Too Small a Thing

LBT Sermon Series

About The Episode

What is God calling you to do? We can’t begin to wrap our minds around the totality of God’s mission. This episode of the LBT sermon series is based in part on Genesis 12:1-3 and originally delivered at Concordia Seminary St. Louis, MO one week before the entire nation shut down for Coronavirus. Join Emily Wilson and Rich Rudowske to discuss life at times of upheaval, and the reminder that God is always in control and has called us into His mission.

Thank you to Concordia Seminary for the sermon audio: Rudowske, Richard, “084. Genesis 12:1-9” (2020). Chapel Sermons Academic Year 2019-2020. 89.

Rich Rudowske
When we say, Lord, lead, I will follow. We’re going to go some places that we didn’t plan on going, and that will be stretched beyond our comfort and find that only in our reliance on God can we have peace, because it certainly won’t be by our own reason or what we can figure out or manage. 

Welcome to the Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. I’m Rich Rudowske. (I’m Emily Wilson), and we are beginning the New Year with another one in our sermon series. This one is a sermon that I delivered at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis last March when we were on a recruitment visit there just before the first big series of COVID shutdowns happened, which we had no idea any of that was coming. 

Rich Rudowske
Let’s talk a little bit about the context of what was going on and why that makes the sermon sort of memorable. 

Emily Wilson
Well, I’m trying to remember how that all turned out. I had just gotten back from Australia mid month in February, and they were just starting to talk, like, in Australia, there was a lot of news reports. You were seeing everything shut down in Asia. And I was, huh, I wonder what this is all about. And then they were starting know, say, like, okay, make sure that you wipe down everything on the plane. And I wonder if I’m going to be able to see my sister. She’s pregnant right now. And what does that look like? And it was like, okay, let’s blow over. 

Rich Rudowske
Yeah. In LBT, we had been all ready for our international programs in December, paying attention and had put out advice to, especially if you’re traveling, just be aware of this as a possibility. It seemed pretty far away at that point, isolated to China, as far as we knew. And then there was some evidence that things were happening in Australia and Europe, particularly Italy. And I had gone to Ethiopia early in the month of February. And so about that same mid-February timeframe was also returning to the US. And yes, we were hearing more about coronavirus. I remember standing in this jam packed airport in Addis Ababa, and there were people so close together and coughing. Of course, that wasn’t unusual at that point. It seems weird to even picture now with so many months of physical distance, there are people coughing and stuff. 

Rich Rudowske
And I remember thinking, well, if I get this thing, this is where I will get it from. 

Emily Wilson
Recycled air, right? 

Rich Rudowske
So we went out to St. Louis. I mean, we still had a normal, what would be, recruitment schedule to visit places and talk about the work of LBT and invite involvement in the future, or even some folks to get involved as missionaries with LBT. And one of the stops we always make is at Concordia Seminary. So for our listeners who may not be familiar, that’s one of the training institutions for pastors and deaconesses, other church leaders in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and a number of other church bodies and workers there for pastoral training or for advanced training. And so that’s the audience that was in the chapel that day. And the sermon is based on, well, two things. The text for the day was Genesis 12:1-3, the story of God calling Abram, who later becomes Abraham. 

And I took that and also talked about it with Isaiah 49:6, which is, as we’ll hear in the sermon, an important verse in my life where God says, it’s too small a thing for you to only bring back the chosen people of Israel. I will make you a light unto the nations. And so that was the text for the day. And, yeah, I think we’ll play the sermon and then come back and reflect on why that’s so meaningful and how that really stuck with us. And as we’re thinking about a new year, I guess this is part of our hope. Our launching the year in the podcast with this sermon is just this reminder that we’re in 2021 now. 

Rich Rudowske
And so for a lot of folks, we’re thinking, thank God, 2020 is behind us, and that is a year that people will not forget for a long time. But the reality is that as we go into a New Year, we don’t know what the year holds. Just like mid-March and 2020, when the sermon was delivered, we did not know what the year held. And I mentioned that in the sermon, but it came out in ways that we wouldn’t have expected. And so, as we think about launching into 2021, those things haven’t changed, that God is still in control. He is calling those who follow Jesus into his mission and to live that out. 

Rich Rudowske
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Dear friends in Christ, I received a letter in the mail earlier this week reminding me that it has been 15 years since I graduated from this fine institution. Fifteen years plus since I sat in those seats in chapel regularly and in those lecture halls on this campus. And if I can tell you one thing that I have learned and experienced in those 15 years, it’s this. Whatever you’re thinking, God’s calling you to do, whatever you think you might be able to wrap or whenever you think you might be able to wrap your mind around that, and you’ve got it figured out. You’re wrong. It’s bigger than that. 

Rich Rudowske
Because no matter what you’re called to parish pastor, dioconal ministry, theological education, intercultural missionary, or whatever vocation God has gifted you with or will gift you with, we’re all part of something bigger than that, something bigger that pulls it all together. And that is God’s mission. God’s mission that all humanity would be reconciled to God in Christ and know peace with God in this life, now and for eternity. And that is huge. That’s bigger than anything we can wrap our minds around. It’s bigger than any plans we have. We can’t begin to wrap our minds around the totality of being in God’s mission. Back in 1987, the freshman in high school version of myself had one objective in life, and that was to not be poor. My mother was a Lutheran school teacher, and my father drove a forklift in a cardboard box factory. 

Rich Rudowske
And it probably doesn’t surprise you to know that Lutheran school teachers don’t make a lot of money, but I’m also here to tell you that guys that drive forklifts in cardboard box factories do not either. And so it was my one objective in life, to not be poor. Fast forward to 2000, which was four years after I had graduated with a degree in finance from Eastern Michigan University. At age 27, I had accomplished my career objective of having a good job, making good money, not being poor. And I began to wonder if that’s really what I would just keep doing for another 40 years or so, approximately. And I went to a Wednesday night service at my church, and I actually don’t remember what our pastor said when he preached, so you can take comfort in that. 

Rich Rudowske
But I’ll never forget this reading from God’s word, because God’s word has this way of being living and active. You may have heard that before, and it was a reading from Isaiah 49:6, which reads in the NIV, because you have to know, in 2000, we didn’t have the ESV yet. Shocking, I know, but in the NIV, it says, he that is the Lord says, it is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. It is too small a thing. Or in Hebrew, that’s too easy. It’s too easy. It’s too light. It’s too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. 

Rich Rudowske
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth. It’s too small a thing. And again, I don’t know what the pastor preached on that text, and I’m not even trying to say this is the point of the text, but I can tell you that in that moment I felt the weight of a question on my shoulders, which is, are you really going to go and just work and make a bunch of money for the rest of your life? Isn’t that too small a thing? And a couple of days later, very nervously, I decided to talk to my wife about this and tell her that maybe the Lord was going to be calling us to do something different, using our gifts and passions in a different way and maybe even in ministry. 

Rich Rudowske
And to my surprise, she said, oh, good, I was wondering when you were going to say something about that, because I’ve been thinking the same thing and I’ve even talked to ladies in my Bible study about that for a long time. And in fact, they’re all praying about it. So I said, okay. So I was pretty convinced that the extent of this thing was that I would go and be a pastor in a nice little country church. I came here in 2001 and started seminary classes, but I’d go somewhere, a nice country church, parsonage, a white picket fence would be nice. But my wife challenged me. She said she kept seeing a map of Africa. And I was like, no, I’m pretty sure that’s not right. And long story short, the Lord works through means. 

Rich Rudowske
…and one of those means was my wife going behind my back and making an appointment with the Lutheran Bible Translators recruiter who was on campus at that point. And after a wonderful season of pastoring a church in Dayton, Ohio, after I graduated from here, my family and I were at the ends of the earth working in Bible translation. And even that was too small a thing because every time I thought, okay, I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life. Then something changed. And then I got called back home five years later to run the whole international operation of the organization I was working for then, not only the international operations, but basically all the operations. And I don’t mean to make this about me, okay, it’s about God in his mission. 

Rich Rudowske
God being, in essence, the sent God who sends his people, who invites us to participate in his mission, and he takes us places we never thought we’d go and has us doing things we never thought we would do. And the thing is that this isn’t new. This isn’t new. This is how God has operated from the beginning, well before he had Isaiah writing him saying that it was too easy for his servant to rescue only Israel. He called a man named Abram. He issued him a missionary call, actually is the reading from Genesis 12. And I’d like to read that again, those first three verses, Genesis 12:1-3. And the Lord said to Abram, go from your land and go from your relatives, and go from the house of your Father. 

Rich Rudowske
Go is the command from all these places to a land, which I will show you, which isn’t a lot of information, by the way. I don’t know if any of you have experienced something like that before. I like to know a little bit more. I don’t know how Abram reacted to that. Verse two. I will make you a great nation. I will bless you. I will make your name great. And then the reading here in English translations have trouble with this. It says that you will be a blessing, so that you will be a blessing. This is the second command, though in the Hebrew text it just says, be a blessing. And there’s lots of folks who try to figure out the grammar and sort out, like, what’s the connection with everything, because it seems clumsy. 

Rich Rudowske
And to be honest with you, I think that’s partially an English problem. We’re trying to figure that out using our own mindset that way. But somehow it’s go. Here’s some information about what’s going to happen when you go and be a blessing. Those are the two things that you’re going to do. Go and be a blessing. I will bless the ones who bless you, those who minimize you, make light of you, curse you. I will curse. And in you. All the nations of the earth, all the clans of the earth of the world are going to be blessed. And a couple of observations on the scope of what God wants to do. It’s one thing for him to say, look, you’re here in this place. I want to move you to another place. But that’s too small a thing. 

Rich Rudowske
God is calling Abram, not just to leave the people he knows. It’s on a whole different level to tell him to go and bless other people and that through what you’re going to do, other people are going to be blessed, because at that time, much less now. But let’s say at that time in history, nations and clans don’t bless other nations. That’s not what you do. Nations and clans are organized solely to either protect and defend yourself or to organize for aggression and to look out for number one, because might makes right. That is the purpose in this time in history of nations and clans and people, nobody is thinking about blessing other people except God. Also like you and like me. There was nothing special about Abram when he was called. 

Rich Rudowske
In fact, Joshua, writing a few hundred years later in Joshua 24:2, writes this long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates River, the father of Abraham and of Nahor. And they served other gods. So is there anybody in the world at this time who even knows the Lord they served other gods? Verse three. Then I took your father, Abraham, from beyond the river, and the rest is history. Abram was like everyone else on earth, yet God chose him. And if you read through the accounts of Abram’s life in Genesis, you’ll see things didn’t go his way all the time. He made bad choices. He essentially gave his wife out. You could say he prostituted his wife out to save his own skin, and not once, but twice, which means she has a very patient wife. 

Rich Rudowske
I guess he tried to accelerate God’s plan to give him a son by bringing in a third party, if you will. Okay, so if you think the Bible’s boring, you’re wrong. So Abram does all these things, but look at the promises God made and God kept, because God is faithful. I will make you a great nation. Check. In fact, several of them, actually. I will bless you. You can see from the accounts of Abraham in Genesis that he had material resources and influence at a significantly high level for his time in history. I will make your name great. We’re here talking about him right now, several thousand years later. Not to mention that over half the world’s population claims Abraham in some way as their spiritual father. Check. In. You all the nations of the earth will be blessed. 

Rich Rudowske
That has come true in Christ and the subsequent spread of the Gospel over the face of the earth. To the extent that people have peace with God and call on the name of the Lord in literally thousands of languages, on every continent, in every time zone, publicly or in hiding, every single day. Check. And God continues to be in mission. He continues to invite us to participate in mission, to go where he’s leading, even if we don’t know where that is. But we do know who we’re following. The former district president in Ohio, where I served as pastor, was known for saying, “God is still at work in the world. We have to decide if we’re going to join him where he’s working.” 

Rich Rudowske
God’s mission calls us constantly to avoid, to eschew parochialism and to constantly look outside of ourselves, to resist the impulse to look within which is the result of the original sin. And to look out whether that’s just me as an individual caring for my neighbor. Or as a congregation or a denomination. Looking outside our comfort zone, looking outside our parochialism, looking past what’s familiar looking, what’s worked in the past. To discern where God is at work. How we can join him in doing that. And since we see that he kept his promises to Abram. We can be confident that wherever he leads and wherever we go. He will keep his promise to us. I am with you always to the end of the age. My prayer is that each and every one of us. 

Rich Rudowske
That God would reveal to us where our approach, where what we’re thinking, what we think we’ve got nailed down. Is just too small a thing. He would open our eyes to the bigger vision to which he calls us. May he give us wisdom to see it and courage to pursue it. That he may be glorified in all the earth. In Jesus name, amen. The peace of God that surpasses all understanding. Keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

Emily Wilson
A lot has changed, and yet all remains the same perspective. So you were saying it had been 15 years. Since you had received that call to your first parish. And that wrestling with that question even before you went to seminary. Of what is God’s mission? And where is he calling you to serve? And it changed a lot over the years. And thinking about these seminary students and you delivering this message. I don’t think anyone sitting in those pews imagined that it would be going virtual and that everything would be shut down. And that call day was not going to be like your call day was, right? Yeah, but that idea. If you think that the Bible is boring, you’re wrong. But how many of the forefathers and mothers of the faith. Thought that they had their minds wrapped around what God had planned? 

Emily Wilson
Or, oh, surely this is what he wants us to do, and making a way. And God redirecting and saying, no, my plans are higher. They are better. They are beyond your imagination and trusting. 

Rich Rudowske
Yeah. And what you’re thinking is too small. Like, that’s nowhere near what it could be. That’s what God’s always, I think, in his mission, saying, there’s something bigger out there. I can remember. So, of course, that evening, the same day this was delivered, then we had an event off campus at a pizza place. Where we reserved some space. And then people just kept coming. And I don’t know what you call what we did, but it was the opposite of social distancing. We had so many people crammed. We didn’t get sick around the table. Yeah. So we didn’t know any better at that time. But anyways, we did not get sick and the world just changed. 

Rich Rudowske
While we were listening to the sermon, pulling up my twitter, like three weeks after the sermon, I tweeted out three weeks ago, I stood in the pulpit at Concordia Seminary and said, whatever you’re thinking God’s calling you to do, whenever you think you might be able to wrap your mind around that, you’ve got it figured out, you’re wrong. It’s bigger than that. And that was two weeks into lockdowns. And what I wrote in the rest of this week is I could not have imagined the intervening weeks would be like this. But God could, and he is still leading and guiding, and that gives me peace. And there’s just much more on our minds and our approach to life last year because it became evident that so many things were out of our control. 

Rich Rudowske
I think back to that initial time and things like the store is out of several things I need. It seems like all these systems that we just assume are going to work to deliver products and goods and services are no longer working and how long is it going to be like this and when this illness arrives, I mean, I had pastor friends who were, again, at that point we didn’t know the severity of COVID and so they were thinking they might have to set up and live out of their church offices and they might be conducting a lot of funerals and stuff. And so, yeah, just a lot up in the air. 

Emily Wilson
This was one of those times. Just thinking back on the vulnerability that so many of us were experiencing of like, okay, God, I thought that I was following your plan. So my role at the time as mission mobilization coordinator, I had plans to visit a couple of other universities, different campuses, and I was like, okay, trying to scope out for my fall semester and just kind of experiencing these roadblocks and it’s like, God, what’s happening here? And how he worked in and through that situation for us to pivot. It’s too small a thing. I had originally planned for ten mission explorers to come to our annual missions event in Concordia, Missouri. And, okay, ten people and I had over 20 some sign up for the virtual event. My reach was so much greater. Not my reach, but rather God reaching and using this platform. 

Emily Wilson
And I wasn’t able to travel, but yet we were provided with an opportunity to meet with people through that online platform and being able to share in presentations and one on one meetings. And that, yes, there’s been a lot that has had to shift, but that God is… no, don’t think so. You know that I have something even in the midst of when you feel like things have been taken away from you, that I am still here, I am still providing. And it’s my mission. It’s not Emily’s mission. And I think that was a wake up call. It’s something that I think that I daily wrestle with, I think a lot of us do, but that his mission is so much bigger than even, like how you were saying, like, okay, those of you going into parish ministry or international ministry, it’s bigger than that. 

Emily Wilson
It’s God’s mission, not just Joe Smith’s mission. 

Rich Rudowske
Yeah, God takes us where we never thought we would go, doing things we never thought we would do. And yeah, in the sermon I talked about how God’s mission calls us to. It’s an SGU, parochialism. So remember, I was talking to seminary students. But parochialism is the inside language stuff, or the stuff that we’re all comfortable with. And we all say, yeah, we all know this, right? And God’s mission is constantly calling us to look past that and where we have become comfortable or complacent, even if we feel like we’re striving and really making something big happen in the bigger picture of God’s mission, it’s often too small a thing, and we still find ourselves with blinders to where we’re just comfortable. 

Rich Rudowske
And it really just makes me think about how when God comes and talks to people in the Bible, the messenger always says, don’t be afraid. And we’ve been laughing a little bit around here lately. There’s these memes going around with pictures of angels that are more like the Ezekiel or Daniel angels in the Bible of Revelation, with all these eyes and horns and stuff like that. And, well, of course, no wonder they said, don’t be afraid. But the reality is that there’s two things, always intention, and as we look into a New Year, it’s good to sort of remind ourselves as followers of God that, one, we are in God’s hands, and that gives us a sense of peace. And two, when we say, Lord, lead, I will follow. 

Rich Rudowske
We’re going to go some places that we didn’t plan on going, and that will be stretched to beyond our comfort and find that only in our reliance on God can we have peace, because it certainly won’t be by our own reason or what we can figure out or manage or execute in our own strength and so God calls us to plan and to put forth our best efforts, but as we’ve learned in the last year, to hold those loosely and be ready to look for where he’s leading. And as I said in the sermon, my old district president would say, decide if we’re going to join him where he’s working. 

Emily Wilson
Right. Being a light for the Gentiles, I think about that. And to move beyond parochialism and thinking about, well, all of the opportunities that we’ve had in this past year to reach out to people who may have otherwise been hopeless and maybe a little put off by the church in the past and that this was an awesome opportunity to reach out and to show the love of Christ and being a good neighbor and to invite people what an awesome opportunity from the comfort of their home. If they’re new, they have lots of questions that they can enter into a virtual church service. And what kinds of opportunities exist there for just being able to encounter worship without the fear of, oh, no, what’s next? 

Emily Wilson
But thinking about, well, how is it that God is calling us into his mission right where we are working, where we are doing life, which has looked different in the pandemic for sure, but being able to see that there are so many people who felt hopeless and felt like there was nowhere to turn, that all of their plans just shattered and it’s right to grieve those things, but also being able to share that love and light to all of the world, to all nations in this virtual sort of platform, how can we do that? And just really encouraged off of my small box that I had been living in and the things that I had been holding on so tightly throughout 2020 when people would ask, how am I doing or what plans do I have? I would show them my open palm. 

Emily Wilson
And thinking about it, of like, this is how I live my life right now is God has a plan. And I know that the tighter I grip onto the things that I want that I think are supposed to make do, like sand being gripped. You’re losing more when you try to hold it tight than if you just cup your hand and say, when it’s taken away. And what’s given to me, I’m going to receive in thanksgiving and see it as a blessing. 

Rich Rudowske
Yeah, I think we might lose subscribers if I say this, but on the one hand, we’re going into 2021 and I would say there are not a lot of people who would say, let’s do something just like 2020. We’re hoping for some level of relief or normalcy or stability. And on the other hand, when I think about where things changed in my life and for our organization and how we pivoted in different ministry opportunities and new innovation, I also think that was awesome. And so then do I want to say, well, lord, do that again? I don’t know. I think that’s part of the tension of walking together and the christian walk and faith. And this passage, Isaiah 49:6, too small a thing that you would only go to the people of Israel. 

Rich Rudowske
I will make you a light unto the nations, has become a special verse around here as well. And there was an event in late 2019 where I kind of, at the last minute, changed what I was going to talk about, to tell that same story that you heard in the sermon about how that passage spoke to me and what that ended up meaning. And then after that, we played a video that had been prepared and I had never noticed. But at the end of the video, that was the passage that comes up. The video has no words or anything. It just shows images of people receiving the Scripture for the first time. And then it has a graphic that says, this was the first one in this country, and there are many more folks waiting. 

Rich Rudowske
And then it brings that passage up, and it was just like, wow. And then separate from all that, Eshinee Veith, who has been on the podcast before, she was also studying, and she came across that passage, and it inspired her to write Scripture songs, which we’ll end with here. And if you want to see more about or hear more about Scripture songs, they had an episode here on the podcast that was on June 26th with her husband Rob, composing Scripture songs would recommend. It was one of our best and most listened to episodes, and so she recorded Isaiah 49:6. 

Rich Rudowske
And I think in hindsight now, when I think about what that verse says and also how it sort of like the way 2020 played out, there’s a certain rawness to the song, the way the tune of the instrument and the vocals and everything that just make it like, we acknowledge that God is calling us to this, yet it is not without some struggle and pain. And I don’t know, that’s sort of the feeling I hear reflected in the song. So we’re going to invite you to end just on a worshipful note with us in this podcast as we play. Eshinee’s rendition of, Ttoo Light A Thing”, which, as in the sermon, that was the other English word I always say, “too small a thing”. Too light a thing is another way of saying it. And that’s the version that she recorded. 

Rich Rudowske
So, yeah, join us in this worshipful moment, and we wish you God’s richest blessings in 2021 as you walk in God’s mission and discover in what ways he’s saying to you that’s too light a thing. 

Eshinee Veith
I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth, to light a thing, that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, to restore the survivors of Israel. I will give you every light to the nation that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. It’s too light of me. It is too light a thing. It is too light a thing. 

Rich Rudowske
Thank you for listening to the Essentially Translatable podcast brought to you by Lutheran Bible Translators. Look for past episodes of the podcast or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Follow Lutheran Bible Translators social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter or go to to find out how you can get involved in the Bible translation movement and put God’s Word in their hands. 

This episode of Essentially Translatable was co-hosted by Emily Wilson. The podcast is edited and produced by Andrew Olson and distributed by Sarah Lyons. Technical support for this episode was provided by Caleb Rodewald. Our executive producer is Amy Gertz. Podcast artwork was designed by Caleb Rodewald. Music written and performed by Rob Veith. I’m Rich Rudowske. So long for now. 


  • “When we say ‘Lord, lead. I will follow,’ we are going to go some places that we didn’t plan on going. And that we will be stretched beyond our comfort and find that only in our reliance on God can we have peace. And it certainly won’t be by our own reason or what we can figure out or manage.” – Rev. Rich Rudowske, chief operating officer, Lutheran Bible Translators
  • Rev. Rich Rudowske delivers a sermon on the importance of God’s mission and how it is bigger than our own plans.
  • Despite the uncertainty of the future, relying on God brings peace

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