“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants & becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Mt 13:31-2)
Greetings to friends at Glenorchy. Though we cannot meet in our Church building, we can continue to share our faith, as followers of Christ have done throughout the ages.
Imagine you are sitting listening to the teacher Jesus talking with his followers on a hillside outside Capernaum or wherever. You are intrigued by his words – but this man claims so much – he talks about the fulfilment of his teaching in the coming rule of God. And you say to yourself – maybe you even say to him –
- Have you not seen the Roman army on the march?
- Have you not seen the libraries and debating chambers of the Greek philosophers?
- Have you not seen the vested interests of the Temple & of Herod?
And here you are with a few dozen North country fishermen and hangers on talking about the rule of God.
Come on Jesus, you have some good ideas – but bring in a Kingdom? You and whose army?
Then again, go on a few years, and imagine yourself in Rome. The date is around AD70, and you are part of the small Christian community in hiding. In hiding because for four years the young Church has endured brutal persecution under Nero – the Christians playing the role so often played by foreigners and outsiders throughout history – a convenient group to blame when things go wrong and the Government needs a scapegoat.
You are listening as someone reads from the brand new Gospel of Mark – You could be forgiven for thinking that the great words about the coming Kingdom of Christ seemed a bit at odds with the hole in the corner existence of his beleaguered followers in the city.
But then (as we do today) you hear the words of today’s Gospel – The Kingdom of Heaven, says Jesus, “is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” In other words – Look at a mustard seed: – you need 750 to weigh one gram – next to nothing – but look what it grows to – in one season it is ten foot tall! So Jesus says: Trust in the Lord. God will accomplish great results from small, and (looking at the membership of the early Church) frankly unpromising beginnings. A message perhaps for our times as our Church and our world face such testing times for our health and our well being.
But have you ever wondered why Jesus chose a mustard bush? Why did he not speak about a great tree? Ezekiel talks about the victory of God’s rule in terms of a great cedar of Lebanon, 100 feet tall, a majestic symbol of God’s coming Kingdom. Yet Jesus replaces this traditional OT image of a great towering tree with the image of a mustard bush – yes, a fast growing and large shrub, which grows to 10 feet tall in a season – but an annual plant, which needs to be reseeded each year. Maybe we need to hold both images in our mind together – the fast growing mustard bush of Mark’s Gospel – and the mighty cedar of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
In the garden at Killerton there is a fine Californian redwood brought as a sapling in the 19th century and now – if my memory serves me correctly – a 100’ or so tall. I guess everyone could have stood around for a hundred years waiting for it to grow. Thankfully they got on with cultivating the rest of garden – planning the perennial shrubs, and each year planting out the annual bedding plants. At the end of time the great redwoods, the sequoia, the cedars of Lebanon, all will be as nothing compared with the ultimate majesty of God’s rule – and we need to live our lives today knowing that that day will come. But it is not here yet. We live in the in between times – we see still in a mirror dimly – we see but the first fruits of the Kingdom of Heaven dimly reflected in the Church and the world. And we are called to be gardeners sowing, planting, watering the seed which God has given us. We may be growing mustard bushes not cedars – but don’t underestimate how they too can grow!!
So in these difficult times let’s sow the seeds of God’s love peace and justice, and trust him to bring the increase. There will be times when the way of discipleship seems to be about vulnerability and disappointment. We grow mustard bushes not cedars right now, and there will be reverses – as winter follows summer. What matters is not that our every endeavour is an unqualified success in worldly terms, but that we keep sowing God’s seed.
When things turn against us, when the Gospel seems a very frail defence against death and sin and doubt and the powers that be in the world – trust in God and his power. The Church is an anvil which has worn out many hammers. And where are the Armies of Rome now? In the words of FD Bruner, “Sects and ideologies almost always seem stronger than the Church. Sects and ideologies fly; the church limps. Sects and ideologies die; the Church limps on. Stick with the Church”. So let’s give our lives, our faith, our seedtime offerings – and pray that our harvest on earth may yet be the firstfruits of the assured great Harvest home of heaven to come. Amen.