If you haven’t noticed, Jesus loves bucolic parables. Jesus loves talking about farming—or all things rural. The closest that we really get to big business talk with Jesus is his talk about fishing, and that’s pretty limited compared to his parables about farming. For a carpenter, he seems really intimately in tune with agricultural concerns. Perhaps that a function of his audience. Whatever the case, the three gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke are chock full of stories from Jesus that play with concerns about farming—from livestock to horticulture. But in some ways, I like that. Why? It makes someone that anyone can relate to. He’s not some unapproachable king who doesn’t know the day-to-day life of the common housewife. Nor is he some high priest who is squirrelled away in some remote room caught up in prayerful incantation all day.
No—Jesus is well aware and well versed in the ordinary lives of the people he ministers to. He doesn’t speak as one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he lives it. Jesus knows what it’s like to live like us…Ordinary people living ordinary lives with ordinary problems. And what does the do? He takes what we think is mundane and shows us that it’s truly remarkable. Our lives are gifts from God, just as they are, and God desires to be in relationship with us, a relationship that has meaning, purpose, and drive. Not everyone lives the same life, by any stretch of the imagination, but no matter our lot in life, God knows what it’s like to be one of us. Wherever we find ourselves in life, it’s not without meaning, purpose, or drive when we look at it through the lens of our relationship with God in Jesus. That makes all the difference. As we go into the sermon today, consider ways that your life has meaning because you know, because you believe God loves you no matter what. How does that conviction make a difference for you?
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Speaking in simple terms, a seed is the part of a plant which can grow into a new plant. It’s about plant reproduction. Now—not all plants reproduce through seeds, but it’s the most common way that the plants that we’re most familiar with do. Seeds are often found within the fruit of plants, but not always. There are many, many types of seeds. Some seeds are tiny, like the seeds of a kiwi fruit, while others are quite large, like the coconut. Some plants have many seeds in their fruits, like watermelons, while others just have one, like peaches.
Seeds need particular conditions to sprout—water, air, and warmth. Interestingly enough, light is not something they need—although light is often a source of heat. Take for example the seeds within the pine cones of the Great Redwoods of the Pacific Northwest. Fire is necessary for Redwood pine cones to release their seeds so that they can start growing. Some seeds need to wait for the ground to warm up to a particular temperature to sprout, while other seeds will lie dormant until the ground is wet enough for them to begin growing.
Inside a seed is everything needed for a new plant to grow. Seeds themselves aren’t alive, but they contain everything necessary for the life of the plant to get started. The embryo of the new plant is inside the seed because the seed won’t form until it’s been fertilized. Take bees pollinating tomato plants, for example. The bees land on the little yellow flowers on the tomato vine, knock the pollen from the tiny stamens onto the stigma in the center of the flower, the pollen fertilizes the eggs that are within the ovaries of the plant—and voila! Fruit is created and a new plant embryo, a seed. Should those seeds end up in a place where the conditions are right, like a garden full of rich soil with the proper amount of water, hoeing, and warmth from the sun, they’ll grow into new tomato plants themselves and produce more fruit if they’re likewise pollinated.
The seed contains everything needed for the new plant to sprout aside from water, air, and warmth. In fact, most sprouts can grow for a few days in poor soil because the seed contains enough nourishment for the plant to begin growing within it. If there’s a fruit around it, even better. The decaying fruit around the seed will provide nutrients for the new plant. The same goes for plants that rely on other species who eat their seeds and drop them somewhere else. Manure is, after all, a great fertilizer. All this to say, seeds are pretty amazing, and the way that plants use them to keep perpetuating themselves is rather remarkable.
In today’s gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a seed. He uses parables—short, simple stories that are used to make a comparison between something and something else. The word literally means “something thrown down beside something else.” And so, the first thing that Jesus throws down for us to compare the kingdom of God to is a farmer who scatters seed on the ground and then goes out to harvest the grain. Then he throws down another example in the mustard seed.
Now—this isn’t the same as Jesus’ teaching about faith the size of a mustard seed. At least not per se. Here Jesus isn’t so much describing the greatness of a little amount of faith—as if it can be quantified—but rather, he’s describing for us what faith’s potential is. What can faith accomplish. Of course, that is to say, what our relationship with God, founded on the love shown us in Christ Jesus our Lord—that is what faith is. What can that relationship accomplish? What good is it, this relationship, this faith—at all, if anything?
As we consider that, we’re drawn to seeing that the mustard, “the smallest of all the seeds on earth, 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.” This mustard seed that Jesus is speaking off isn’t like the mustard plants we have here. In the Middle East and North Africa, there is a variety of mustard that grows into a tree, on average about nine feet tall. This is the kind of mustard shrubbery that Jesus is thinking about. Perhaps a better way for us to think of it is to remember those Redwoods in California. Massive trees, from tiny, tiny seeds inside pine cones. Majestic eagles nest in them as they tower high above the forest ground. That’s what Jesus is speaking of here. Not so much the mustard seed per se, but what happens when the mustard seed takes off, when it’s nurtured and grows. It becomes something far greater than a mere seed. It provides for the birds of the air, a home for them. And not only that. It’s the greatest of all shrubs.
Have you ever thought about what potential is in a little seed? Tossing a kernel of corn around in the palm of your hand, before you plant it, you don’t really think about the potential that corn seed has beyond ending up on your dinner plate at the end of the summer. But millions of corn kernels are planted each year in the United States alone, and in each of those kernels is the potential to become something far more than a seed. Some of them will go on to seed more corn fields. Some of them will go on to feed cattle, or pigs, or chickens, who will go on to become steak, or bacon, or lay eggs. Those steaks may be served at a diplomatic dinner between two heads of state. Maybe that bacon is wrapped around scallops, grilled, and enjoyed between friends while drinking bourbon—another corn product. Those eggs may end up in vaccines that help fight the flu. Some of those corn kernels will end up as ethanol, mixed with gas to power cars. Some of those corn kernels will end up as high fructose corn syrup in fountain drink machines.
We could keep listing one step after another for the potential for those corn kernels. We don’t normally think about that when we look at them. We don’t think about acorns or maple helicopters growing up into big trees to be harvested to make paper that could end up as some child’s homework, a local newspaper, or some new legislation to be signed into law. And yet all that potential is in that seed. It’s there…Well beyond the mere seed itself, but what the seed will become when nurtured. Each seed according to its kind bears fruit and fits into the grand design of life.
And so it is with our relationship with God. Life in the kingdom of God, life lived in intentional awareness of God’s love for us is fruitful—and it multiplies. Life lived in the conscience knowledge of God’s love for us and of his Son Jesus Christ grows and blossoms, produces fruit and provides according to our own calling for the needs of all creation—for one another, for ourselves, and for the world we call home.
A Christian nurse uses his knowledge to care for others, to bind up the broken—often not only in body, but in mind as well. A Christian teacher knows knowledge is a means to break the shackles of oppression and injustice that run rampant in our world, and so she reaches out and gives a little extra attention to those students whose home lives she knows are rough, that others might write off as lost causes. And when those patients touched by that nurse leave the hospital and go out and themselves touch the lives of others, when those students grow up and themselves become EMTs, lawyers, garbage collectors, shipping clerks, pilots, and environmental engineers—then the kingdom of God grows. Then our relationship with God accomplishes what it purposes—the reconciliation of all things to the peace of God that surpasses understanding.
The potential is far greater than we might ever imagine, especially when we look at ourselves only. Yet when we consider our relationship nurtured, in prayerful conversation with God, in worship with one another, in work for the sake something bigger than ourselves, in giving of ourselves not only in treasure but in time and in talent, in learning more and more about what it means to live as disciple of Jesus—when we consider our relationship with God through that lens, nurtured under the right conditions, the potential for God to use us as instruments of his peace are endless—absolutely eternal, with no beginning and no ending.
Our relationship with God contains everything within it to sprout and grow into something magnificent. The potential for growth that God has poured into us by the power of the Holy Spirit is without limit. We who have been united with Jesus in death and resurrection through baptism—we have within us everything that God needs to do great things, things beyond our wildest dreams. God calls us to live, not for ourselves, but for the sake the world that he so loved—to love as a reflection of Jesus’ love for us. Jesus didn’t live for himself; rather, he died that we might live. He died for us.
And so too it is that we like him are called to live beyond ourselves and trust in the power of God’s abundant and undefeated love to use us to further his kingdom. The death he died, he died once for all, and so too by God’s promise his death is our death. The life he lives, he lives to God, and so therefore we must consider ourselves alive to God in Jesus. By the same promise that declares us dead with him, we are raised to newness of life, and like Jesus therefore, we are ready to live for the sake of others to the greater glory of God.
Everything we need is already in us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.