Rev. Michelle Wahila
26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
~ Mark 4:26-34
English poet, Christina Rossetti, wrote a prayer that begins, “Give us grace, O Lord, to work while it is day, fulfilling diligently and patiently whatever duty thou appointest us, doing small things in the day of small things…”
I am a parent. I am, therefore, familiar with patiently and diligently laboring amidst the small things: brush teeth, wash hands, please, thank you, kiss, hug, tug, no, please, thank you… It might just be that these small things make up the bulk of my parenting experience. It might even be that the small things make up the content of most of my days.
I am keenly aware, however, that these small things are critically important to my sons and their growth as people. It is as though every “please,” and “thank you,” accumulates and becomes the story of the Wahilas. Beneath what appears to be mundane, “wash hands, brush teeth” lies a gentle but persistent providence, which gives a foundation to our little family and encourages it to grow daily in love and gracefulness.
My three year old may not realize that being reminded to do (and live) these small things shapes who he is, but Mommy does. In my opinion, a little boy with (relatively) clean hands, polite words and an open heart is just about all a mother could ever ask for! Small things, then, do matter.
Today’s parables affirm the importance of the small things. The more familiar of the two parables is that of the mustard seed. One of the smallest seeds of all the earth, Jesus said, is transformed into one of the greatest of all shrubs, [which] puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
In order to understand the context of how grand the shade-giving mustard shrub is, one must understand just how small the mustard seed is – approximately 1/16 of an inch (1.5 mm!). It would take maybe 8 mustard seeds, lined up, to equal the length of a single grain of rice. From the most unassuming of seeds, grows something great that in its maturity provides sustenance and a place of comfort.
It might seem incomprehensible for the birds of the air to rely on the tiny mustard seed to ultimately provide a shaded place to roost. And yet, the mustard seed, planted in faith, grows to serve the purpose of providing shelter. In the same way, we might not be mindful enough of that fact that the mustard seeds sown in the life of the church provide sustenance and comfort to those inside and outside of the church doors, for the present company and for future generations…
In this particular place mustard seeds are sown in so many ways –
- You have chosen to bring “Mission Lunches” onto your grounds to provide physical nourishment to those in need
- You take so seriously Christian education, the role of the arts in spiritual development, and the dialogue between science and faith that you provide outlets for learning and discussion through Thurber Thursdays, study groups and Sunday Children’s Worship
- You show deep concern for your brothers and sisters in faith by offering prayers of comfort, healing, and encouragement after worship each Sunday and through an ongoing prayer chain
- You take the time to say “thank you” to the many volunteers who add so greatly to the life of faith in this place (in fact, you will honor those people later today)
- You warmly welcome all people – to the table and to the life you share together – whether they are here visiting once or have been here for twenty (plus!) years.
All of your little mustard seeds “line up” to grow something significant, right here.
Jesus compares the small, apparently insignificant mustard seed to the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is like a living, growing thing that can be measured by lining up a million mustard seeds that have been planted in faith. The mustard seeds are the little things like the “pleases” and “thank yous” that we receive daily. On their own, they may not seem noteworthy, but they build the life of the church and ultimately add to the Kingdom.
Just as the mustard seed needs soil in which it can root, grow and become what it was intended to be, the work of the church must be placed into a context. Though the church may not understand fully how the seed will come to germinate, it is still called to faithfully partner with the farmer. There can be no fruit if there is never a seed planted to grow.
We may not understand how the seed itself grows. That is part of the mystery. There is, however, confidence that the seed will grow. The text says: “the earth produces of itself.” The prophet Isaiah points to this mystery of God’s purpose being accomplished of itself:
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
~ Isaiah 55:10-11
The emergence of a seedling from the ground may go unnoticed, but there will be no difficulty in recognizing the fruit. Similarly, the church’s understanding of the Kingdom encompasses the past, the present and the future. The “completeness” of the Kingdom can be likened to the life cycle of a seed that is scattered, grows and is harvested.
The role of the church, as the farmer’s partner, is to nurture the growth of every seed. Love takes time to grow. Commitment to peace is ongoing. The accumulation of all that God has done through the narrative of faith, the history of this church and the church, and what we add to the collective narrative of faith is of vital importance to the growth of the Kingdom. No one understood the magnitude of the church’s role in cultivating the growth of the Kingdom better than the Apostle Paul. He wrote this prayer to the church at Ephesus:
16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
~ Ephesians 3:16-19
For Paul, the strengthening of the church came by way of being rooted and grounded in love. I understand this to mean that every act, past, present and future, every little mustard seed planted in the name of Christ, somehow adds to the Kingdom so much that we who participate come to be filled with the fullness of God. The Greek words in this passage: Pleroma tou Theou – “the fullness of God” point to God’s good plan to scatter, grow and harvest.
The fruit of God’s Kingdom is brought to bear through even the smallest faithful act of each person, and through communities that are rooted and grounded in love. That’s good news for the church because it means that everything it does – worship, fellowship, education, mission – somehow adds to the Kingdom, but it also sets before itself myriad possibilities for what the work of the Kingdom can be.
Christina Rossetti’s poem doesn’t end with the small things. She prays: “Thou appointest us, doing small things in the day of small things, and great labors if Thou summon us to any: rising and working, sitting still and suffering, according to Thy word.”
In my life, the fruit of the great labors of parenting shine through every hug (and tug!) received by amazing little boys. In the life of faith, our actions are touched by the breadth, and length, and height, and depth of the love of Christ, rooting and grounding us firmly in the fullness of God.
I have come to think of the responsibilities and blessings of today’s parable in this manner [hold up wildflower seeds]:
The community that is in Christ is similar to this package of seeds. Whether mustard seeds or wildflowers, it’s impossible to tell what grandeur or beauty can spring forth by simply looking at the seeds. It is the same with the church. And yet, God strengthens the contents of this package, and the participants of the church with the power of the Spirit. The church is given the charge to go out into the world. Possibilities are cultivated and grace is scattered.
Those who are strengthened with the Spirit live each day with the hope that they are being rooted and grounded more deeply in love. In that power and by some mysterious grace what they have helped to sow begins to grow. No one can imagine the greatness or splendor of this growth, until there is an array of flowers, in every shade, making up a vast field covering a great distance.
That is the potential of a single package of wildflower seeds. Just so, it is the potential of a community of faith to see the possibilities in all of the small things that make an infinite, colorful difference in this, God’s world. Amen.