The Smallest of Seeds
Happy Father’s Day! Today we celebrate all our fathers. Of course, we must also celebrate mothers, because without their help, fatherhood would not be possible. And if you came from a mother and a father, which should be all of us, you are also doing your part. In these primarily Hallmark occasions, we celebrate God’s activity in the continuing miracle of creation. We also celebrate the special role dads play in the family. For Father’s Day, one Dad suggested that the family get him a gift the whole family could get something out of. So they did. They got him a new wallet.
Many of you refer to me as “father”, yet each Sunday and especially around stewardship season, on behalf of the Church, I am asking for something out of your wallet. The title “father” is a little confusing in my household. Ever since ordination, Allison refers to me as “Father Daddy.” One minister’s little daughter was sent to bed with a tummy ache and missed her usual romp with her daddy. A few minutes later she appeared at the top of the stairs and called to her mother, “Mama, let me talk with Daddy.” The mom answered, “No, my dear, not tonight. Get back in bed.” The girl persisted, “Please, Mama!” Again mom answered, “I said no, and that’s final.” The girl replied, “ Mother, I’m a very sick woman and I must see my pastor at once.”
Ideally, a father wants what is best for his children. The prophet Ezekiel reveals what our Heavenly Father promises to his chosen people. God will take the top of a mighty cedar tree, place it on a lofty mountain in Israel, possibly Zion, and replant and restore the house of David. There is a cosmic scale to this action. A new and mighty cedar will grow and affect everything around it, even drawing the world to itself. God’s promised action proclaims God’s glory and demonstrates God’s ability to enact the word, defining God’s power. God will accomplish it. God wants the best for his children.
In this Old Testament promise, God will start with something great and make it even greater. Jesus will explain that such works are child’s play to God. You ain’t seen nothing yet. For God can not only make a mighty cedar from the top of a mighty cedar, God can grow a kingdom from a mustard seed.
Jesus often explains the kingdom of God in parables. The Greek for parable translates into something like “ to come along side of.” Parables attempt to enlighten or educate by comparison, speaking in language we can understand, as much as we can understand the incomprehensible. Parable illustrations can be dark and mysterious such as a riddle, or may lead to understanding by describing the familiar and applying it to the strange. Jesus often proclaims the kingdom of God beginning, “The kingdom of God is as if ..”
An anonymous quote states, “Jesus told so many parables he became one.” While this oversimplifies the identity of Jesus, perhaps there is truth. Jesus’ incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension lays the kingdom of heaven beside the world of humanity so that we might be enlightened. Jesus’ parables both relieve and heighten comprehension. They give answers and invite further contemplation. But we often have to work at them. In today’s gospel, Jesus spoke the word to his disciples “as they were able to hear it.” Today we listen to God’s Word, as we are able to hear it.
In the “Parable of the Growing Seed,” a farmer sows seeds, obviously expecting them to grow, yet is amazed at the outcome. It is a mystery of God’s power how this is accomplished. We understand watering and weeding and tending the garden, but it is God who makes the seed grow into something spectacular, that provides sustenance and helps us survive. The mystery and power of God in our world begin at Creation, and continue today. God’s world is creative, with a power and operation beyond our understanding.
Jesus then reveals the nature of the kingdom in the “Parable of the Mustard Seed.” From this small seed comes the mustard shrub, providing protection and shade where birds make nests. Botanists will tell you, the mustard seed is not in fact the smallest of seeds, but in Jesus’ day it may have been regarded for its smallness. More than this, the mustard shrub is a hardy plant, germinating rapidly to often take over the garden. And it produces mustard spice to add flavor to life. Jesus expands on Ezekiel’s promise. God does not require a mighty cedar. The tiny mustard seed is enough. The kingdom of God often appears from the most unlikely, unassuming beginnings, and grows into something extraordinary, and intrusively spreads God’s goodness. The kingdom of God is growing at God’s behest, and God can create great outcomes from small beginnings.
Perhaps we should consider humanity and our potential as a mustard seed. The Divine Gardener is present in our lives, working with whatever we offer, not matter how tiny, to achieve kingdom results. We may not understand how we are growing, yet our faith is in God’s power and presence. All sorts of good things come from working hard and committing to our values: good grades, a meaningful career, fulfilling relationships. All of these are good things, and we should strive for them. We should not live life with indifference and apathy, and should strive for good things. However, we must not confuse the way of the kingdom with our ordinary ways.
The in-breaking of the kingdom and God’s future reign depend less on our efforts, but on the mysterious yet trustworthy ways of God. Growth is taking place. Despite suffering, even failure, Jesus is powerful in words and works, and comes to rescue us even when our faith seems small.
“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We strive for a spiritual sight to see glimpses of the world through the eyes of God. With spiritual vision, we can no longer regard the world from a human point of view, with all the frailty and failings and smallness.
Paul argues that Christians live in our own reality, the reality of God, and we must learn how to make judgements based on that system, and not the virtual reality that others still live in. One of the challenges of living in the Christian reality is that our bodies are stuck in the old reality. Our bodies insist on seeing with old eyes, and we are still subject to the comfort and security they seek. Paul knows what he is describing is difficult. Under his old reality, Paul was led to persecute Christians. His conversion turned his old reality and understanding on its head.
Every Christian is given the opportunity to become part of God’s reconciling work in Christ. We can become God’s ambassadors, living in God’s reality, where law is based on love and the main currency is forgiveness. We are no longer to make any judgements according to any other criteria. Nothing is small to God.
With faith, we see everything from Christ’s point of view. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.” So revolutionary is this new life given by the Spirit that it amounts to more than a new covenant. It is a “new creation” in God’s image. It requires viewing the world in an altogether different way. The Spirit shapes us into the likeness of Jesus, who himself reveals the image of God. We are challenged to find God’s smallest of seeds, care for them, and rejoice in what God can do. Amen.