Reading(s): Mark 4:26-34. This sermon was given by Victoria at St. Mark, Ampfield.
I’ve never really understood the parable of the mustard seed. To start with the mustard tree, or bush which is a more accurate description isn’t particularly large or impressive. But maybe I’m just seeing it with my own English eyes, I would find the analogy of the Oak tree and acorn more impressive, that truly is a wonderful tree that grows to huge proportions – definitely something to be impressed by. Or as we are here at St mark, what about the Cedar of Lebanon just outside our window here…. And of course the people of ancient Palestine would have been familiar with the Cedar of Lebanon and know what an impressive tree it was – even if they had never seen one, they would know it’s worth and magnificence from the Scriptures; From Leviticus, Amos, Ezekiel, the song of Solomon, the Psalms – now there is an impressive tree known for its spiritual qualities.
But no, Jesus uses the analogy of the mustard tree….. why?
Perhaps the clue is in the last but one verse ‘he spoke to them as they were able to hear’ maybe we are lost a little in translation as we are not the ones Jesus was talking to at that moment, maybe if Jesus was here today he’d speak to us of acorns and oak trees….
So how should we compare the Kingdom of God today? How do we illustrate it to others? Well certainly in the beauty of the world around us, again, here at St Mark we can see God’s creation all around us. In the days when we could travel, most of us have witnessed God’s amazing creation in mountains, meadows, sea and sand – there is no doubt that our God is the most marvellous creator and we inhabit the most wonderful world. But do these things illustrate the Kingdom of God, is that what Jesus means by the Kingdom of God?
I think not, I think the clue to the Kingdom of God can be found in verse 32: when it is sown it becomes the greatest of shrubs and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.
The Kingdom of God is not the creation we see around us, but in what WE create - it is in the reaching out to those who need a home – to make a safe nest for those around us – yes, to clothe and home the homeless, to provide for the poor, the lonely and the bereaved – but most of all to tell of God’s love, and of His life to all people. So how are we doing in building Gods Kingdom?
Let’s have a look at the struggle of bringing in the Kingdom;
We are a small church community in larger communities of people, most of whom do not know Christ. Every Sunday we come together to worship God and proclaim his praises. we faithfully teach God’s word and hopefully share Christ with friends and neighbours as we have opportunity, we plan events to reach out to the community. Some people visit and stay. Many others come and go. We are praying and working like crazy to see our churches grow, but no matter what we do, we seem to stay about the same size. What is happening?
You have a friend or neighbour who does not know Christ. You have made it a priority to spend time with them, to get to know them, to really become friends. From time to time you share with them about your faith as you have opportunity. They are polite to you whenever you bring it up, but they do not seem to have any interest in Christ themselves. You pray for them and have invited them to church multiple times, but they still haven’t come. What is happening?
What is happening is exactly what Jesus describes for us in these two parables, the parable of the growing seed and the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus told us these parables in order to encourage us to keep on sharing Christ even when we do not see results. The kingdom of God does not always grow the way we think it should grow. And so we need to grasp hold of these parables so that we may understand how God’s kingdom grows and what is our part in it all.
We must plant the seeds.
The first thing we need to learn from this parable is that if we want to see God’s kingdom grow, we must plant the seeds. This is the most basic step when it comes to gardening. If you leave out this step, no matter what else you do, you will never harvest a crop. Can you imagine a farmer preparing the ground and ploughing the land and getting everything ready for planting, and then never actually planting the seeds. Obviously he still won’t see any results even if he works twice as hard at weeding and working the ground.
How does God’s kingdom grow? It begins with planting seeds.
And so the first thing we need to evaluate when we do not see growth happening, whether we are on the mission field, or with the church, or in our witnessing efforts with friends is this: “Are you planting the seeds? Are you sharing God’s word with other people? Are you sharing the gospel?” Because if you are not, you should not expect to see growth, any more than a farmer should expect a crop when he has not planted any seeds. If we want to see God’s kingdom grow, we must plant the seeds. It is our corporate job to do that, not just my job, or Sally’s job, it is our job.
But then Jesus' parable goes on to make an equally important point. Yes, we must plant the seeds. But God is the one who makes them grow. In the parable, the man scatters the seed on the ground, but then, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 2:27) Once the man has planted the seed, there are certain things that are out of his hands. Sure, he can water the seed and weed around it to help it along, but that’s not the point Jesus is making here. The point is that once the seed has been planted, the germination of the seed takes place apart from the man and his efforts.
Sometimes, even when you’ve planted the seeds, it may look for a time like nothing is happening. But that’s only because you can’t see what is going on beneath the soil. You need to give it time. You need to trust God to do his work. As long as you are planting seeds, then you can be confident that some of those seeds are going to grow. We must plant the seeds. God will make his kingdom grow.
But there’s a second part to the parable. God’s kingdom may start small, but it will grow surprisingly large. The mustard seed is a very tiny seed that grows into a very large plant. And that’s why Jesus used it for this parable. God’s kingdom starts small, but it is going to finish strong.
We can certainly see this with the worldwide spread of the gospel. Christianity began with these twelve ordinary disciples following Jesus around a small piece of land in the Middle East and has now grown to penetrate every country in every continent on the earth. There are still unreached people groups within many of those countries not least our own, but the gospel continues to go forth and God’s kingdom continues to grow. If only the disciples could see the church today, how far the gospel has gone since those small beginnings 2,000 years ago.
It is so easy for us just to look at our own small part in God’s plan and feel discouraged that we are not that big or we are not reaching that many people. But we need to realise that we are part of a huge movement of God that is reaching the nations with the gospel. Did you know that most churches are small in number? We should not get discouraged by bigger, more well off churches around us…. For that matter, most of the churches in the New Testament were under a hundred, we are about that number when we come together - or should be…. This is every reason why we should work together as churches is this benefice.
God’s kingdom starts small, but just like the mustard seed that grows into a large plant with branches that provide support and shelter for the birds, God’s kingdom is growing. Some day it will fill the whole earth. And if you are in Christ, then you are a part of that. And that should be a great encouragement to you, even when you feel like you are such a small part of all that God is doing in the world.
The mustard tree is not that impressive, but together we can bring the Kingdom in if only we all go and the plant seeds and working together a huge oak or cedar will grow, giving shelter and hope to all that come to it. So get planting and watch the growth and together we will praise our great God and King forever and ever. Amen