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Matthew 13:31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Jesus told this parable to teach his disciples to pay attention to the little things. Sometimes those things that look insignificant are the ones that grow into something big.

One of my favorite Cherokee stories I love to tell to little children is “How the People Got Fire.” In this tale the animals are worried about their little two legged brothers and sisters. They have no fur and no way to keep warm. So the animals ask the Creator to send help, and God responds by sending lightning to strike a great cottonwood tree.

Deep in the heart of the tree a fire glows, and that fire will save the two leggeds. But the tree is on an island surrounded by frigid waters. Who will go to retrieve the fire? One by one the biggest animals try and fail. Each of them is marked by the failure. Raven was turned from shimmering blue to black by the soot. Coyote’s mouth was burned. Owl’s eyes were singed. One after another tried and failed.

At last the little water spider came forward. The other animals laughed at her. “How will you carry fire? You are too little,” they said. But the water spider weaved a tiny silk bowl to carry on her back. She skittered across the water, then put a live coal in her bowl. She skittered back before the coal grew cold, but the heat of that coal touched her back. To this day she bears a red mark where she was almost burned.

Now that story is a lot of fun. I get to teach the Cherokee names and let the children act like the animals. But there is a serious message there too. Sometimes the biggest and strongest do not accomplish the greatest things. Sometimes the smallest one among us does the most important deed. And sometimes the tiniest deed will grow to reveal huge consequences.

Today we have fire because the smallest creature did not go home in despair. The littlest one came forward and the Creator used her willing heart to work a great miracle.

Yes, that effort left a mark on her. Doesn’t it always leave a mark when you care deeply? Sacrificial love always changes you.

Oh, there’s one more thing this story tells us: we never get too big, or strong, or wise to learn from the littlest ones among us. We dare not overlook their offerings, for the smallest gifts often carry the biggest results.

O creator, we often believe that the race always goes to the swift and the strong. We pay attention to those with the most power and influence because we think they matter most. Forgive us when we overlook the littlest ones in our midst. Give us hearts to learn from those who love best, no matter how small they are.