Sunday, September 15, 2019 - Parables: The Power of a Mustard Seed
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing parables and how parables are the way God helps us see life for what it really is. Our lives are made of story. Think about it. The story that you tell yourself is how you interpret the world around you and also how you see yourself and your place in the world. So, God uses story, in the form of parable in order to help us re-author our own stories. The more we can see the truth about ourselves in our contexts, the better disciples we become.
A few weeks ago, we covered the parables of the lost sheep and the missing coin. These parables tell us that God is always searching for us no matter what. Then, we covered the parable of the different soils. We saw seeds land on the path, land in shallow soil, soil with weeds, and finally fertile ground. It is only the fertile ground that yields any kind of life from that seed. As a culture, we tend toward the third kind of soil—the soil with weeds to choke
out our faith. We become obsessed with being busy and trying to keep up with people we deem to be worthy competitors.
Last week, we covered the parable of the talents. We talked about how fear can be this debilitating force in our lives that tells us to bury our talents in the ground, while God is saying, “Go use the gifts I have given you to glorify Me and to build up the Kingdom!
That can seem like a daunting task though, can’t it? Last week we discussed how Jesus was most likely speaking to peasants when He was telling these parables. Some questions a peasant might have for Jesus could be, “Does God really think about me? What does God think about me? Do I really have gifts? How can I possibly do anything worthwhile for the Kingdom? How does what I do, good or bad, matter in the grand scheme of things? Does my existence really make a difference?”
And we might ask ourselves, or God the same questions today. I have people come to me telling me that they do not have any gifts, and yet, I see them do amazing things every day.
We talked about the third servant and how he was given one talent and he hid that talent in the ground. He hid that talent in the ground until the master returned because he was scared. He was scared to risk. It is risky to use our gifts. When we share our gifts with others, we are sharing a piece of ourselves—we are sharing our lives—we are sharing a piece of our heart.
But the beautiful thing is that in risking—in taking that chance with the gifts entrusted to us, we are participating in the building up of the Kingdom. By using our gifts, we are shifting from simply sitting in church on Sunday to being active players on a team—on God’s team.
We might think, well, I’m just one person. What difference can I make? Jesus tells two parables:
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
The Parable of the Yeast
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[d] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a mustard seed, which to be strictly accurate, is not the smallest of seeds, but in the east, the mustard seed was proverbial for its smallness. For example, the Jews talked of a drop of blood as small as a mustard seed; or, if they were talking of some tiny breach of the ceremonial law, they would speak of a defilement as small as a mustard seed and Jesus himself used the phrase in this way when he spoke of faith as a grain of mustard seed. So it was an expression or a figure of speech.
Jesus uses this and the parable of leaven to make a few points. The first is that The Kingdom of God begins very small. It is the fact of history that the greatest things must always begin with the smallest beginnings. After being kicked out of the synagogues, Christians needed to meet and they met in houses. They were these house churches. These house churches were established by apostles going out to homes and sharing the gospel. When the head of the household was baptized, the whole household followed suit.
In that time, people in the household followed suit with the head of the household because that is how they did things then, but, I just got back from a conference with my seminary where they were talking about that. Someone made the remark that if the apostles were so on fire with the Holy Spirit that it was catching like the flu, then it is no wonder that everyone in the household got baptized.
Cecil Northcott tells in one of his books that a group of young people from many nations were discussing how Gospel might be spread. They talked of propaganda, literature, etc. Then the girl from Africa spoke and she said, “When we want to take Christianity to one of our villages, we don’t send them books. We take a Christian family and send them to live in the village and they make the village Christian by living there.
In a group or society, or school, or business, again and again, it is the witness of one individual which brings in Christianity. The one person who is set on fire for Christ is the person who kindles others! Do you remember the hymn, Pass It On? The first verse of that hymn begins with, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”
At this conference I went to this week, I took a class where the speaker gave us statistics. I hate statistics anyway, but, these stats were bad. There was a national survey and people were to respond to that survey if they went to church or not, and do you know what the national average of church-goers is? 17%. 17% of people are church-goers. That is the national average. And 40% of those are what we call “Creasters” that is, whose who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. We are the third largest mission field in the world. When Korea and Africa send missionaries, those missionaries are coming to us. And, we can look into the future. All you have to do is jump into your DeLorean and go over to present day UK. They’ve been through the decline. They’ve been through church closure. And they’ve started again.
The UK now has new forms of ministry where they have left their cathedrals and they have gone out into the world and they have started relationships with people at their places of business, yoga classes, dog parks, etc. And in that, they have started “worship services” in these places. In Florida, they have a worship service every week in Moe’s!
The church belongs to God. God built the church. God cares about the church. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It starts as one of the smallest seeds, but then it grows to one of the largest trees. One of my favorite quotes comes from Peter Jackson. Gandalf says it in The Hobbit movie. And he says, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love.”
Coming back to the question we might ask, “What difference can I make?” We can make all the difference in the world if we just try—if we just risk using the gifts God has entrusted to us. Joan of Arc said, “I do not fear men-at-arms; my way has been made plain before me,” which, has been paraphrased into, “I’m not afraid; I was born to do this.” We were born to do more. We were made for more than where we are right now. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. We might start small, but we become mighty.
The second thing is that these parables tell us is that the Kingdom of God is transformative. It changes the landscape. A tiny mustard seed will grow into a large tree. Leaven changes the character of dough. Unleavened bread is like a water biscuit, hard, dry, unappetizing and uninteresting; bread baked with leaven is soft, porous, and spongy, tasty and good to eat. The introduction of leaven changes the character of the dough and the introduction of the Kingdom of God changes the character of people and communities.
Christianity transformed life for the weak and ill. In ancient Sparta, people who were weak or ill were considered to be a nuisance. It was custom that when a baby was born, the baby would be handed over to the examiners. If it was found to be fit, then it would live. But, if it was found to be weakly or deformed, then it would be exposed to death on the mountainside. When real Christianity moves into the neighborhood, transformation happens. Thalasius, a Christian monk, founded the first asylum for people who were blind. A Christian lady named Fabiola established the first hospital. When real Christianity moves into the neighborhood, transformation happens.
Christianity transformed the lives of those who are advanced in age. In ancient Rome, people who were advanced in age were viewed much like people who were weak and ill—as a nuisance. There was a Roman writer on agriculture named Cato who writes, “Look over the livestock and hold a sale. Sell your oil, if the price is satisfactory, and sale the surplus of your wine and grain. Sell worn-out oxen, blemished cattle, blemished sheep, wool, hides, an old wagon, old tools, an old slave, a sickly slave, and whatever else is superfluous.” Christianity was the first religion to regard people as persons and not instruments capable of doing so much work.
The third thing from this parable that we need to understand is that the Kingdom of God is disruptive. It stirs the waters and rocks the boat. The people who crucified Jesus did so because Jesus rocked the boat. Jesus got in the way of their orthodoxy. He ate with sinners, healed the sick on the Sabbath, and he turned over tables.
Jesus disrupted the lives of the religiously comfortable to bring in the rest of us. That is what the Kingdom of God does. It disrupts the religiously comfortable to bring in the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely. It turns the tables of societal norms and brings good news to the vulnerable and the oppressed.
What happens when we are the religiously comfortable? As a group, people say they do not like change. However, that is not true. People change every day, even down to the cellular level. We change our hair, our clothes, etc. We just do not like change over which we do not have control.
However, if we see where the Holy Spirit is leading us and are part of the good transformation that happens in communities as the Kingdom of God moves into the neighborhood, we might be able to see the power of that mustard seed. Amen.