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Sunday Message Based on the Parable of the Mustard Seed; Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19
20 July 2012Posted by on
This parable can be found in Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19.
You can read it here: niv2010
“He taught them many things by parables…. ” (Mark 4:2, Matt 13:3). The parables of Jesus changed and shaped the world that we live in.
Parables are stories about everyday life that Jesus used to teach his Disciples and followers about God, what God is like and what the Kingdom of God is like.
These stories are simple. Everyone who heard these stories could relate to them. These stories are relevant. These stories are about what bothers us and what we struggle with every day.
These stories are memorable. These stories influenced countless generations of people all over the world. Living in the atheistic Old Country I never even saw the Bible, let alone read one, but I knew what the expressions “Good Samaritan” and “Prodigal Son” meant and could explain the concept.
The parables of Jesus changed and shaped the world that we live in.
Last Week we talked about the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We said that if Jesus would teach this parable today and in North America, he would probably preach about our pets.
We learned that sheep’s survival depends on their willingness to stick together and to face threats as a community.
We said that sometimes we get so focused on what we are doing that we lose track of time, we lose connection with other Christians and all of a sudden God seems so far away and we ask ourselves, “How did I get lost?”
We also said that God sends us to reach out to the lost sheep and the reason we can do that is because we can count on the other ninety-nine sheep in our community to uphold us in prayer, to lend a helping hand. We said that just like the other ninety-nine sheep our strength is in being a community, loving and caring for each other.
Parables are stories that have layers and layers of meaning. In the last couple of weeks scientists announced the discovery of an elusive subatomic particle, known as Higgs Boson. Theoretical physicists predicted that such a particle had to exist in order to explain the origins of matter and how the universe was created.
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles penned a poem about the discovery.
No doubt you have all read about
The stunning confirmation
That the collider replaced Mount Sinai
As the site for revelation.
God is out, Higgs Boson in,
Particulate angels on a pinhead
From absences, we glean.
But who can help but wonder if
At the dawn of dark and bright
A voice pronounced “Let Boson be”
And we’ve just seen the light.
Parables are like that. As we mature, as we learn about God’s Creation that we live in, as we learn about each other, as we learn about God, we discover new meaning in these familiar stories.
Who among us has not wondered what Heaven is like? Who among us has not tried to imagine what it would feel like to be in Heaven?
Art is a lie that tells us something about the truth. I recall a couple of episodes from The Simpsons where Homer goes to Heaven. In one episode everything is made of chocolate and we see Homer wandering around taking bites out of buildings, cars, dogs and trees, gorging on chocolate and every bite that he takes heals itself immediately. In another episode, Homer is wandering around Heaven that is made out of gold, stuffing his pockets with dirt, pebbles and dog droppings which he plans to put to good use when he gets back to our world. These are metaphors that illustrate our understanding that Heaven is so beautiful and so precious that it is like the tastiest food we can think of, or the most precious physical possession that we can imagine.
However, this is not what Jesus taught. The parable of the Mustard Seed is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13:18-19. We’ve heard this parable countless times, and because we are so familiar with it we miss most of its meaning. Let us listen to the parable of the Mustard Seed.
Matthew 13:31-32 (NIV2010)
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV2010)
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Last week I spent a lot of time learning about mustard plants. Mustard is closely related to cabbage, cauliflower and turnips. There are dozens of different varieties of mustard plants.
Mustard seeds grow in pods and they are high in oil content; the resulting oil is hot to taste. If anyone has seen the movie Lorenzo’s Oil, mustard oil is used in the production of the medicine known as Lorenzo’s Oil. Recently there was research into the viability of using mustard oil to produce bio-diesel and other green fuels.
Mustard greens are edible if boiled, very nutritious and they taste similar to turnip or collard greens.
In Ancient Israel mustard was not cultivated because there was no way to harvest and preserve the greens, mustard oil is extremely hot and it does not taste good and there is no evidence that mustard was used as a condiment by Jews, Greeks or Romans. In the Ancient Israel mustard was a weed, very much like dandelions are today in North America.
Think about it: Jesus did not say that the Kingdom of God is like the majestic and highly prized Cedars of Lebanon that stand tall and reach all the way into the skies. That is what we would expect to hear: Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to something magnificent, majestic, beautiful and of great monetary worth. Instead Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a weed.
Why would Jesus do that? What can we learn from this and how can we apply it to our lives?
Indeed, in Jesus’ time mustard was a weed. It was not a cultivated crop, we would see it growing in an abandoned field, or on the side of a hill that could not be cultivated. Mustard plants would interconnect and grow together providing a thick canopy with places where small animals could burrow and hide; mustard plants would support each other as their branches interconnected; mustard plants would produce abundant seeds to reseed themselves and to spread wherever they could.
Once mustard plants took over a hill, all kinds of life would take refuge there. There were small animals (mice, hedgehogs, fox, cats) hiding underneath. There were small birds perching and nesting on branches. There were butterflies fluttering around and bees buzzing around. Hawks would fly above looking for prey. Areas where mustard shrubs grew were teeming with activity and with life.
That is what the Kingdom of God is like: not like the majestic and orderly cedars of Lebanon but like a pungent shrub with prolific and creative takeover properties. As followers of Jesus we are challenged to look for places where God’s Kingdom is taking root, or spreading out, or taking over little by little. As followers of Jesus it is our challenge to be the messengers of hope that changes lives. As followers of Jesus we are challenged to be like tiny seeds that take over hills and fields and take the Good News of the Kingdom of God everywhere we go. That is why it is so important for us to plant seeds among those who do not believe or who are not involved in church.
Each one of us is like a mustard plant in the Kingdom of God. When we interconnect and help each other to reach out towards God, we create an environment where we can thrive and grow in our faith. We create a place where we are challenged to become committed and mature Christians.
My hope and prayer for Christ United Methodist Church in Chestertown, MD is that we will become like the mustard field that Jesus was talking about: teaming with life, full of energy and charged with faith, willing to look beyond the obvious and to step out on faith, looking for and finding God in surprising and unexpected places, interconnected and supportive of each other’s lives and ministry.
My hope and prayer for Christ United Methodist Church in Chestertown, MD is that we become a community willing to look beyond the obvious, willing to find relevant solutions to the questions that our lives pose, or to paraphrase Rabbi Wolpe:
A voice pronounced “Let Boson be” and we have seen God’s light.
God Bless you! Seek ye first the Kingdom of God!
Wikipedia. Mustard (Condiment). 11 07 2012. 20 07 2012 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_(condiment) >.
—. Mustard oil. 12 05 2012. 20 07 2012 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_oil >.
—. Mustard Plant. 11 07 2012. 20 07 2012 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mustard_plant >.
Wolpe, Rabbi. n.d. 20 07 2012 < https://www.facebook.com/RabbiWolpe/posts/342742185800510 >.
Zone, India Net. India Net Zone. n.d. 20 07 2012 < http://www.indianetzone.com/1/mustard.htm >.