We are blessed to be in this rich environment because we can really draw on it to connect with God and connect with one another. We’re acting a lot like Jesus did, who drew on ordinary images around him to illustrate truths about God. The creation contains mysteries about God and God’s Kingdom, and they are ready to be unlocked. The parables of Jesus do that.
Here’s a definition I love of parables:
“At its simplest, the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt to its precise application to tease the mind into active thought.”
Let’s see if we can’t have our hearing arrested for a moment by the vividness and strangeness of this parable that Jesus offers in Mark 4:30-32:
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
The Kingdom of God is not dominating, it is not violent, it isn’t coercive. It’s small, tiny, and it grows naturally. These are the characteristics of the Kingdom of God and Jesus shares them. Jesus, God incarnate, came into the earth as a small baby. God—the ground of all being—become a human is another expression of the smallness of the Kingdom of God.
Its strength is found in its growth, in its maturity, into its moving with what is next. Its power is in its tininess and all that is contained within it. It is self-perpetuating. It is natural. It grows because it is meant to. Seeds are a wonderful thing aren’t they? They’re within the fruit that they bear. And they hold enough to keep doing.
Some folks at one of our Outdoor Sunday Meetings, at Hart Lane Farm,
a place where a lot of seeds have sprouted with great food.
Seeds are cultivated these days, and they are cross-bred to make the fruits and vegetables we eat. Even heirloom cultivars were also bred, but they are treasured in their older forms, not as disease-resistant, and often coming in unique colors and shapes.
Seeds are even developed in a way to make food quickly, and consistently, and that actually helps feed a lot of people. There are issues here that are beyond my pay grade, but the power of seeds despite their small size is tremendous!
Jesus draws upon the mustard seed in another moment in the Gospel when he compares it to our faith. From Matthew 17:20:
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
In this story, Jesus casts out a demon from a man who is suffering from epilepsy (maladies in the ancient near east are often treated as demons). His disciples wonder why they couldn’t cast out the demon, and Jesus says they didn’t have enough faith. But then Jesus says it doesn’t take much faith to do this work. Because faith is like a mustard seed. Faith grows like a plant does. Your seed of faith has a lot of life, a lot of strength, and a lot of power in it.
I find encouragement in that because a small seed of faith means I don’t need a lot of God to use me. That extends to hope too. And these days, I have to be honest, sometimes faith and hope are hard to come by. It feels good that I have a seed of hope in me that God can grow into something more.
What’s even more encouraging is that we have a lot of seeds of hope and faith here. And that means we can move a lot of mountains. Our church is talking about huge powers, huge demons that need to be exorcised just as Jesus’ disciples were trying to do. Our cells are engaged in dialogue about reparations—in fact something much bigger than we can do on our own—but our seed of faith counts. In fact, the Jubilee Wealth Distribution plan, for example, that we’ve been doing isn’t meant to right all the wrongs, it is designed to show us that a little bit counts. A seed of faith can move a mountain.
We’re trying to exorcise racism out of our church. We’re trying to live into the fullness of our body as one based on mutuality and consensus. We want to replant our little congregation with our little seeds. It can feel like all I have sometime is faith and hope the size of a mustard seed. But Jesus reassures me that that’s all I need. And that’s all you need as well.
It just took five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. It took a baby to save the world. And we need a little seed of hope for the big work we are doing. You just need a seed of faith to follow Jesus.
Maybe talking about Jesus seems like a stretch to you. Maybe believing in demons and exorcism feels that way. Maybe using old stories about creation doesn’t really work for you. Maybe you think you need a lot more than you’ve got. Maybe you feel bad for the doubt you’ve got in you. All of that is OK. You can contain a multitude of feelings. Even if you are unsure that any of this is real, or anything at all, even an iota of faith matters to God. The little things matter. An atom of faith, a molecule of hope, a single strand of hair of truth—that’s what we need. That’s all we need. I hope this can reassure us that even in the hardest times, we have enough to do great things. When despair and cynicism are about to eclipse you, hold on to your seed of faith. Nurture it, water it, talk to it, relate to it. It’ll grow, and it’ll bear more seeds.