The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – June 14, 2015 – Proper 6, Year B: Mark 4:26-34
I love a good mustard seed parable. Perhaps it’s because it reminds me of that little necklace I had as a child that was popular among some church going crowds right up through the seventies. It was a sort of globe with a very, very small seed in the middle of it – some of you can probably picture what I’m talking about. Besides necklace nostalgia, I’m also just drawn to things that start out small but have the potential or promise to be strong – seeds, kids, congregations, hope. Not to mention that 5’1” soccer player, a defender (and shortest player) on the US Women’s team, who on Friday saved a goal (and the game!) against Sweden with a header on the goal line! (There, I managed to work in a World Cup reference for those of you who were wondering how I’d do it. And there are still three weeks left in the tournament, so look out.)
OK, back to mustard seeds. Here’s some detail to remind you of just what we’re talking about here: mustard seeds are very, very, very small only about 1 or 2 mm in diameter. And, just for comparison sake, in the world of seeds they’re slightly bigger than poppy seeds and dandelion seeds, but smaller than pumpkin seeds, watermelon, apple or coconut seeds. Color-wise, mustard seeds can be black, brown, yellow or white.
In terms of the gospels, mustard seed references appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and it’s interesting to note that in inter-faith terms, mustard seeds are also used in Buddhist teachings, and appear in both the Koran and various Jewish texts. So across gospels and across faiths, the mustard seed is that very, very small thing that either grows up into something much larger than would initially seem possible; or it is that very, very small thing that is all we need in order to be faithful people. The author of Mark put it like this in today’s reading: “It is [almost] 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.” So the mustard seed is a small thing that not only grows much bigger than one would expect it to grow, but also within its very own branches it creates space to nurture others too.
And so in some ways the message this morning is very simple: the kingdom of God has been planted and it will continue to grow among us. It’s a done deal. It’s gonna happen because the sower (capital ‘S’) has done his work. The seeds are here and they’re already taking root, and holding on, and poking through the surface and beginning or continuing to breathe of the air and drink of the water and reach out into this world with God’s mercy and grace. The kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Today’s gospel reminds us that that is very simply, a given.
But this also means something else that’s very, very important. This parable tells us that if we’re willing to look for the kingdom of God, we’ll see it. That’s the other part of the good news this morning, and this is the piece that’s our work to do. The seeds have been sown and the Sower will ultimately make this kingdom happen, but we have work to do too.
We have to notice. And we have to tend.
This parable reminds us that we have to take responsibility for how we look at, and therefore engage God’s world. Do you look out into this world and see something like a garden that’s going to grow big and lush and abundant for all? Are you willing to see the seeds taking hold and offer yourself to their care? Are you able to look out into this world and notice the branches reaching out to you, to those who are other than you and tend the growth and expanse of that reach? Truth is we can be those who see the kingdom breaking through or those who wonder if the seeds were ever planted at all. And while it’s a leap of faith that we probably have to take over and over again in our lives, the invitation is to believe that the seeds are everywhere. The call is to live and work as if they are.
Know that in their very essence the seeds contain things like forgiveness, hospitality, justice, mercy, grace, and peace. The seeds contain love and they contain faith and hope. The seeds were sown in all colors, in all places and reconciliation lives in the core of their being and runs right out through the very tips of all of the branches. The seeds actually want to grow out into those mighty bushes and trees whose branches provide food and shelter and shade and home and a resting place for all the creatures of this world.
The seeds contain the ability to make the vision of a diverse, peaceable, blessed, loving kingdom a reality right here in this world.
So that 5’1” soccer player (whose name by the way, is Meghan)? When she was asked how she did what she did, she said this, “I was just doing my job on the team.” And that was that. I got the sense the reporter was looking for some big explanation when really, her response was about as simple as they come. “I was just doing my job.”
Well, we all have one – in the church and in the world – a calling or several that are related to helping the kingdom come. And no matter your height, your size or the amount of faith you’d claim to have – you have enough to do what our post communion prayers calls “the work we’ve been given to do.”
So come on team! Small but mighty seeds have been sown in our midst – mercy, hope, love, compassion, justice, forgiveness are all longing to break through the surface where they haven’t yet and to reach out more broadly into this world where they’ve already begun to take hold. So open your eyes. Open your hearts. Somebody go get some water! Somebody make more room for the light to come in! May God grant us the courage and humility to notice the seeds planted, and the vision and the love to help them grow.