Mustard seed parable: Sermon for Pentecost 3B

The nave at St. Paul's, Selma

The nave at St. Paul’s, Selma

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 2 Corinthians 5

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.” Mark 4

It’s always a little strange to be a guest celebrant and preacher when we don’t know each other and there has been little or none of the give and take that gives us a way to explore together what it means to be people of faith. Nonetheless, I am honored to be here with you and to get to abide with you for a bit in the beauty and hopefulness of today’s passages.

Almost exactly one year ago, Sherod, my husband, and I watched a moving van pull away from our home in Fort Lauderdale. The next morning, it was our turn; with a wretchedly miserable cat and a restless dog, I drove my car while Sherod headed down the road in his truck with his beloved Lab, Boo. I remember driving along the massive interstate system in Southeast Florida that we had known for 18 years, nerves jangling because driving in that kind of traffic is simply horrible to me. That is a paradox because I grew up in Cali, a city in the Southwest of Colombia that had a population of over 2 million in those days. Except for a couple of years in Lynchburg Va, and another 18 months in Huntsville, since 1980, I had always lived in large urban spaces—New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, and Southeast Florida—and now, with Sherod’s retirement imminent, here we were moving to this little farm in Lowndes County that Nancy Bennett had helped us buy.

There were people who told me I was crazy—crazy to move to Alabama, even more crazy to move to a small farm in an area where it is hard to get your trash picked up and even harder to get decent internet access.  On the morning we drove away from Fort Lauderdale, in that in-between time, I panicked thinking they might be right. But it wasn’t like that at all.

Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

It is hard to describe to someone who did not see the kind of endless stress and challenge that defined the life for two priests doing some experimental ministry in a large urban center, and raising an adopted daughter with enormous special needs, how moving to our small farm has been like being made new. We can spread a blanket on the ground on a clear winter’s night and see a forever number of stars. The wonder of lightening bugs as the weather warms and light refracting through frost on the grass at dawn during the winter. The silence. We look at each other often and exclaim, “can you believe this is our life now?”

The sense of wonder extends even to what we thought we had read and seen and known for forever.   I love the  the parable of the Mustard Seed, reading it is like putting an a pair of old comfortable shoes.  Yet it is filled with new wonder for me.

I had grown used to high drama. To grand gestures. To lavish displays of wealth and devastating suffering. In big cities, where so much is always going on, that’s what’s easy to pay attention to. Even what we get in the news is like that: yesterday, the news was all about the dramatic assault on the police department in Dallas, TX, the manhunt following that spectacular jailbreak in upstate New York.  Sherod’s and my move to our farm contradicts that addiction to the adrenaline rush and has taught me, if I am looking for truth, start in the small places, the moments nobody notices.

I have a hunch that if I could invite Jesus to spend the early morning with me, picking green beans, if I could ask him what parts of his ministry have meant the most to him, he’d describe how much he loved those small moments of showing people who had always been marginalized know they were somebody, somebody loved, when he broke bread with them. He might tell me how it mattered that he was able to place his hand on the shoulder of one who had never known what a healing touch is like. It is still in those small ways that grace continues to spread through the world, how things which had grown old are made new.

And then there is the mustard seed—or really, any seed at all. Earlier this year, Sherod and I got a few packages of wildflower mix, we turned over that hard red Alabama clay and mixed in some mulch in it. While we scattered the seeds, we told ourselves they probably wouldn’t amount to anything. We do that, don’t we, as if those assurances could inoculate us against disappointment? We also walked around and looked at the plants that were already in our garden, planted by others before us. The previous owners had lots of horses on the property and the horses just about destroyed a fig that you could tell had once been tall and bountiful and beautiful. There were blueberry bushes being choked to death by weeds and neglect. We shook our head and said that probably, both the blueberry bush and the fig would have to come down. These two were not just small, they were old and they were broken and battered.

I lack words to tell you about the the sense of wonder, and humility and gratitude with which we begin each morning out on that little farm these days. That patch where we scattered the seeds? It has become a space of gentle beauty, lush with flowers of all colors and sizes. I had dreamed of having flowers I could cut and use in the house. Turns out that the flower patch is also a place where bees come to feast—bees, that as we hear constantly, are dying off and making our food chain even more fragile and vulnerable. Here they have found an unexpected welcome.

We have harvested more blueberries than we know what to do with and the fig tree is laden with fruit. Just this week, we realized a cardinal has made its nest in that same tree, finding safety and shade amongst its branches.

You and I, who are used to believing that more is more and bigger is better, we are always tempted to look at something as small and insignificant as a mustard seed and worry it will not be enough. Someone far more eloquent than I has said that Jesus looks at those things that stir our worry “and thinks about the decisive nature of the little bit you have in hand, the magnitude of small things—a mustard seed, a child, one coin lost in the house, one sheep detached from the fold, five small loaves, two fish. He knows it takes a lot less than you think” [1]

It takes a lot less than we think. When we consider our own selves, our own communities of faith, we wonder how we could possibly be enough. And yet we too are like the mustard seed, we too carry the promise of the Kingdom of God in our heart. God’s love, already resident in every part of our being, yearns to help us grow into the fullness of love that freely answers with a yes to the needs, the hopes, the possibilities for healing and renewal in the world.

In the fullness of his love we are invited to think like Jesus thinks, to see and to love like he does. In this growing season, when you pick a ripe, red tomato, when you make a big mess of green beans, when you marvel at the jewel-colored jam you have canned and are about to put up, remember it all began with small seeds. And remember those seeds of the Kingdom are in us too. May this be a season of growth abundant and love given away extravagantly so all the birds in the skies, and everything else in need of a place for shelter, hope and comfort, may find rest amongst us.

[1] Mary Luti, http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit_daily-devotional_proximity

2 thoughts on “Mustard seed parable: Sermon for Pentecost 3B

  1. Pingback: » Mustard seed parable: Sermon for Pentecost 3B

  2. i just took time to read your Mustard Seed sermon and find its words a perfect antidote to a long day. going into the garden with all its’ bounty, whether food or flowers, offers so much for one’s spiritual journey. The quiet and peace; turning soil to find those fat worms; the absolute beauty in a shrub or a rose returning to full glory never ceases to put me where I need to be: on my knees thanking God! And thank you for helping me to take time to read your words of grace and Grace!

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