A few months ago I threw some avocado seeds into my compost bin, and now I’ve discovered I have a beautiful avocado seedling growing in my compost. I’ve very happy about that – but all I did was throw it away! I was expecting to make compost, but now I am very pleased that I need to ask Alexis to locate a great place to plant an avocado tree. And we all know how big an avocado tree can get. So, I’m not sure where that avocado tree will get planted, but I am pretty sure that it will produce some great avocados!
This morning’s parable is about a humble little seed, much, much smaller than an avocado seed. How many of you know the humble mustard seed? Have you seen one? It’s about this big…
What about the seed from a cedar tree? Do you know what the seed from a cedar tree looks like? If you can imagine a pine cone, you can imagine a seed from a cedar tree – they are very similar. Both cedars and pines are evergreen trees, and they produce very similar seeds.
So, we have the humble little mustard seed and we have the seed from a cedar tree (about the size of an acorn from a pine tree). And from the humble little mustard seed, we can grow a bush, that will produce (in some cases) lovely fields of yellow flowers (have you every driven through the English countryside in spring and see the field upon field of yellow? Well, actually that’s rapeseed, from which you will get Canola oil, but it’s very similar to one kind of mustard bush!). But the mustard seeds and bushes from Jesus’ parable are much more like the bougainvillea or a hydrangea – if you let them grow as they wish, they can reach as tall as 6 meters or 20 feet. The mustard seed that Jesus was referring to is a much hardier plant than the mustard seed that we know today that is used for crops.
Now, in the parable, Mark speaks to the seed being planted in the garden, but he was speaking to a specific audience that would probably have had immense gardens because of their vary arid lands. People in Israel, on the other hand, did not typically plant a mustard bush in their gardens – they tended to plant them in the fields, with enough space so that they could grow. And the beauty of the mustard bush is that it can grow in arid, dry climates and thrive even in clay or sandy soil. It can grow in hot, dry weather or cool, wet climates. It is drought tolerant. If you decide to cut the mustard bush down, and leave the trunk, it can grow back again. So even a harsh pruning of a mustard bush means that it will come back stronger than ever.
And so, we read, this morning, that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed: one of the smallest seeds you can sow. And we read in the gospel that after that seed is planted, it grows into the largest plant in the garden, a plant so big that birds can build their nests in the shade of its branches. This part of the mustard seed parable implies that the kingdom of God has room for one and all, enough for all of us to build our safe haven in its branches and thrive under its shelter.
If you recall, we read earlier that the beauty of the noble cedar, growing on the mountain tops, is that the birds can make their homes in its branches. But, if you notice, it doesn’t matter if you are a noble cedar high on a mountain top or a humble mustard seed planted in someone’s back yard, the birds will be able to build their nests in the shade of the branches. So, at the end of the day, whether you grow as a noble cedar, high on a mountain top, or a humble mustard seed in the back of the yard, you still serve the same purpose – providing a sanctuary for the birds of the field to build their nest and find shelter in the shade. Our ego probably prefers for us to be the lofty and noble cedar, but at the end of the day, the humble mustard produces just as much shade and home for the birds!
When Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is like a small mustard seed that would grow large, He was showing the power of God to do His work through whatever instrument He chooses. Many scholars explain that this parable refers to the “small beginning”, in which Jesus started out with a handful of followers, each spreading out the word and touching the lives of those who were willing to hear. It was from this small beginning that the kingdom of God, the Church, the followers of Christ have spread throughout in massive numbers (approximately 2.2 billion in all the Christian faiths, or 1/3 of the world population).
The real question for you & me is – what can we learn from the parable of the humble mustard seed? How do we apply this in our lives today? If the mustard seed that Jesus was talking about in the parable was the rise of Christianity and its planting throughout the world, is this even relevant to us today?
First, I think it is important to understand WHERE the kingdom of God is. Luke 17, verses 20 and 21 remind us
“the kingdom of God is within you”
If we take a minute to remember what it says in Ezekiel, we find:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 ESV)
This is very reminiscent of what David says in Psalm 51:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10 ESV)
So, when we read that the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is within us, this is the new heart that we have, the clean heart, the new and right spirit, a heart of flesh that has replaced our heart of stone. This is the spirit of loving and caring that has replaced our selfishness. This is the spirit that fills us with the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you were a tree, this is the fruit that you would be producing for the birds to come and eat.
We all know what Romans says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, (Romans 12: 2 ESV)
When the Kingdom of God is within you, your thoughts will be transformed. Have you heard the saying:
Today I’m starting over:
A new belief system
A new pattern of thoughts
A new way of feeling
A new connection to the world
We can only change ourselves, when we change the way we think. And if we say that the kingdom of heaven is within us, then there has to be a corresponding change in the way of our thinking.
What you hold to be important in life, will change as you change your thinking. You will begin to treasure different things, like inner peace. You will begin to treasure the silence, where you can listen to the still small voice. You will treasure Truth and Understanding. You will treasure simple Oneness with the Creator. Moments of quiet contemplation.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
Proverbs reminds us:
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4: 23)
If in your heart, you are harbouring resentment and anger, then this is what will come out of your mouth. It you are harbouring pain and hurt that you have not released, you will probably hurt others. If you are holding onto and harbouring resentment and bitterness, your words will be twisted and cruel. On the other hand, if you are harbouring love, then your words will be loving and kind.
If you want to know what you are harbouring in your heart – just have a look at your words and actions when you are under pressure. When you squeeze a tube of toothpaste, toothpaste comes out. When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out. When you are squeezed – what comes out?
THAT is what you are holding in your heart!
And this is why Jesus, in Luke told the crowds:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)
The Kingdom of God is like a small mustard seed, a small new truth, that is planted in the garden of your mind, and that while you are working and sleeping, that small new truth opens up, and sprouts. As you water and take care of it, it grows.
What is important to understand here is that there is no “then” or “when” to the kingdom of God. This reign is a current, progressing, maturing reality, which means a kingship of our hearts – that we are Divinely lead. When we can finally hear the still, small voice, and then actually do what it says, rather than holding fast to our own ideas and ways of thinking.
I want to finish this morning with a reminder from Peter:
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, (I Peter 3:3-4 ESV)
For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21), like a little mustard seed that grows strong and tall in the garden of your mind, and that produces a harvest of the fruits of the spirit, and provides compassion (shade) for others to take refuge.