The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that a farmer plants in the middle of their field.
Two weeks ago, this farmer in Jesus’s story threw seeds everywhere.
Last week, they let the weeds grow with the wheat.
And today, our farmer makes another very curious choice.
A mustard seed is incredibly tiny, as we saw in our scripture video for today. So tiny as to seem insignificant.
Yet, this seed can quickly transform its environment
I. Howard Marshall believes this mustard seed Jesus is referring to is more commonly called “black mustard,” a plant that can grow up to 9’ tall. [i]
This is not some small knee high herb that can be grown in your garden alongside other plants.… As black mustard grows, it soon starts to shade your plot and crowd out other plants.
When our farmer intentionally plants this seed in the middle of the field it means they want the mustard plant… this new thing… to take over everything else that had been before.
Another characteristic of mustard seed is that it grows really fast. While we are not familiar with black mustard, perhaps you have seen the DNR warnings here in Iowa about garlic mustard. Taken straight from the DNR brochure: “garlic mustard is a rapidly spreading, highly invasive non-native plant…. Garlic Mustard threatens to rob Iowa of healthy, diverse native woodlands.”
Remember when I said last week that a weed is just a plant in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Well garlic mustard is kind of like that. It is a plant you can eat, use to season your food, and has medicinal purposes.
But… in the wrong place at the wrong time, it simply takes over. Originally from Europe, garlic mustard was introduced as an herb here in the North America… except it has no natural growth controls. Bugs stay away, deer won’t eat it, and as it crowds out other plants, And so it spreads – each plant producing hundreds of seeds that can stick around for years.
I like to play disc golf and there are wooded courses we like to go to where nothing BUT garlic mustard can be found in the undergrowth.
Weeds and Seeds.
Just what is Jesus talking about this time?
Well let’s think back to the pattern of what we have seen in chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew.
So far, we have learned that God is a prodigal farmer who scatters the seeds of love and faith wildly and without abandon.
We have also seen how God is the patient farmer who in the midst of joys and sorrows is present with us. God’s patience creates time for the weeds in our lives to be transformed.
This week’s parable is another upside-down, inside-out, radical side of the Kingdom of God.
The message is this: God chooses what is tiny and insignificant and watches it grow and spread and completely transform its surroundings.
Perhaps the most profound example of this “mustard seed” kingdom is in the very life of Jesus Christ.
When our God decided to take on human flesh and be born among us, Jesus didn’t come as a powerful warrior or a wealthy leader… no he had the humblest of beginnings.
He came to this world as a vulnerable baby, born of an unwed mother.
His first visitors were not the religious elite of the Jewish faith, but smelly shepherds and strangers who practiced a different religion.
Yet, the miracle of Christmas is that the birth of that one tiny baby created a movement that has led us to gather at this moment, in this place, to worship God.
A tiny mustard seed can grow into a tree that overtakes a garden.
The birth of a child can plant the seeds of God’s transforming love that reach far and wide and spread as like wildfire.
The chosen seed of Israel’s race is crowned the Lord of all.
In her book, Kneeling in Bethlehem, Ann Weems describes the way God chose to reveal Godself in what seemed to be insignificant. In her poem, “The Coming of God” I hear how God’s “mustard seed” kingdom is still being planted:
Our God is the One who comes to us
In a burning bush,
In an angel’s song,
In a newborn child.
Our God is the One who cannot be found
Locked in the church,
Not even in the sanctuary.
Our God will be where God will be
With no constraints,
Our God lives where Our God lives,
And destruction has no power
And even death cannot stop the living.
Our God will be born where God will be born,
Bu there is no place to look for the One who comes to us.
When God is ready
God will come
Even to a godforsaken place
Like a stable in Bethlehem.
Watch . . .
For you know not when God comes.
Watch, that you might be found
You see, I think that mustard seed Jesus talks about is not just his presence among us, but also how the seed is planted in each of our lives.
Humans of New York is the effort of a guy named Brandon to “create an exhaustive catalogue of New York City’s inhabitants.” He began taking photographs of New Yorkers and plotting them on a map but soon started to listen to their stories.
He shares these photos each day, along with just a snippet of their life journey.
There are stories of hope and regret, loss and love, and just the daily grind of being a human being.
So many of them… and us… feel small, lonely, insignificant.
So many of us can’t see the potential of our lives.
We live in our little corner of the world and can’t always see the impact of our presence on others.
We may think that we are nobody.
But what God sees in each of our lives is the powerful potential of the mustard seed.
“God will be born where God will be born.”
And that, my friends, just might be in your life.
A single tiny, insignificant seed can grow into a tree…
But lots of little seeds, spread throughout the world… well that just might transform everything.
Something I learned about garlic mustard is that even in i
ts smallest stage of growth, it increases the rate of decomposition on the forest floor, increasing the nutrients it has available and actually creates conditions that are more favorable for it to spread.
Your life of faith can help transform this world. As we sang (will sing) in “For One Great Peace,” the simplest of things can make a difference:
Helping to install windows in a neighbors house.
Knitting a prayer shawl for someone in the hospital.
Reading to a child.
Signing your name to a petition.
In all of these small ways, we are planting seeds of transformation in this world. And our lives, our actions, are helping to create a world more conducive for the transformative power of God to take root.
Each one of us is a mustard seed in this world.
Each one of us has the ability to transform our surroundings.
Each one of us can carry the love and grace and mercy of God with us into our homes, our workplaces, our grocery stores… and there the smallest act of compassion might bring home to another life.
We are the humans of Immanuel.
And though we might feel small and insignificant…. Watch. Because you never know where you might be found when God comes to work in your life.
[i] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A commentary on the Greek text, Eerdmans, 1978, ISBN 0-8028-3512-0, pp. 561.