Truly trivial in the over all budget of the church, but Jesus exalted her gift to the level of the greatest gift of all, because it represented her all. Others gave far more, but it was far from their all. Because it was her all, her trivial became tremendous. People often think if they are not gifted it is okay to do nothing, not realizing that if they give what little they have it can lead to tremendous reward. The one talent man missed the whole point of Jesus, and he did not use his one trivial talent wisely. He buried it, for it was nothing compared to the others. He neglected his trivial, and lost the tremendous reward that could have been his by being faithful with his little. Jesus said, "As ye did it unto the least of these my brethren you did it unto me." The slightest expression of love can be a tremendous act of love. Even a cup of cold water given in His name will not go unrewarded.
In this Sermon on the Mount Jesus is concerned with prevention, and the key to prevention is in awareness of the value of the trivial. Most all tragedies could be prevented by attention to the trivial. People make their biggest mistakes by thinking that their righteousness is established on the major issues of life. If they do not murder
and commit adultery, and some other super sin, they are really on top of things. Jesus says, not so! He looks at the track record on the level of the trivial. You can keep all of the major laws of God, and still live a life that has no love for people. You do not respect them, or trust them as persons made in the image of God. You degrade their personality by your language. You call them names, curse them, and treat them like things. You evaluate people's value by whether they are on your side, your race, your church, your school, etc., rather than their value to God.
The whole point of Jesus is, if Christians are to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, they have to break out of the mold of the Pharisees, and start recognizing that the law is fulfilled in love, and love is not just lifting up lofty ideals, but in little daily acts of lifting people, because you care about them as persons, and that care is expressed in the language you use, and in the attitudes you have toward them. We all fail most right here at the point of not recognizing that the trivial is tremendous. Like the Pharisees, we are proud if we get through a day and have not murdered, raped, or robbed someone, with no thought of whether or not we said a kind word to encourage, or went out of our way to do some trivial act to let others know we care about them as persons.
We think the great in the kingdom are those doing the wonders of world wide impact. But the fact is, if they are great, it is not because of these things, but because they light a candle in someone's darkness, and sprinkle a few grains of salt on someone's tasteless day. It is the trail of trivial kindnesses that make a person great in the kingdom of God, and that trail is open to all of us to travel daily. Jesus is saying, if you want to be in the major leagues of righteousness, don't focus on the big stuff, but on the little stuff. Alexander Maclaren, the great English preacher, wrote, "It is the very spirit of Christianity that the biggest thing is to regulate the smallest duties of life. Men's lives are made up of two or three big things, and a multitude of little ones, and the greater rule the lesser, and, my friends, unless we have got a religion and a morality that can and will keep the trifles of our lives right there will be nothing right."
Jesus goes on in this great sermon to make clear that all big sins start small. Murder starts with anger and resentment, and name calling. Adultery starts with lustful looks. To prevent the big sins of life you need to deal with the trivial, and keep them under control. Benjamin Franklin wrote, "For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost." A man's life was lost because of neglect of a tiny nail. Neglect of the trivial in any area of life can lead to tremendous loss.
Let's not assume that Jesus is saying, there is no such thing as the insignificant. The littleness and pickiness of the legalistic Pharisees was one of His biggest complaints. It is possible to major on minors, and get so tangled up in the trivial you never get to the tremendous. In Matt. 23:23-24, Jesus blasts the Pharisees for this very thing. "You hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel." Here is the perversion of what Jesus is teaching. If the trivial is tremendous, then let us devote our lives to the trivial. Such was the logic of the Pharisees, and it led to a petty pain of a religion, rather than to the great faith God intended for the world.
The Jews got into hot debates over trivial things. The law said a man who was murdered on the highway was to have a sacrifice offered for him by the priest in the nearest town. The issue was, where do you start the measuring to see which town he is closest too? Rabbi Eliezer said, from the navel, and Rabbi Akiba said, from the nose. It is true that trifles often have to be cared for, but when men devote their energies to these trifles, they lose sight of what is important. It is possible for any of us to get caught up in trifles that are just that and no more. Queen Victoria once said, "As I get older I cannot understand the world. I cannot comprehend its littleness. When I look at its frivolities and littlenesses, it seems to me as if people were all a little mad."
The church has often gotten caught up in legalistic littleness that has nothing to do with the least commands of God. Charles Goff tells of a church that split over which street the new entrance to the church would face. After the damage was done, the entrance was put on the corner where people could go either way, and the problem was solved. When people blow a minor matter all out of proportion, as if the universe and God's plan depended on their perspective, they have the mind of the Pharisee, and not the mind of Christ.
You can make a mountain out of a molehill, and be guilty of the sin of specializing in the secondary. It can be a tremendous part of your life to give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, but if you devote your life to giving cold water, and start criticizing other Christians because they do not do it, you become a pain in the neck of the body of Christ. You are trying to make the trivial tremendous by your own power, and this leads to folly. It is blowing the issue out of proportion. It is like the essay on the value of pins. The author concluded that pins save millions of lives every year by not being swallowed. All of us are here today because we did not swallow pins this week. It can be made to sound like the issue of the century, for all of history is affected by whether or not people swallow pins. It is true, but also truly trivial, for swallowing pins is not a temptation for the vast majority of people. The point is, it is easy to get caught up in what sounds significant, but which is really trivial. There is plenty of this, making tragedies of trifles, shooting butterflies with rifles.
As the light of the world, it is the Christians job to help the world see the difference between the truly trivial, and the trivial that can be tremendous. That which is really trivial is that which does not fulfill anything in God's will for the benefit of man. On the other hand, that which is least in fulfilling God's will is the trivial that can be tremendous. Our prayer needs to be-
O light eternal fall
Into this world of time,
That all things small
May small abide,
And all things great,
Do not make your life frustrating by trying to do great things for God. Just do the trivial things that He wants you to do in your daily life, and you will be doing the trivial that leads to the tremendous.