Like a Mustard Seed



Sermon Title “Like a Mustard Seed” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  This is the first Sunday of a series on the theme of “Like a Mustard Seed.”  The text from Matthew’s gospel which Lodema read for us this morning is probably familiar to you — it’s one of Jesus shorter parables, and it also appears, with minor variations, in Mark and Luke.  We’re not going to spend four weeks considering only this text, but it is a fine place to begin, and we’ll be circling this idea which Jesus puts out there in verse 31, The kingdom of heaven is like . . .  We find this opening in many of Jesus parables, which makes sense, because the definition of a parable is story which tells us about the kingdom of heaven.  This is not the only reference to a mustard seed in Matthew’s gospel — we’ll get to more of that later.  But for the next few weeks, I want us to consider how the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  Is it because mustard seeds start tiny and get big?  Is it because we aren’t in charge of that growth? Is it because the mustard shrub/tree provides shelter for others?  I think the answer is Yes.

The inspiration for this sermon series was a piece of metal.  Not just any piece of metal, but the one here behind the chancel table.  Sue Noffsinger found it at a garage sale, and knowing how I love trees and tree imagery, and because the price was right, she picked it up and shared it with me.  Being me, I loved the design of the tree and that there were birds in the branches, and it immediately made me think of this parable and how I might be able to use this metal cut-out but it would need a background and maybe there could be a banner to go with it and what do you know!  Amazon sells leaf-shaped sticky notes and there could be a way in which you all get to participate somehow, and then I heard the Walking Roots band at Annual Conference and got great ideas for music and other things for worship and pretty soon I’m in the middle of planning a sermon series and painting a banner on my basement floor.

Now I know that not everyone’s brain works the same way that mine does, and that’s generally a very good thing, but bear with me here, because I think the kingdom of heaven sprouts up in all kinds of ways, and maybe not in the places where we expect to see it.  I don’t go to garage sales; I would never have found this tree of life metal art, because I tend to find only the things which I go looking for.  But sometimes a small thing — like a thoughtful gift with no strings attached — sets things in motion and turns into something bigger.  Sometimes bigger than we had planned and bigger than we can quite manage.

You may have heard that Creekside Church is sharing an Elkhart County Fair parade float with Seed to Feed; a program of Church Community Services. Creekside has partnered with Seed to Feed for the past 10 years to provide fresh produce and frozen tomatoes for Church Community Services to distribute to people in Elkhart County through their food pantry.  That parade float began with a casual question from Andrew Hudson, the Seed to Feed coordinator who asked “Hey, would Creekside be interested in doing a float with Seed to Feed for the fair?”  This was about 2 ½ weeks ago and a lot has happened since then — a lot of gifts have been shared: Cal Graber has some experience with a woodworking and drills, Mike Kauffman has a truck full of tools, including a pneumatic staple gun and an air compressor, and Roger Griffith had pieces of artificial turf in his garage at home.  Who knew?  The float is a great way to showcase our container garden ministry, as well as Seed to Feed gardens.  But my favorite part of the float (besides the people who will ride on it) is the suggestion Deb Kauffman had for signs on either side of the truck.  It reads: The world began in a garden and we are still planting seeds.

That, friends, is not so much an agricultural statement as it is a theological statement.  The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  We are to be planting seeds, we are seeds to be planted, and God is planting seeds all around us, all the time.  The kingdom of God is not somewhere else, the kingdom of God is about making where we are look more like the garden of Eden — the first garden — or like heaven.  It is about doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.  I believe that one of the ways which we bring forth God’s kingdom is to grow what God has already planted among us.  But in order to do that, we have to acknowledge and be aware of what is already here.  The song we listened to as the call to prayer “In the Little Moments” has a simple chorus which speaks to me: God is; God will always be in the ordinary.

The people I know who are the happiest and the most content with their lives are the people who find meaning and joy in ordinary activities.  I know for myself that I am happiest and most content in a routine which honors both work and rest, with a sense that my life has purpose, and that what I’m doing can make a difference.  I’m sure that joy comes from orienting my life to something beyond my own needs, something more than my own income and comfort.  I am fond of the quotation from American author Annie Dillard, who says “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.”  You may not spend every day volunteering here at Creekside — although after Vacation Bible School and all the activity here this week I know that some of you have.  But if you do not find joy in ordinary activities, that’s a lot of your life which is not growing anything. I’m not talking about so much what we do as I am suggesting that we cultivate an awareness of the kingdom of heaven around us and within us.

If this sounds kind of mystical, it is, but likely in ways which are familiar to you.  If you have ever been moved by the beauty of a sunset, or a perfect flower, or a well-constructed woodworking project, or a meal which was prepared and served with love, you know what I’m talking about.  These are all glimpses of the kingdom of heaven.  If you are unmoved by lovely things or things created with love, my sympathies.  I believe that life is immeasurably richer when we notice little things and give thanks and praise to God for them.  The more small things we notice with gratitude, the more aware we become of the ways in which God is woven into the fabric of ordinary life, and the more connected we are to the kingdom of heaven.  If we are not aware of God working in our lives, how could we possibly explain to someone why believing in God and following the example of Jesus is important?  If we don’t see God or find joy in our ordinary lives, what good news do we have to share with people who do not believe?

If we are fortunate, our ordinary lives are relatively secure and stable, not a roller coaster of disaster and chaos.  But speaking from the perspective of the past month or so, disaster can happen even to stable, well-intentioned people.  Terrible things happen which cannot be undone, and the kingdom of heaven is in those moments, too.  Not as the cause of disaster, but as the presence and comfort and steadfast love which was with us before, holds us during, and has already gone before us.  God is.  God will always be.  I know, and you have helped remind me, that this is true.  It will always be true, whatever happens.

I do not know exactly what Jesus’ intent was when he shared the parable of the mustard seed with his disciples and the crowds whom he was teaching.  In Matthew, his stated purpose was to teach about the kingdom of heaven — which is a pretty broad topic.  But here is what this parable means to me: pay attention to what God is doing.  Assume that God is planting things, even if you’re not sure what they are or where they are going to sprout up.  The practice of paying attention to the things we see is the beginning of believing in the things which we cannot see: this is called faith.  Faith is not so much intellectual assent to the beliefs of Christianity, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Faith is conviction that there will be a mustard plant, even when all we see is a tiny mustard seed. Faith is believing there will be a mustard plant when all we see is a patch of dirt. Faith like that is more powerful than we can imagine, because it is faith in the power of God to accomplish God’s purposes. it is the faith which Jesus tells his disciples about a bit later in Matthew chapter 17 — faith the size of a mustard seed with which God can move mountains.

You are probably aware that this season of the church year is called “ordinary” time.  Ordinary comes from “ordinal,” or counted time: the time we mark between the celebration of Pentecost and the preparation of Advent.  It’s a long stretch of the year — typically June until late November or early December.  It is the time in which we are invited to consider the vision and mission of the church. This is appropriate, because those are the ordinary things which the church ought to be about: recognizing and bringing forth the kingdom of God.  It is also the season of the year when many of us are thinking about planting and growing and tending and harvesting.  These are all activities which Jesus used and which we can use to imagine the kingdom of God.

So here is a modest proposal: for the next few weeks, be intentional about taking note of the small things (or the big things) which remind you of God’s presence, God’s mission, God’s creativity, or God’s care.  What gives you joy and strengthens your faith or gives you a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven?  I invite you to literally take note of these things by writing — in just a few words — what inspired you.  There are leaf notes in our Gathering Area for you to use.  Put that leaf on the mustard plant banner by the cloak room, so others can see evidence of the seeds which God has sown all around us.  You don’t need to include your name, just what has been a blessing or inspiration.  As a practical note, the leaves are post-it notes — that is, they have sticky stuff on one side.  They will work better if the side you write on is on the side with the sticky stuff.  I am confident you can figure this out.Sisters and brothers, we are called in ordinary time and in ordinary ways to recognize and bring forth the kingdom of mercy and peace.  We carry the seeds of the kingdom of heaven.  Amen.